AT&T's Broadband Promises Likely To Sell Regulators On Merger

Regulators might have killed Comcast's attempt to take over Time Warner Cable, but the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are inclined to support AT&T's $48.5 billion merger with DirecTV. That's according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported today that regulators believe the deal will result in broadband deployment to rural America.

AT&T has promised regulators to expand broadband service to 15 million locations if the merger is approved. Last week, the company added in a Federal Communications Commission filing that the merger will allow the company to extend its ultrafast Gigabit fiber service to at least two million new locations.

But some advocacy groups are skeptical. Public Knowledge said in a Friday filing that the benefits to the public should be “reviewable, and auditable after the fact.”

“AT&T has claimed that efficiencies, particularly reduced per-subscriber video cost, would enable it to bring fiber service to 2 million additional households beyond its current plans,” Public Knowledge writes. “To verify this claim, the public would need to know the precise number AT&T currently plans to serve. Otherwise, as soon as AT&T deploys fiber to slightly more than 2 million households, it would be able to claim that it has met its public interest commitments.”

The telecom, which recently sued to overturn the net neutrality rules, also is promising to follow at least some open Internet principles as a merger condition, according to The Journal

The FCC's net neutrality order, which takes effect in June, prohibits broadband providers from blocking or degrading traffic and from charging content companies higher fees for faster delivery. Those regulations, while significant, appear to leave room for broadband providers to engage in questionable practices. For instance, providers could impose the kinds of data caps that make it impractical for people to shed expensive cable video subscriptions in favor of online-only services.

Public Knowledge said in its Friday filing that the FCC should examine the various ways that AT&T potentially could discriminate against online video distributors and adopt conditions that would prevent the company from doing so.

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