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AT&T GigaPower Ready to RSVP

Carol Wilson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Gigabit Cities Live 2016 -- Want AT&T to bring its GigaPower fiber network to your city? Then you should send them an invitation, the head of the carrier's North Carolina operations said here today.

Of course, it helps to already be part of AT&T's local service footprint and to have public policies for things such as rights-of-way and permits that make building out fiber easier. Oh, and being able to demonstrate local demand definitely counts as well.

But in a question-and-answer session at Light Reading's Gigabit Cities event here, Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s North Carolina operation, said the network operator likes to be invited to participate as a private company in municipal fiber-to-the-premises networks, either by a city or county government that is clear on what it needs and expects from a fiber network operator.

Making Her Point
Light Reading's Alan Breznick discusses Gigabit broadband rollout strategies with Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T's North Carolina unit.
Light Reading's Alan Breznick discusses Gigabit broadband rollout strategies with Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T's North Carolina unit.

"We look for areas that demonstrate a demand, where there is infrastructure that is in our traditional service territory -- where we can expand our facilities, enhance our facilities and deploy new facilities. And we also look for adoptability -- areas where it is easy to adopt," Harrison said.

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Under the FCC's terms of approval for the DirecTV acquisition, AT&T agreed to build out fiber to 12.5 million homes nationwide and is doing that across its existing footprint. North Carolina is home to seven cities on the AT&T GigaPower roadmap, some of which pre-date the DirecTV deal, and that's in part because the state has long had policies that encourage private investment, Harrison said.

More recently, the public-private partnership North Carolina Next-Generation Network (NCNGN) brought together six municipalities and four major universities that invited private operators to compete to provide a gigabit network, and chose AT&T as their network operator. That's the kind of public-private partnership invitation that AT&T likes, Harrison said, because it clearly spells out what the local communities need. Communication between potential partners is one of the most important factors.

"We look to come to the table and say, 'Here are the facilities we have. How can we partner together to meet your need?' " she said. It's important for communities to do their own needs assessment and know what they are looking for in a fiber network, and also what resources an operator is expected to bring to the effort.

"Deploying fiber is a big job and it takes a lot of time, and a lot of resources including a number of employees," she noted. It's important that the municipality's needs be clear upfront, so expectations can be correctly set, but the city must also recognize its responsibilities. That includes the ability to issue permits in a timely fashion, for example, which can create stresses on staff municipal departments.

AT&T has been known for taking action, politically and in the courts, to fight municipalities that want to build and operate their own networks, but Harrison insisted her company does not oppose government-owned networks. "We only want to have a level playing field for all competitors, so everyone works by the same rules and regulations," she said. That means a municipality can't favor its own network when it comes to using public rights of way or issuing permits in a more timely fashion.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
4/6/2016 | 10:08:50 AM
Re: Um...
Yeah to be clear i wasn't slightly your story whatsoever. Really appreciate your work.

Yes, I usually find that when bigger, legacy, turf-protecting companies say "level playing field" they pretty much usually mean the opposite. :)
User Rank: Light Beer
4/6/2016 | 9:29:09 AM
Re: Um...

I noted AT&T's past history in my story. AT&T has always maintained very strong state lobbying efforts and these continue to work against what the company perceives as competitive threats. Most recently, AT&T opposed efforts in Tennessee to allow EPB to expand its gigabit network to a nearby area where there is no broadband at all.

I think Harrison is restating the party line here. 

We heard much the same rhetortic later in the day from the cable players who were there. "Level playing field" is the common language. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/6/2016 | 8:31:16 AM
"Harrison insisted her company does not oppose government-owned networks."

I'm sorry that's just not true. AT&T lobbyists have been the star players behind laws in 20 states prohibiting governments from doing just that -- and in some cases even working to prohibit public/private partnerships. The goal isn't a "level playing field," the goal is protecting the status quo.

And quite often the reason these towns and cities are doing this isn't because it's fun, it's because they're not happy with the service they're getting from AT&T. Great article until she tried to deny the obvious, however.
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