AT&T chief Randall Stephenson has signaled his company's distaste for President Obama's recent call for regulating the Internet by putting the brakes on a major nationwide expansion and upgrade of its fiber network. His comments are the latest indication that the new net neutrality debate is likely to slow carrier spending in the near term. (See Cisco's Chambers: Title II Net Neutrality Talk Already Hurting.)
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) CEO Stephenson declared at a Wells Fargo financial conference yesterday that the carrier would temporarily halt its plans to expand its 1Gbit/s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) expansion, called GigaPower. "We can't go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed," he said, according to a Reuters report. "We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules would look like."
An AT&T spokeswoman said the carrier had no further comment on the carrier's GigaPower plans.
Earlier this week, President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt strong net neutrality rules for both wireline and wireless providers, including regulations that would reclassify broadband access as a vital, utility-like service under what is known as Title II and prohibit providers from implementing measures like throttling web traffic and creating and charging for so-called "fast lanes." (See Obama Backs Net Neutrality, Stuns Industry.)
Obama's comments triggered response throughout the communications industry. Battle lines are being drawn between those that welcome a more aggressive regulatory approach -- particularly on interconnection issues -- and broadband ISPs like AT&T that say such rules threaten investment. Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has publicly stated that he is seeking a middle ground on the issue. (See Wheeler: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.)
It remains to be seen whether other large telecom and cable operators might follow AT&T's lead and protest the possibility of the regulatory changes by slowing down or altering their deployment plans. The typically mum Google Fiber Inc. remains such, beyond an announced intention this week to expand its network to businesses in the Kansas City market. (See Google Fiber Means Business in KC.)
Competitive providers like Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) that rely on interconnection to incumbent local providers' networks have lauded the president's stance, according to the Wall Street Journal.
— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading