CEO Randall Stephenson seemed to fire a noisy warning shot at the FCC this morning as regulators consider President Obama’s appeal for them to adopt tough net neutrality rules. “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,” the AT&T chief told investors at the Wells Fargo Technology, Media and Telecom Conference according to a Reuters account. “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.” Earlier this week the telco said it would take the FCC to court if it reclassified the Internet as a regulated, phone-like communications utility.
Is this an example of the chilling effect on investment that broadband companies warned would follow if the government claims the power to oversee Web practices?
Possibly not. “AT&T’s fiber investments weren’t particularly impressive to begin with,” Broadband DSL Reports’ Karl Bode notes. What’s more, AT&T “has used network investment as carrot on a stick with regulators for most of the last decade, promising to withhold or accelerate network infrastructure investment only if government does their bidding.” AT&T and DirecTV promised in May — when they announced their merger plan — that “AT&T will use the merger synergies to expand its plans to build and enhance high-speed broadband service to 15 million customer locations, mostly in rural areas where AT&T does not provide high-speed broadband service today.” (The deal is being reviewed by the FCC and Justice Department.)
AT&T also assured investors last week that it has “essentially completed the expansion of its 4G LTE network” and “has completed the build-out of wired high-speed Internet service.” As a result, it said that its Project VIP-related capital investment “will peak in 2014” with next year’s capex spending to be “consistent with its historical…levels.” It added that the guidance “does not affect the company’s commitment, when it closes its acquisition of DirecTV, to begin enhancing and expanding its U.S. broadband network to 15 million customer locations, primarily in rural areas.”