AT&T on Broadband Competition: We're Part of Solution

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's wide-ranging broadband policy speech Thursday drew almost immediate industry response, with most finding something to praise or at least "highlight."

“Today, Chairman Wheeler highlighted the need for faster and better broadband, and for all Americans to have more competitive broadband choices," said AT&T senior executive VP Jim Cicconi. "We couldn’t agree more," he said, pointing to the company's history of investment in the space.

"Since 2008, AT&T has invested nearly $119 billion, much of that to provide Americans with competitive broadband services, both wired and wireless. These have included our award-winning U-Verse service, our Project VIP broadband expansion, our Mobile 4G LTE network, and, most recently, our GigaPower service being deployed in locations across the country. Just yesterday, in fact, we announced that we will bring our GigaPower service to St. Louis, adding to our list of up to 100 cities and municipalities nationwide that will receive our ultra-fast fiber network. In addition, our proposed merger with DIRECTV will expand and enhance broadband to 15 million locations, more than 11 million of which are outside our wireline footprint, primarily in rural areas."

Cicconi suggested AT&T was part of the solution to boosting broadband competition.

"Much of this investment commitment will bring broadband to consumers who either lack broadband entirely, or who have only one provider — exactly the problematic situations Chairman Wheeler highlighted today," he said. "In short, we agree with Chairman Wheeler’s vision that all consumers should have access to robust broadband, and that they should have a competitive choice of providers.  We will continue to work with the FCC and other policymakers to remove any barriers that inhibit or hinder the infrastructure investment needed to make that vision a reality.”

“The facts demonstrate that Americans value the unique benefits of mobile broadband, with a world-leading 112 million LTE connections and with consumer usage expanding exponentially," said Meredith Attwell Baker, President of CTIA and former FCC commissioner and Comcast/NBCU exec. "CTIA supports Chairman Wheeler’s call for the development of new and improved technologies, and we believe that the most effective way to achieve that it is to reallocate additional spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use. As the Chairman noted today in his remarks, wireless is different, which should be reflected in future FCC policies in order to facilitate expanded mobile competition and innovation.”

Wheeler's shoutouts for fiber build-outs and unlicensed wireless in the speech did not go unnoticed by advocates for those industries.

In the speech, delivered at D.C. start-up incubator 1776, Wheeler said that fiber was providing the only real speed competition to cable broadband, and that one way the FCC was promoting competition was freeing up more unlicensed wireless.

"Surrounded by innovators at D.C.'s start-up hub 1776, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler reaffirmed what consumers, communities and companies across the country have said: we need unlimited bandwidth to fuel our economy and compete around the world. And it is clear, as the Chairman noted, that all-fiber networks are the way to get there," said Fiber to the Home Council President Heather Burnett Gold.

"Chairman Wheeler announced his intention to address these concerns, and the Fiber to the Home Council supports him in these efforts and looks forward to continuing to work with the Commission."

Wheeler suggested that Google Fiber buildouts had helped spur cable ops to follow suit, offering 1 gig services in markets where fiber competitors were making inroads.

In response to Wheeler's suggestion that one way the FCC was creating meaningful broadband competition was "to expand the amount of unlicensed spectrum ," creating "alternative competitive pathways," the Wireless Innovation Alliance put in a plug for TV white spaces.

"Just as the start-ups housed by 1776 depend on low barriers to entry and openness," said the group, "so do technology innovators who rely on unlicensed spectrum including TV white spaces as the critical 'innovation bands' that must be protected in order to promote spectrum efficiency, fuel technological advancement and bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.