AT&T warns it may hold off on laying down faster Internet lanes due to uncertainty regarding potential new rules from the Federal Communications Commission tied to regulating the Internet.
While most telecoms have indicated they support a free and open Internet, many have indicated implicitly or explicitly that they don't want the government to have to much power in maintaining a neutral net.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says his company is considering curtailing billions in capital investments and expenditures that includes laying down fiber optic lines in approximately 100 cities.
"It's prudent to pause," says Stephenson. "We want to make sure we have line of sight on this process and where these rules could land, and then re-evaluate."
Stephenson's warning came before an audience of investors in New York, just days after President Barack Obama expressed support for moderating the Internet with rules cannibalized from Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
Title II, also known as the Common Carrier law, is more than a hundred pages of decades-old legislation used to govern any entity that transports good and services. Some believe the best elements of Title II can be modernized to apply to Internet service providers, while other have expressed doubt in the law's ability to fully account for recent innovations.
"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," says Stephenson.
AT&T has a history of dangling its established investments before regulators in carrot-and-stick fashion, says S. Derek Turner, research director for the Free Press.
"The truth is that AT&T's fiber investments were more of a branding exercise than a substantial investment in deployment," says Turner.
While Obama advocated on Nov. 10 the use of Title II to govern ISPs, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler fired back with a response to the president on the same day. Obama said the use of Title II should "build on lessons from the past," while Wheeler asserts use of the law would bring with it a bevy of legal issues.
"Title II brings with it policy issues that run the gamut from privacy to universal service to the ability of federal agencies to protect consumers, as well as legal issues ranging from the ability of Title II to cover mobile services to the concept of applying forbearance on services under Title II," stated Wheeler.