The FCC Responds To AT&T’s Net Neutrality Saber Rattling

AT&T announced earlier this week that it would “pause” the rollout of fiber Internet connections to dozens of cities, due to uncertainty in the market caused by potentially stiff net neutrality rules that may be put into place. The president recently caused a ruckus in the debate by calling for reclassification of broadband under Title II.

The news from AT&T that it would halt the rollout of new fiber connections over the current open Internet scrap is a bright example of self-facing prophesies coming true. Surprise, a corporate narrative pushed by a corporation came true after the same corporation made the prophecy about itself.

You can almost believe it.

Enter the FCC, which can’t quite. In a letter sent to AT&T today, the Federal Communications Commission probed the telecom firm about just what had changed — what in the economics had gone awry? Here’s the key excerpt:

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 11.02.37 AM

The gist of that isn’t hard to parse: The FCC wants to know how much rollout is being constrained, what new economics are changing business decisions, and how that impacts AT&T’s proposed DirecTV deal.

AT&T has pledged to respond.

If AT&T can muster decent arguments that its investments into new fiber are in fact threatened by net neutrality regulations that could veer toward the strict, then we have a new landscape. Instead, the company’s comments to date have pressed caution — who knows what might happen! I’m not sure how compelling the FCC will find that sort of argument.

At the same time, the FCC isn’t leaving much room for Fresh Narrative Creation. AT&T would love to present a case that its friends can trumpet: We said that net neutrality would chill investment, and, blow me over, look! If AT&T fails to argue well, that entire premise could evaporate, curtailing the Open Internet Is Bad For Business novel.