AT&T is taking on the FCC again as it implements its strategy to invest in modern 4G/LTE networks, and veer away from copper-based telephone and DSL infrastructure. AT&T wants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove regulations that require incumbent local exchange carriers, called ILECs to continue maintaining old facilities and after the deployment of IP-based networks. According to comments filed by the company, there are a number of rules which place unfair regulatory burdens on them as they try to upgrade and expand broadband access in rural areas, and discourage investment in modern technology such as wireless and fiber based networks. The legacy technology AT&T is referring to are time-division multiplexing or TDM architecture.
According to a blog posted on AT&T's public policy website, authored by Bob Quinn, AT&T Senior Vice President:
This morning, we announced a very significant capital commitment to our broadband infrastructure. The net-net is that we are committing $14 Billion in capital to bring Internet broadband infrastructure – wireline and wireless – to more places over the next three years. As part of that commitment, we plan to expand our 4G LTE network by an additional 50 million consumers (based on population covered). And we plan to provide an additional 8.5 million customer locations with our award winning U-verse product that will directly compete with the cable incumbent’s voice, video and broadband offerings. As a result of these investments, millions of customer locations that have at best access only to legacy DSL services will have access to either U-verse or IP DSLAM technology.
We plan to invest on average about $22 billion in capital per year over the next three years. To build that additional infrastructure means that we will be buying 21st century broadband equipment, including laying new fiber and providing faster Internet services to a significant part of our service area. AT&T’s announcement is exactly the kind of infrastructure investment story that policymakers have been urging to create jobs in the United States. AT&T is stepping up to meet that challenge.
The point AT&T is trying to make is that the FCC is being unreasonable with its regulations requiring carriers to maintain redundant networks in a new era of IP-based broadband networks. In doing so, investments in the same broadband infrastructure the agency is trying to foster development and innovation in.
AT&T VP Bob Quinn summed it up this way:
As the National Broadband Plan observed, “requiring an incumbent to maintain two networks . . . reduces the incentive for incumbents to deploy” next-generation facilities, “siphon[s] investments away from new networks and services,” and “lead[s] to investments in assets that could be stranded,” and thus government policies must “ensure that legacy regulations and services [do] not become a drag on the transition to a more modern and efficient use of resources.”
In other words, we have to have a plan for telecom companies to retire legacy technologies if we are going to meet what the National Broadband Plan called “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.” We are hopeful that this proceeding will provide some additional stepping stones on the path towards achieving that plan.
Not everyone agrees with the AT&T position. According to a spokesperson for The Broadband Coalition (former U.S. Congressman Chip Pickering):
“Members of the Broadband Coalition want to welcome AT&T to the IP revolution. Albeit a bit late, we’re sure they’ll find significant benefits in deploying this new and innovative technology throughout their existing network. But as the companies that have pioneered IP innovations, we know what is necessary to achieve widespread deployment and competitive options. Now, more than ever, the FCC needs to act to reaffirm requirements under the ’96 Act that enable last mile access and interconnection, regardless of the underlying technology.”