Blaming net neutrality, AT&T delays build-out

AT&T is pausing its plans to bring new, high-speed fiber optic Internet connections to up to 100 cities because of the possibility of federal Internet regulations.

Company CEO Randall Stephenson told investors of the decision on Wednesday and blamed uncertainty over the new net neutrality rules from the Federal Communications Commission. 

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"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," Stephenson said, according to Reuters.

"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.”

The FCC’s new rules on net neutrality seek to require that Internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast treat all Internet traffic equally, no matter which websites people visit.

In April, AT&T announced plans to bring its extra-fast U-verse to as many as 100 U.S. cities and towns. Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco and Chicago were all on the list of candidate cities.

Stephenson’s announcement that AT&T is holding back on its plans seems like a response to President Obama’s call this week for the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet service so that it could be treated like a public utility.

The announcement stirred the pot for the FCC, which had reportedly been leaning toward a “hybrid” approach that gave different treatment to different levels of Internet service — such as the connection between users and their Internet service providers, on the one hand, and between the service providers and websites, on the other.

After the president’s call on Monday, the FCC delayed consideration of new rules until next year.

Internet service companies have lambasted the president’s call for the FCC to reclassify the Internet. The move would tie down the Internet with decades-old rules, they warn, and would likely be an illegal assertion of the agency’s power.

Already, AT&T has pledged to sue the commission if it decides to take that bold regulatory step.

This story was updated at 12:04 p.m.