AT&T changes tune on broadband build-out

AT&T denies that it is planning to pause its build out of high-speed fiber Internet lines to millions of Americans because of potential regulations on Internet service providers.

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“AT&T still plans to complete the major initiative we announced in April,” the company said Wednesday in response to questions from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about its plans to deploy U-Verse fiber access service to as many as 100 cities.

Earlier this month, however, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company was halting those plans, citing potential net neutrality regulations that could treat Internet service providers like public utilities.

"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," he told investors. A spokesman with AT&T confirmed at the time that Stephenson was referring to the build-out plans announced in April.

Instead, the telecommunications giant claimed on Wednesday that the uncertainty about new rules will only affect possible additional plans.

“While we have reiterated that we will stand by the commitments described above, this uncertainty makes it prudent to pause consideration of any further investments — beyond those discussed above — to bring advanced broadband networks to even more customer locations,” senior vice president Robert Quinn wrote to the FCC.

“AT&T simply cannot evaluate additional investment beyond its existing commitments until the regulatory treatment of broadband service is clarified.”

The reversal comes after pressure from the FCC, which is currently reviewing whether to approve AT&T’s pending $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV.

Stephenson’s initial claim came days after President Obama urged the FCC to enact tough rules on the Internet so that it can be treated like a utility.