AT&T Exec Claims Net Neutrality Delayed “A Bunch Of Stuff”

Tomorrow, the FCC will square off in court against the telecom industry over the recently enacted Open Internet order (aka “net neutrality), which allows the government to regulate broadband in a way similar to its oversight of telephone lines. AT&T, which has sued the government over the neutrality rules, is now making vague claims that the FCC’s actions caused it to hold off on releasing a “bunch of stuff.”

Those are actual words spoken by a highly paid executive, AT&T Senior VP Bob Quinn, at a symposium earlier this week.

“Since the Open Internet order came out we’ve had weekly calls with the business units and literally 15 lawyers who are all trying to figure out whether that stuff we’ve invested in… would be a violation of the order,” Quinn told the audience, according to Politico. “We’ve had to shelve a bunch of stuff because we’ve got to wait and see.”

What that “stuff” is, we don’t know, though Quinn did apparently say that AT&T couldn’t have been first out of the gate with something similar to T-Mobile’s Binge On offer that doesn’t charge users for accessing video streams from certain providers. According to Politico, he said the company was unsure how the FCC would respond.

But AT&T had already been offering something similar long before the new neutrality order was even a glint in FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s eye. Back in Jan. 2014, weeks before a federal appeals court gutted the original 2010 Open Internet order, AT&T launched “Sponsored Data” — a program through which content companies could subsidize AT&T users’ wireless data.

At the time, there was no consensus on whether Sponsored Data meshed with the 2010 neutrality rules’ ban on unfairly prioritizing access to specific content providers — and people are still debating it, though FCC Chair Wheeler recently made it clear that he not only thinks these sorts of arrangement can be okay under the Open Internet order, but that they are “highly innovative and highly competitive.”

Even as the old neutrality rules were left bleeding by the side of the information superhighway and new ones were drafted to replace them, AT&T has continued with its Sponsored Data program, which raises a question about whether Quinn’s claim is genuine or puffery for an anti-regulation audience.

Beyond the issue of sponsored data and zero ratings, AT&T’s claims that the neutrality order would kill investment and harm innovation are also not evident in the company’s actions.

AT&T has begun tests on Wireless Local Loop technology intended to provide quality fixed wireless broadband services to millions of rural customers. Though this was something AT&T said it would do if it was allowed to acquire AT&T, the deployment of WLL service is not a regulatory condition of that deal, meaning the company could have delayed its rollout if neutrality were the true crippling, bureaucratic nightmare AT&T makes it out to be.

Likewise, no law or regulation is forcing AT&T to invest billions in expanding its high-speed Gigapower fiberoptic service, which is now in more than a dozen markets around the country with on-the-record plans for further expansion.

The company recently told employees that it will be spending even more money rolling out its next-gen pay-TV service and rebranding both its existing DirecTV and U-Verse products under the new AT&T Entertainment brand.

According to the company’s most recent quarterly financials, AT&T’s capital expenditures were $5.3 billion for the third quarter of 2015, a year-over-year increase of $100 million, indicating that the company is still spending money like it used to.

For all AT&T’s woe-is-us wailing, investors don’t seem to be worried. In the months since the Open Internet order was enacted, the company’s share price has effectively remained flat.

[via Ars Technica]