Fresh Off Its Merger Failure(s), AT&T Gets Back To Promising Big Fiber Investments That May Or May Not Happen

from the back-to-basics dept

We’ve noted for years how AT&T has this pattern in which they’ll promise a massive wave of new fiber investment and jobs if they get “x” (X=merger approvals, deregulation, tax breaks, a bunch of new subsidies, whatever). Then, a few years later, somebody will realize they failed utterly to meet those obligations. This happens over and over and over and over again, and not only does AT&T never see much in the way of accountability, nobody in state or federal leadership seems to learn much of anything from the process (usually because they’re, well, corrupt).

We’d seen a bit of a break from this cycle the last few years as AT&T was fixated on its disastrous $200 billion Time Warner and DirecTV mergers as part of an effort to dominate online streaming and video advertising. With that effort an abject failure, AT&T has shifted back to focusing more on doing something it should have been doing all along: deploying modern generation fiber. Or at least pretending to in a practice I’ve long affectionately called “fiber to the press release.”

This week AT&T issued a press release stating it would soon be offering ultra-fast 2 Gbps ($110 per month) and 5 Gbps ($180 per month) fiber tiers to 5.2 million customer locations now, with the goal of offering the ultra-fast options to 30 million locations by 2025. Feeling growing (but very spotty) competitive pressure from community broadband fiber deployments, AT&T also announced that it will be ditching most of its caps, sneaky fees, and surcharges on these faster tiers:

“Also starting today, we?re rolling out straightforward pricing across our consumer AT&T Fiber portfolio. For new customers, this means no equipment fees, no annual contract, no data caps and no price increase at 12 months ? just the fastest internet, plus AT&T ActiveArmor SM internet security, next-gen Wi-Fi, and HBO Max included on our fastest speed plans ? at no additional cost.”

These are, on the surface, welcome improvements and a sign AT&T has given up on its media ambitions and gotten back to its core competency: building and managing networks. The problem, of course, is that this isn’t the first time AT&T has made promises of this type. And thanks to unreliable FCC mapping and feckless regulatory oversight, AT&T knows nobody will actually bother to follow up and confirm whether this goal of 30 million locations are ever met.

AT&T has a long history of avoiding minority neighborhoods with these kinds of upgrades. They also have a long history of claiming a market is “launched” with next-gen fiber when in reality they’ve only upgraded a few blocks or high end developments in a city. Users excited about new options then go to check to see if faster speeds are available, usually to find they aren’t (regardless of what the AT&T website claims). There’s a whole lot of users still stuck on ancient AT&T DSL lines the company has repeatedly refused to upgrade (as of last year only an estimated 28% of AT&T customers had full fiber).

Weirdly, few, if any, news outlets that cribbed AT&T’s press release so much as even hinted at the company’s history of empty promises and getting money for fiber upgrades that never materialized. Good news is good news, and if AT&T has truly seen the error of its ways and is interested in seriously competing in broadband by expanding faster access and ditching annoying fees, that’s great. But as somebody who has tracked the company’s promises for twenty years now, I’ve found that a healthy dose of skepticism is almost always warranted.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “Fresh Off Its Merger Failure(s), AT&T Gets Back To Promising Big Fiber Investments That May Or May Not Happen”

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15 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Deposit cleared so here's your tax break approval.'

They really don’t for the most part. Sure some members of the public who aren’t paying attention might be fooled because they honestly don’t know that the same company promising the moon has done so and failed in the past but when it comes to politicians they just don’t care because as much as telecom companies might screw over the public the one group they actually are dedicated to keeping happy via ‘donations’ are politicians.

As for the press, well, journalism and reporting is hard and might annoy powerful companies, much easier and safer to just parrot whatever PR statements are handed to them without commentary.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, that seems to be the case. They’re not throwing HBO and "security" software free of charge. They’re baking the subscription fee into the package whether you use them or not.

It’s great for HBO to have people subscribed to their service by default and thereby hopefully convince more people to use them instead of competitors. It’s even better for them to pocket the fee from people who never cost them a penny by actually using it, and don’t have the ability to opt out.

There’s also the "for new customers" part that stands out. Do existing customers have the option to cancel and take advantage of the new plans if they want? Or, is this just good PR while ensuring that people living in a place with a defacto monopoly have to stick with the older plans with hidden fees?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Fool me two-hundred and thirty-two times...

It’s easy enough to say you’re going to increase service availability for millions of customers, all the more so in an industry that has a history of deciding that a particular area has been served if a house in the area is connected or could theoretically be served, but following through is another thing entirely, and if history is any indication they’ll probably engage in some song and dances just long enough for some PR before going right back to nickel-and-diming and offering the cheapest quality service for the highest possible price.

jsf (profile) says:

Avoiding Competition

I live in one in a Chicago suburb with one of the highest per capita income in the state, and the best speed AT&T offers here is 18MB down. This is a fairly recent boost from the 1.5MB max they offered a few years ago.

Meanwhile we have two cable providers, Comcast and WoW, that offer 1GB+. It would be great to have more competition, but I doubt AT&T would be interested.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Remember When...

The fundamental problem with a lot of these ISPs is that they reached something of a plateau. You get to those speeds with DSL and basic cable infrastructure quite easily, and under the early 2000s idea of what the web was, the actual benefit of expensive upgrades to the average consumer was quite minimal when doing things like browsing, email, etc. There was some demand for higher bandwidth uses, but so long as they could blame all that on piracy and pocket government money for upgrades that would never happen with little comeback, all was good.

But, the industry continued to evolve around them. All of a sudden, those people who downloaded MP3s and did some browsing were trying to watch Netflix streams, play 100GB games and do other perfectly legal and reasonable things that required much higher bandwidth. This was relatively predictable and easily dealt with via sensible upgrade plans, but they were already behind the curve when the demand actually appeared in the mainstream.

So, now it seems it’s going the other way – they’re trying to boast about providing those higher speeds, but doing so in a way that allows them to still profit as if they’re offering some kind of premium package instead of something that would have been a natural progressive upgrade to existing plans.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: You're offering the bare minimum that's expected, congrats?

So, now it seems it’s going the other way – they’re trying to boast about providing those higher speeds, but doing so in a way that allows them to still profit as if they’re offering some kind of premium package instead of something that would have been a natural progressive upgrade to existing plans.

Like a restaurant trying to boast about how luxurious and high class they are because they offer free water with your meal and provide silverware so that diners don’t have to bring their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

At this point, I don’t care about AT&T. My experiences in the past with them make sure they will be the last provider I’d ever consider. If it’s not sneaky fees being added, it’s terrible customer service.

That price offered in the article…just more of the same over priced product. Once they have a good user base, likely they will go right back to caps as well.

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