A few years ago, AT&T realized something amazing: you don't have to build a cutting edge, fiber to the home broadband network, when it's relatively easy to fool the press and public into believing
you're building a cutting edge, fiber to the home network. So as AT&T was actually busy reducing its fixed-line broadband spending and quietly walking away
from DSL users it didn't want to upgrade, it launched a service it calls "U-Verse with Gigapower." Basically, AT&T's delivering gigabit speeds to high-end housing developments, then pretending the upgrades are much, much larger than they actually are.
Case in point: AT&T this week breathlessly announced that the company was deploying gigabit fiber to 38 more markets
, bringing the grand total of its gigabit fiber deployment to an amazing
56 total metro markets:
"AT&T announced today it is planning to expand the availability of ultra-fast speeds through AT&T GigaPower to homes, apartments and small businesses in parts of 38 additional metros across the United States – which will total at least 56 metros served. With the launch of our ultra-fast Internet service in parts of 2 of these metros today – Los Angeles and West Palm Beach – AT&T GigaPower is now available in 20 of the nation’s largest metros.
Note a few things about the announcement, however. Nowhere does the company state when
these connections will be delivered. Similarly nowhere does the company make clear that it's targeting mostly high-end housing developments where fiber is already in the ground, making costs negligible (the only way you could technically accomplish a deployment of this kind and magically have your CAPEX consistently drop). And while AT&T claims these improvements will reach 14 million residential and commercial locations, AT&T gives no timeline for this accomplishment. That means it could cherry pick a few hundred thousand University condos and housing developments per year and be wrapping up this not-so-epic fiber deployment by 2040 or so.
Nowhere -- now or ever -- will you see AT&T specify precisely how many users have, or will be able to get gigabit speeds from AT&T. That's because, in reality, users in these "launched" markets will almost always find it difficult if not impossible to sign up for this gigabit service. And, in some cases, by a "launched" market AT&T actually means a few dozen homes sitting on a hill in a single housing development.
Now take a minute and look at the press coverage of AT&T's announcement
, and try to find one
news outlet that could be bothered to note the limited nature of these launches. Whether it's the Shreveport Times
or the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
, AT&T's convinced the entire country that it's on the cusp of getting gigabit fiber that -- for the vast majority of them -- is never going to actually arrive
. Even technology news outlets that should know better (if they'd spent five minutes studying AT&T's history on this front) are busy bandying about quotes how AT&T is "outpacing every other competitor
To be clear, some
AT&T customers will certainly get fiber. If you live in one of the few areas where AT&T has to actually compete thanks to Google Fiber, or in locations where it's possible to upgrade to fiber with the least amount of effort and cost possible, you may be upgraded -- eventually. Granted it won't be cheap, and you'll have to pay a steep premium
if you don't want AT&T to spy on you, but you'll get fiber. More likely than not, however, you live in a DSL or U-Verse (FTTN) market that AT&T not only won't upgrade, but may be walking completely away from
in order to focus on more profitable (read: usage capped) wireless.
The press and public aren't the only ones being conned. AT&T has consistently used its phantom fiber deployment as a carrot on a stick with regulators, at one point threatening to stop making
these barely-there investments unless regulators walked back net neutrality. AT&T backed off
the claim when the FCC asked for hard data, but this kind of telecom theater works exceptionally well in state legislatures. Last week AT&T claimed net neutrality prevented
them from innovating, and this week they're portraying themselves as the innovator of the century (even though the only actual innovation here is in misleading PR).
And AT&T's not alone when it comes to bogus gigabit bravado. Most of the major phone and cable companies have similarly responded to Google Fiber by cherry picking the nation's most affluent housing developments for gigabit deployment, then pretending they're keeping pace with the nation's broadband needs. Even Google Fiber has made a habit lately of getting oodles of press attention for fiber deployments that may or may not
actually happen. In reality however, two thirds of homes lack the choice of more than one ISP at speeds of 25 Mbps or greater. And as AT&T and Verizon walk away from unwanted DSL markets, cable's monopoly power is going to grow, making broadband less competitive than ever in many markets.
None of this is to pooh pooh the actual gigabit fiber deployments that are occurring. While it only has an estimated 100,000 subscribers now, there's every indication Google Fiber's going to eventually have a major disruptive impact
. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on at the grass roots level, whether it's municipal broadband, or companies like Tucows
taking the reins and upgrading small towns, one at a time. But on the meta scale, an uncritical press is contributing to an epic case of delusion when it comes to the pace of broadband progress.
That's why we're not living in the age of fiber to the home -- so much as we're living in the age of fiber to the press release