AT&T has been working hard to gut regulations governing traditional phone service so they can exit the landline (DSL & POTS) business in numerous areas and focus on the real money maker: wireless. To do this, they've been going state to state, promising locals a cornucopia of broadband upgrades
-- if only locals agree to eliminate all pesky remaining regulations.
In order to help them in the quest, AT&T has employed the use of an endless stream of folks who've been running editorials in major papers without clearly illustrating they're working for AT&T. This has ranged from billionaire Steve Forbes
to former Virginia Democratic Congressman Rick Boucher -- all of whom have professed you really don't need that DSL line you're currently using
(but nobody seems willing to upgrade).
AT&T and friends are back this week with a new study by the AT&T-funded Internet Innovation Alliance, which again claims that since you're not really using these clunky old copper networks, you surely won't mind if AT&T pulls the plug while regulators turn the other cheek. After all, the study notes
, just 5% of the nation's households rely exclusively on circuit-switched voice telecommunications.
The goal in both the study and AT&T's recent editorials is to conflate the migration to an "all IP age" with the elimination of the regulations governing copper networks. Obscured is the fact that much of AT&T's existing services still run over copper networks, and that by eliminating regulations governing copper, you're effectively allowing AT&T to leave millions of DSL and POTS users (if not tens of millions of users when you include all telcos) high and dry on line maintenance and upgrades.
AT&T and Verizon insist that capped LTE will be good enough for any customers severed from DSL connectivity, even though data insists wireless remains no substitute for wireline
, and such a shift would be immeasurably more expensive (courtesy of low caps and $10 per gigabyte overages) for most impacted customers. That's assuming they could get a reliable LTE connection at home in the first place.
"Outdated regulations that force companies to build and maintain obsolete copper-based legacy telephone networks are unnecessarily diverting investment away from modern broadband networks and services that 95% of U.S. households prefer, desire and use," said the study. Eliminate those, AT&T and friends insist, and the result will quite magically be a significant boost in investment and connectivity for all to enjoy.
Critics are quick to point out that it's more frequently the lack of market competition that's responsible for lagging infrastructure advancement, and until that is somehow addressed -- little will seriously improve. Yet in a statement introducing the study this week Rick Boucher claimed that "freeing up the telcos would allow them to build" amazing new infrastructure, creating "a more vibrant competitor to cable."
Except gutting regulations in many second tier cities and rural DSL markets AT&T wants to exit will likely do the exact opposite.
AT&T and Verizon are eager to cede huge swaths of already uncompetitive markets to cable, creating an even stronger fixed-line broadband monopoly in many markets. Not to mention the death of competitors using AT&T's copper facilities. Less competition means higher prices, and reduced network investment. Verizon's a step ahead of AT&T on this front, and has already been busy socking DSL users with higher rates and forced bundles
in the hopes they'll flee to cable (who'll then sell them wireless lines as part of their new co-marketing partnership).
Historically when it comes to AT&T, deregulating the company has resulted in higher prices, less competition and worse services
, though that's something the industry likes to ignore as it clamours relentlessly for less oversight.