AT&T’s New Paradigm

Copper Strands
Copper Strands (CC) Blyzz

A couple of weeks ago, AT&T unveiled its investment plans going forward and clarified the way it envisages wireline and wireless broadband in the coming years. Teresa Mastrangelo has a blog post that clarifies the salient elements of the announcement (AT&T Details its $14 Billion Project Velocity-IP). Another must-read (though longer and a bit more on the rambling side) is Dave Burstein’s comments over at DSL prime (
AT&T: Turning Off Copper To More Than Half Territory, 99% POPs LTE In Territory, 90% Out, Fiber To Businesses). Dave not only looks at what’s announced but at what’s not and what it means from a policy perspective.

I think both of these are worth reading if you want to understand what is potentially a big shift in US Telecom regulation (provided the FCC approves the plans). My comments are more on the implications. And since the rest of the world often turns to the US for examples, this may give ideas to others…

So, in a nutshell:

  • AT&T didn’t manage to divest their copper operations, so they’ve finally decided to upgrade a broader territory than originally planned with both U-Verse and better DSL through DSLAM upgrades . But this is by no means the whole of their territory, and by Dave Burstein’s assumptions, 20-30% of the US territory will be left with copper lines that only deliver voice.
  • Heavy investment in LTE is designed to cover for territories where wireline broadband will not be available. I personally have doubts that it will deliver a decent alternative, not to mention that just a year ago AT&T was saying it was technically unfeasible without T-Mobile’s spectrum…
  • This effectively spells the end of universal service as we know it. This is significant not only for the US, but for the rest of the world also. Regulators have yet to address the looming issue of universal service compensation mechanisms falling apart as voice line revenues dwindle and operators focus on investing in dense urban areas (if at all).

This is certainly going to be the must-follow telecom story of the quarter…