AT&T lobbies against nationwide fiber, says 10Mbps uploads are good enough

AT&T admits fiber is most “future-proof” but wants US to fund slower networks.

AT&T is lobbying against proposals to subsidize fiber-to-the-home deployment across the US, arguing that rural people don’t need fiber and should be satisfied with Internet service that provides only 10Mbps upload speeds.

AT&T Executive VP Joan Marsh detailed the company’s stance Friday in a blog post titled “Defining Broadband For the 21st Century.” AT&T’s preferred definition of 21st-century broadband could be met with wireless technology or AT&T’s VDSL, a 14-year-old system that brings fiber to neighborhoods but uses copper telephone wires for the final connections into each home.

“[T]here would be significant additional cost to deploy fiber to virtually every home and small business in the country, when at present there is no compelling evidence that those expenditures are justified over the service quality of a 50/10 or 100/20Mbps product,” AT&T wrote. (That would be 50Mbps download speeds with 10Mbps upload speeds or 100Mbps downloads with 20Mbps uploads.)

AT&T said that “overbuilding” areas that already have acceptable speeds “would needlessly devalue private investment and waste broadband-directed dollars.”

“Overbuilding” is what the broadband industry calls one ISP building in an area already served by another ISP, whereas Internet users desperate for cheaper, faster, and more reliable service call that “broadband competition.”

Democrats want 100/100Mbps in rural areas

The AT&T blog post came about two weeks after Congressional Democrats proposed an $80 billion fund to deploy broadband with download and upload speeds of 100Mbps to unserved areas. The Biden administration is also planning a $3 trillion package that includes funding for rural broadband among many other priorities. Four US senators recently called on the Biden administration to establish a “21st century definition of high-speed broadband” of 100Mbps both upstream and downstream.

The US subsidizing deployment of symmetrical 100Mbps speeds would help other ISPs bring fast broadband to areas where AT&T still uses old phone lines that have fallen into disrepair because AT&T hasn’t properly maintained them. AT&T could bid for the funding too, of course, but it doesn’t want to build fiber throughout rural areas. AT&T previously said it is deploying fiber to 3 million more homes and businesses this year, but the company is only doing so in metro areas and mostly in those metro areas where AT&T already built out most of the infrastructure and can get a better return on investment. There are tens of millions of homes without fiber in AT&T’s 21-state wireline service area….[   ]

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