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If there are any companies out there who are legitimately discouraged from investing in their broadband networks because of the FCC’s Title II reclassification, they can thank AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson for savagely undercutting any chance anyone will take them seriously.

Stephenson, appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box, said that AT&T is moving ahead with its planned $18 billion spend this year on wireless broadband and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) infrastructure. AT&T will be covering 13 million more homes with wireless broadband, he said, and will be extending FTTH to 2 million homes.

This is notable because Stephenson was among the first, most vociferous critics of the FCC’s Open Internet Order and remains so. Stephenson, like other executives, has been arguing that the reclassification of broadband would lead to years of litigation, leaving ISPs without any clarity on the regulatory situation. That uncertainty would force ISPs to reconsider their investments in broadband infrastructure, he said. That's before the implementation of the rules themselves, which many execs also insist discourage investment.

But maybe not. At least not for AT&T.

“The exact comment I made was that we were going to put a pause on new broadband deployment plans until we see how these rules came out,” Stephenson said. “We have seen how the rules came out. As we read those rules, we believe they are subject to modification by the Courts, and remand by the Courts the FCC to address them. But based on how the rules have been written, and how we’re reading the tone in Congress, we’re actually fairly confident that one means or another, the rules are going to be modified.”

He also said, “There’ll be a new FCC probably 18 months, 20 months from now, and you’re a 3-2 vote away from those rules changing.”

So let’s review:

  • Trade organizations and individual companies (including AT&T) will litigate to overturn the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which will take months or years, with no certainty of prevailing, or
  • Congress might create legislation that replaces the Open Internet Order that is more compliant with what big ISPs want, which will take months or possibly years, or…
  • If the Republican candidate wins the next Presidential election, then the FCC will end up with a majority of Republican Commissioners who will reverse the current Order – in a year-and-a-half to two years.

So it will take a minimum of six months before the FCC Order might be reversed, and quite probably longer.

And no matter how confident Stephenson says he is that the FCC Order will be reversed, a reversal is not the slam dunk he’s saying it is, because every possibility he’s banking on is provisional.

There is nothing -- nothing -- clear about the regulatory landscape.

Which all means that AT&T does not need regulatory clarity to invest in its broadband networks. What Stephenson says about that is irrelevant. What he does is relevant. And what AT&T is doing is investing in broadband without any semblance of regulatory clarity.

Worse, Stephenson whiffed when swinging at a softball question: what exactly in the order won’t hold up?

“The process,” he responded.

Seriously? That’s all the CEO of AT&T could come up with? That the FCC process leading up to the Order was flawed? For someone who should be arguing that the rules themselves discourage investment in broadband, the only thing he can come up with that he dislikes about the Order was the process?

With friends like these, who needs the FCC?

Separately, responding to a question about the DirecTV deal, Stephenson said the addition of DirecTV will immediately make U-verse TV a money-maker. “We go from a TV product that was losing money, to one that is profitable, just like that, overnight.”

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