AT&T Continues to Fight for State, Federal Deregulation

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After introducing regulatory and legislative measures in those states where it provides telecommunications/broadband services, AT&T has intensified its drive for deregulation of those same services through a pleading before the FCC.

Starting back in 2010, AT&T began a deregulatory campaign in several states with the goal of moving its landline local services to an IP-based platform. With help from the American Legislative Exchange Council, AT&T-backed legislation has been introduced – and passed – in many states, using “model” bills that prevent the regulation of IP services. AT&T’s intent, of course, is to remove entirely its local services from any state regulation of service quality or pricing.

Along with its campaign to replace legacy wireline local services with deregulated IP-based offerings, AT&T has also campaigned to end, altogether, those long-standing state regulations that require it to offer local landline services. Recently, Illinois became one of many states to pass a bill, which still must be signed by the governor, granting relief from its historical, statutory obligation to provide these legacy services to AT&T’s 1 million plus customers. At last count, 19 of the 21 states in which it operates have enacted similar measures.

In November 2016, AT&T took its deregulatory fight to the Federal Communications Commission. Its petition, which reflects many of the same principles as the previously passed state model bills, requested regulatory relief to change over its legacy local services to IP technology. The petition, of course, asks the FCC to relinquish its enforcement powers over service quality and pricing when local IP systems are in place.

While the Commission, on May 10th, requested additional comments on this petition, there seems to be a strong possibility that today’s deregulation-oriented FCC will eventually grant AT&T’s wishes, just as many states have already done.

Even if the FCC were to put some restrictions on AT&T’s request – such as limiting its retreat from the provision of local services to areas with robust competition — relieving a carrier of AT&T’s size and influence from ANY of its traditional Universal Service obligations could have severely negative consequences for millions of rural, elderly and poor Americans. Other large carriers will inevitably follow.

We doubt very much that the creation of a monolithic super carrier, hell bent on destroying Universal Service, was what the architects of Divestiture had in mind.