Washington reaction was swift and positive to AT&T's commitment to invest $14 billion in building out its wired and wireless broadband networks, including expanding its U-Verse video service, which was announced Wednesday at an analyst conference in New York.
The two government officials with primary oversight of the Obama Administration's push for wired and wireless broadband buildout, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and NTIA chief Larry Strickling, weighed in.
Genachowski essentially used the announcement as evidence that there is a healthy climate for investment and innovation in the sector, which he has said FCC actions under his tenure have promoted, and to spotlight FCC efforts.
"AT&T's announcement of billions of dollars in new investment in wired and wireless broadband networks is proof positive that the climate for investment and innovation in the U.S. communications sector is healthy," he said. "Today's announcement adds to nearly $200 billion of investment in wireless and wireline broadband networks since 2009, and powerful growth in the Internet economy."
"Through our groundbreaking steps to free up spectrum, our once-in-a-generation overhaul of Universal Service, our phase-down of the byzantine and outdated intercarrier compensation system, our Broadband Acceleration Initiative and numerous other actions, we've taken major strides to promote private investment in broadband networks," he said.
Strickling gave props to the newly re-elected President as well as to AT&T.
"The President set the ambitious goal that 98 percent of Americans should have access to high-speed wireless Internet within five years," he said. "He has put in place policies from freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband to tax incentives to help speed up this process. AT&T's commitment to further expand its broadband footprint is a promising step that, together with other investments of private capital, will help achieve this goal. We look forward to reviewing further details as they become available and continuing to work to expand choices for consumers, increase competition, and increase access to high-speed broadband."
Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, who has never been shy about criticizing telecom companies when he thinks they are being anticompetitive, had plenty of praise for AT&T's announcement, though he attributed some of that to the government's blocking of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.
"AT&T is to be applauded for investing in its network and breathing new life into DSL and rural wireless," he said. "This investment will not only create new jobs and bring broadband to the heartland, it has the potential to revive competition with cable broadband at a time when many had concluded we were doomed to a cable monopoly."
But Feld also gave the FCC and Justice some of the credit for the announcement.
"However, AT&T would not have made this investment if it had solved its problems through consolidation by buying T-Mobile. To get the merger through, AT&T promised to invest $8 billion in the combined network, and leaked documents during the merger review suggested the actual investment would have been closer to $3 billion. By blocking the merger, the Department of Justice and the FCC have increased AT&T's investment in its network.