Again, Where is the AT&T Fiber?

u_verse_truckAT&T recently announced that they are expanding service of their GigaPower fiber to 35 more communities, bringing the total up to 56 communities. They say that they have plans to pass 14 million homes with fiber by the end of 2019, exceeding the commitment of 12.5 million homes that they promised to the FCC with the purchase of DirecTV.

AT&T says that they were serving 1.6 million homes and businesses with fiber at the end of 2015. The FCC agreement requires them to be offering fiber to 2.6 million customers by the end of this year. AT&T press releases and quotes made to the press claim that the company is already out building fiber like crazy. But are they?

I spent some time on the web looking for evidence that AT&T is building fiber. I started by seeing what I could find about CenturyLink’s fiber build since I know that they are building to pass about 900,000 new homes by the end of this year – about the same goal as AT&T. I skipped over corporate press releases and instead searched for local evidence that CenturyLink is building fiber. And I found plenty of evidence. There are postings by cities warning of coming traffic delays due to construction. There are people posting in local chat groups about CenturyLink fiber. There are newspaper articles taking about the fiber construction.

There was evidence of CenturyLink fiber construction in a lot of markets including: Mesa, Chandler, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Peoria and Anthem in Arizona; Portland in Oregon; Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver and Spokane in Washington; Salt Lake City in Utah, and St. Paul and St. Louis Park in Minnesota. That’s the kind of aggressive fiber construction needed to pass 900,000 homes in a year.

I found a much smaller list of cities where AT&T seems to be building fiber that includes: Raleigh, Cary and Charlotte in North Carolina; Austin in Texas and Overland Park, Lenexa and Prairie Village in Kansas. These are all markets where Google is also building and where it’s been reported for a few years that AT&T is building fiber. I couldn’t find any evidence for new AT&T fiber construction of any magnitude outside of these Google markets. To give AT&T some benefit of the doubt, perhaps they will be able to meet their 2016 goal to add 1 million passings just in these markets.

I also investigated AT&T’s plans for capital spending. I looked at what AT&T told Wall Street about their capital budget. The company has a $22 billion capital budget for this year. $10 billion of that is aimed at overseas spending including $3 billion to build out from their new acquisition in Mexico. The rest of that spending is aimed expanding its Network on Demand and dedicated Internet of Things (IoT) networks in Europe and to roll out new features for its AT&T NetBond offering in Asia-Pacific, EMEA, and Canada.

Most of the rest of AT&T’s capital budget is aimed at improvements in its wireless networks. The company did tell investors in November 2015 that they planned to spend $2 billion per year for the next three years (2016 – 2018) on wireline networks. Further, AT&T told its investors that it expected overall capital spending to start dropping in future years.

But it’s the wireline capital budget that has me scratching my head. Certainly spending $2 billion in 2016 is enough to add the 1 million new passings they are claiming for this year. But AT&T’s overall goal by 2019 is to go from 1.6 million to 14 million passings. Conservatively that is going to cost at least $12.4 billion over four years just for the fiber. And assuming even a modest take rate for getting 20% of those passings as customers would add at least another $2 billion. Looking back at when Verizon was building FiOS we saw the same sort of big numbers for fiber construction.

It’s just hard to see that AT&T is serious about actually meeting the fiber targets it promised to the FCC. To meet their goals will cost something in the range of $14 billion, and yet they have told Wall Street they will only be spending $2 billion per year on wireline capital. Something isn’t adding up.

11 thoughts on “Again, Where is the AT&T Fiber?

  1. I have heard that AT&T is trying very aggressively to get broadband access agreements with apartment complexes and condo associations in order to get their requisite “doors”.

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    • I’ve heard that also. So they bring one fiber to the front of a large apartment complex and they get a large number of fiber passings. While it meets the letter of the FCC agreement, that is not what the FCC had in mind for fiber construction. AT&T must already have fiber very close to a large number of apartment complexes. Interestingly the FCC agreement had to do with building fiber passings, so AT&T doesn’t even have to get customers in a complex to meet the agreement. This would be typical behavior for how AT&T and Verizon have satisfied past ‘agreements’ with government entities.

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  2. Not sure why AT&T even bothers with these fiber to the press release announcements given its current core business focus is on video and mobile on the consumer side and enterprise services and cloud computing. It clearly doesn’t want to be the player in residential telecommunications that it once was.

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    • They have to play the PR game to keep being able to the things they want to do. AT&T has been lying to regulators for at least 20 years. Everybody knows it and it’s just part of the dance.

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  3. All while AT&T is trying to end wireline in California

    Talk about a sad joke. Steve Blum of http://www.tellusventure.com last reported that the AT&T sponsored bill the company tried to get passed under the public’s nose that would’ve given the company permission to effectively shut down the copper fixed line network in the state was met with ferocious opposition by organized labor and angry communities who don’t want to be screwed with very expensive, capped inferior wireless that can’t even deliver nearly have of the demands of the current applications and services now.

    Good.

    But this isn’t going to stop the company from trying again next year. Hopefully, Randall Stephenson will make a deal to hand over the copper to CenturyLink as a possible buyer.

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  4. Well some of the fiber has already been laid and is in use in and around Atlanta! I know I installed lots of it from 2000-2004! I think to be honest AT&T really doesn’t want to spend any money on fiber any longer and wants for focus on wireless internet access and smartphone access! They truely don’t think it will make any difference in rural America if they get internet access or not! They took the big bailout to build out our network and look what we get in return…. Nothing!!

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    • Atlanta is also on the Google list and they have already started some construction there. So it makes sense AT&T is upgrading there.

      One thing that is always worth remembering is that AT&T (and Comcast and all the big ISPs) own a ton of fiber that is not used for fiber-to-the-premise. Both companies largely today have networks that are fiber-to-the-node where they have boxes in neighborhoods served by fiber from which copper is then extended to people’s homes. And so building fiber to new nodes is still not fiber to a customer.

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  5. As crooked as AT&T is/has been, having had UVerse before getting Google Fiber (I live in Kansas City), it’s technically considered as “fiber”. And in our areas they did “upgrades” to the existing network in order to offer us gigabit – which we declined because Google Fiber is far and above better. In many instances they quite possibly don’t have to do any new construction to hit that 1mil mark.

    NOTE: You mention “Lenexa” above as North Carolina – it’s not, it’s a suburb of Kansas City

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    • In the vast majority of places U-verse is not fiber. Most customers on the product are served with a bonded pair of copper cables. But AT&T has done a very good job in confusing things and they sell their actual fiber product under the same name, creating the confusion that U-verse = fiber. Wherever they offer a gigabit you’re on fiber, and everywhere else U-verse is on copper.

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