Tonight, a Dramatic Conclusion for the AT&T/BellSouth Telenovella!

In the dramatic penultimate episode of the telecom world’s favorite Telenovella Death Star Reborn: The AT&T-BellSouth Merger, the forces of Network Neutrality and competition win a dramatic victory!

AT&T has submitted a new 20-page letter outlining the conditions it will accept for the merger. Unlike the previous concessions in October, which amounted to little more than a joke and a promotional offer, this set of conditions is quite thorough. The breadth and scope of the conditions leaves me positively breatheless. To mangle Woody Gutherie for a moment:
You shall be neutral, in all your networks
From the first tier backbone, to the retail last mile,
from special access, to the U-N-Es
You shall not leverage market power!

I need a couple of different posts to really cover the implications. But here are the headlines:

1) Network neutrality is required in its fullest form. AT&T cannot prioritize or degrade service based on third party payments or affiliation anywhere between the peering point and the residential “last mile.” So not only has the definition of network neutrality been solidified consistent with that advocated by Save Our Internet and others, but it has been extended from the last mile to the vertically integrated backbone.

2) Residential fixed WiMax is included in the definition of “last mile.” This is the first time net neutrality has ever been applied to a wireless network.

3) AT&T must divest the 2.5 GHz spectrum it would acquire from BellSouth. This addresses a concern raised by Media Access Project and others that AT&T/BS would have an overwhelming spectrum advanatage against other wireless players.

4) AT&T has an agressive build out schedule to provide DSL at 768 KBPS for $19.95/month throughout its coverage area.

5) AT&T agrees to numerous conditions that amount to a return to tariffs and price caps for telecom and DSL resellers and special access (commercial) customers. AT&T can no longer lock competing local exchange carriers (CLECs) or DSL resellers in non-disclosure agreements.

Bonus: AT&T agrees to “repatriate” 3,000 jobs BellSouth had shipped overseas and locate at least five hundred of these “repatriated” jobs in New Orleans.

In tomorrow’s concluding episode, expect the FCC to release the final Order on Friday December 29 and the deal to close immediately thereafter.

Roll credits. Special thanks to Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, for their amazing tenacity and skill. Free Press, Consumers Union, CFA, and the rest of the public interest community that fought like Hell. The tens of thousands of people who filled comments. And Commissioner Robert McDowell, for his amazing act of ethical fortitude.

Stay tuned . . . .


  1. As we hoist a glass over AT&T’s cave in, for the reasons you outline in your excellent post, let’s also recall it was Woody Guthrie, not his son Arlo, who wrote “This Land is Your Land.” đŸ™‚

  2. Good deal…. If you read the fine print though they are only agreeing to this for a term of 30 months, so expect to revisit the issue then. The battle is NOT over.

  3. It’s not over until we get it into law. But we now have a strong definition for network neutrality and a clear acknowledgement of why we need it and how it will work.

    Step by step, by the numbers, we move the ball steadily forward to the goal.

  4. Harold, thanks for the excellent recap!

    Thoughts about the 24 months? Why wouldn’t this be pushed out further, say at least 60 months?

  5. But their Net Neutrality commitment expires in only Two Years! They’re tossing a bone, not making a policy commitment.

  6. Agree with TQ. Legislation is still needed

  7. So,

    I’m sure this roll over actually means nobody goes to jail over the crime against our Constitution called “Warrantless wiretapping of American Citizens”? Either that or there is a huge loophole in it we have yet to hear about.
    Come on -wake up. This is a multinational, they have no moral center. The concept of doing the right thing is very, very, very rare. – As in I’ll believe it when I see it.

  8. Harold, the /.ers are not anywhere near as sanguine as you are about this development. Apparently the concern is with the language used and the loopholes built in.
    The techies seem to think that us Net Neuts shouldn’t be accepting this as anywere even close to a win. They make some interesting points, biggest being that a promise by AT&T to observe network neutrality principles stands about as much of a chance of being lived up to as the broadband in every home promise by the Telcos in 1996.

  9. OOPS, wrong link. This is the right one-

  10. Harold,I’m generally happy, too… I think the low-cost and standalone DSL concessions are material gains for low-income people in most places. But the “aggressive buildout” requirement for ADSL only extend to 85% of the homes in the service territory. Everyone else else gets satellite, which means <a href=”“>$50 to $80 a month plus $299 setup for downloads from 512k to 1.5m</a>. My guess is that AT&T DSL already passes 85% of homes in Ohio, though there might be some incremental buildout involved. But they definitely have <i>not</i> committed to cheap high-speed access for rural areas.

  11. With regard to what mark/TQ mentioned, The time commitment should be sufficient for any legislation that could potentially be passed to be passed.

    If no legislation with regard to Net neutrality is made in more than two years, then it is safe to say that none will be made. Especially considering that the Democrats have Congress.

    AT&T is certainly not “tossing a bone”. AT&T is making a commitment for a time period deemed relevant.

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