With Comcast’s attempted acquisition of Time Warner Cable dead and buried, telecom regulators now shift their gaze to AT&T’s attempt to acquire DirecTV. Unlike the Comcast deal, AT&T’s deal is in some ways worse because it actually eliminates a direct competitor in the pay TV marketplace. Still, somehow the overarching narrative is that the deal isn’t nearly as bad because the final company will be only slightly less massive. As such, regulators appear poised to sign off on the deal, with insiders saying they’re swayed by AT&T’s claims that the deal will somehow help expand broadband services:
“The divergence in fortunes signals that regulators are more worried about providing choice in Internet access and new, online video options than they are about concentration in pay TV…The Federal Communications Commission sees the AT&T deal as helping competition and aiding the spread of broadband into rural areas that lack service, people familiar with the matter said.”
The problem? AT&T’s merger benefit claims have historically been even more ridiculous than Comcast’s. As it stands, AT&T’s current plan is to back away from DSL markets it doesn’t want to pay to upgrade, leaving cable operators with greater monopoly control over dozens of markets than ever before. AT&T’s then planning to run fiber to only very selective high end developments, and shovel most of its older DSL users onto notably more expensive LTE service. Outside of the potential for some satellite/wireless hybrid products, there’s really nothing about the DirecTV deal that changes this.
Yet in a recent, heavily-redacted filing with regulators, AT&T promises that if it’s allowed to buy DirecTV, it will expand fiber to the home service to an extra two million households. After defending its decision to skimp on network investment for a decade, AT&T’s filing illustrates how the telco, unlike Verizon, chose to spend a lot less money on slower fiber to the node service, painting itself in a corner in terms of offering broadband speeds on par with cable. The filing claims that being allowed to buy DirecTV will somehow magically fix this by pushing AT&T to invest more heavily…