AT&T delighted Internet enthusiasts, but not its shareholders, today by announcing the three-year investment effort. The company says it will expand its U-verse TV, broadband, and voice rollout by one-third making it available to 33M “customer locations” by the end of 2015. There’ll be a lot more fiber optic cable in the system, enabling it to accommodate faster broadband speeds. In addition, AT&T will expand its 4G LTE network to cover 300M people by the end of 2014 — up from current plans to reach 250M by the end of 2013. “This is a major commitment to invest in 21st Century communications infrastructure for the United States and bring high-speed Internet connectivity — 4G LTE mobile and wireline IP broadband — to millions more Americans,” CEO Randall Stephenson says.
The company asked the FCC to facilitate the plan by changing some rules. Chairman Julius Genachowski likely will take them seriously. He says that he believes in “driving the virtuous cycle of private investment and innovation in the broadband ecosystem, promoting competition, and protecting consumers.” Consumer group Public Knowledge — a frequent critic of broadband companies including AT&T — is intrigued. The initiative could “revive competition with cable broadband at a time when many had concluded we were doomed to a cable monopoly,” says SVP Harold Feld. He says AT&T’s decision shows that the FCC and Justice Department made the right decision last year by resisting its effort to merge with T-Mobile.
Wall Street’s uneasy about the added costs. AT&T shares are down 2.7% this afternoon. The company said that its capital expenditures could hit $22B for each of the next three years, but would pay off in the long run. To illustrate its ability to handle the expense, AT&T today increased its quarterly dividend a penny to 45 cents a share.