AT&T Asked by FCC to Explain Chief’s Vow to Slow Investment

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Regulators asked AT&T Inc. to explain comments by its chief executive officer that he may delay expanding its fast Web service because the government is still debating rules to govern Internet traffic.

AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson on Nov. 12 said additional fiber deployment is on “pause,” two days after President Barack Obama challenged the Federal Communications Commission to adopt tough rules for Internet service providers.

The comments highlight an unsettled environment for broadband investment as Washington prolongs its so-called net-neutrality debate over how tightly to regulate Internet service from cable and telephone companies.

Obama’s proposed strong open-Internet rules are opposed by AT&T and other service providers including Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. Strong rules are backed by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents technology companies including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who had offered weaker regulations, is considering whether to adopt Obama’s approach or take a different course. The independent agency has no deadline to act.

Fiber can carry fast Internet signals, or broadband, and extending that service is a policy goal for the FCC and Obama administration.

Jamilla Ferris, who is leading the FCC’s review of AT&T’s bid for satellite-television provider DirecTV, asked for “all documents” related to plans to limit fiber beyond the 2 million homes pledged in the deal. Ferris wrote to Robert Quinn, AT&T senior vice president-federal regulatory.

“We are happy to respond to the questions posed by the FCC,” Michael Balmoris, an AT&T spokesman, said in an e-mailed message.