AT&T CEO John Stankey (pictured) unloaded with both barrels on the possible return of net neutrality rules for the US broadband industry during a Q3 earnings call, as he stated there were more pressing regulatory concerns to address, such as restoring the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions.

“You’re really just trying to fire me up,” Stankey responded when asked by an analyst about net neutrality.

He stated there were no indications that there was any discrimination going on in the ISP sector, and noted the broadband industry performed well during the outbreak of Covid19 (coronavirus).

“We have an industry in aggregate that supports no blocking, no paid prioritisation, no throttling, contrary to what we see going on with some platform apps that are out there that are choosing to do some of those things,” he noted. “The ISP industry is, I think, the last of customers’ concern. Why we would use taxpayer money and resources and political capital to chase a problem that doesn’t exist is a bit of a mystery to me.”

His comments echoed similar concerns about net neutrality expressed by Verizon Business CEO Kyle Malady at last month’s MWC Las Vegas event.

Net neutrality was struck down in 2017 after a 3-2 vote by Federal Communication Commission (FCC) commissioners during the administration of President Donald Trump.

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal for re-instating the rules in September. The rules would prohibit service providers from blocking or throttling access to websites and online content while also seeking to prevent operators from selectively increasing speeds for entities that agree to pay extra.

Stankey stated AT&T would constructively participate in the net neutrality process with the FCC to demonstrate the broadband market was functioning properly without the new rules.

“Hopefully, there’s reasonable individuals that take that, get a good reading of it, understand it, and decide to set policy consistent with that,” he said. “I haven’t given up hope that that could be the case.”

Mobility revenue up in Q3
AT&T’s revenue was up by 1 per cent year-over-year to $30.4 billion. Mobility revenue increased 3.7 per cent to $15.9 billion, primarily driven by subscriber and post-paid phone ARPU growth.

After four consecutive quarters of declining tariff growth, the operator totalled 460,000 post-paid phone net adds, which exceeded analysts’ projections, and 26,000 prepaid phone subscribers. Post-paid phone churn was 0.79 per cent, a slight improvement compared to 0.84 per cent.

Stankey noted in September the operator saw the strongest iPhone pre-orders for many years, despite competing promotions with higher subsidies allowing lower value device trade-in.

He noted AT&T has also benefitted from an ongoing shift by customers to higher priced tariffs that offer more data.

After a slower start than rivals Verizon and T-Mobile US, AT&T has now launched its fixed-wireless access service (FWA), Internet Air, in 20 markets with plans to be in more than 30 by year-end. The operator added 25,000 FWA subscribers in the quarter.

AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches stated he was confident the FWA service would serve as a strong cash product in areas where the operator continues to sunset its legacy copper service.

Stankey noted he had no issue with selling Internet Air into the business segment, but the operator plans to roll it out on a “surgical and targeted basis”.

It posted 296,000 net additions for its fibre service to surpass 8 million subscribers in total.