AT&T: Government Networks Must Operate on Level Playing Field

Government-owned telecommunications networks should operate on a “level playing field” and not get preferential treatment over the private sector, AT&T said last week in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

AT&T also said municipal networks should not be deployed where the private sector is already offering broadband service “or can be expected to do so in a reasonable timeframe.”

The telecommunications giant filed the comments in a proceeding in which the FCC has been asked by a North Carolina city and Tennessee power board to preempt state laws that restrict public entities from offering broadband service in certain areas.

In the filing, AT&T didn’t comment on whether the FCC has authority to preempt state laws that restrict municipal broadband networks.

But the company called for safeguards to ensure a level playing field in cases in which a government entity seeks to operate a government network in a market where a private entity can reasonably serve the area.

Such protections should include granting commercial service providers a “right of first refusal” to craft a solution and subjecting government-owned networks (GONs) to the same regulations and laws as the private sector, AT&T said. GONs also should not reap any preferential tax treatment or get preferential access to rights-of-way, nor should they be permitted to enter into agreements that bar commercial rivals from offering services, the filing said.

“Without these protections, there is a real risk that the deployment of GONs will harm competition and consumers by deterring private sector investment that otherwise would occur,” said AT&T.

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