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AT&T CEO: “DSL is Obsolete”

Phillip Dampier July 21, 2011 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Rural Broadband 8 Comments

Rest in Peace, AT&T DSL

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn’t think much of the company’s largest-reaching broadband product – DSL service, telling an audience at the the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners summer seminar in Los Angeles that AT&T developed DSL mostly to compete with Comcast, but “now that’s obsolete.”

That’s a remarkable admission for AT&T, which continues to provide the bulk of its Internet access to consumers over DSL on its copper-wire telephone network.  Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, in attendance, promptly tweeted the news to her followers: “AT&T CEO — to chase comcast we built dsl, it is obsolete now”

The story from GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham only got stranger when an AT&T spokesperson tried to explain away Stephenson’s careless remarks:

Stephenson was answering a question from an audience member about how state regulators should think about new technology cycles when they are considering things like USF. He said that new technology used to be amortized over a 10-15 year period, but that has shrunk to about 5 years now. He said that DSL was introduced in the 1990s, it has been surpassed in speed by U-verse and Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.0. He also gave the example of deploying 3G in 2006 … and now 5 years later we are rolling out 4G. His point was — new technology is being surpassed by the next generation much quicker than ever before. We have millions of customers using DSL and remain fully committed to the technology — even as we constantly look to bring innovation to the marketplace.

That innovation comes mostly from the company’s more advanced DSL platform U-verse, which is only slowly working its way across urban AT&T service areas.  Unfortunately, that service will not likely be forthcoming for AT&T’s rural landline customers, who will be left with “obsolete” DSL service, if available at all, indefinitely.

With an increasing amount of AT&T’s revenue coming from its wireless division, there is little incentive for AT&T to expand DSL service into areas where it is not already sold.  In fact, most of the company’s landline-oriented lobbying has been directed at allowing the company to abandon its “universal service” obligations to provide decent, basic telephone service in rural areas.  The company has already won that deregulation in several of the states it serves, but has given no indication if and/or when it plans to shut off its landline service.

Landline providers hope American consumers will lead the way, as an increasing number disconnect their home phone lines permanently.

More than half of adults between the ages of 25 and 29 reside in wireless-only homes, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“The number of Americans who rely exclusively on mobile wireless for voice service has increased significantly in recent years,” the FCC said, citing a January-June 2010 National Health Interview Survey.

Unfortunately, rural Americans overwhelmingly receive broadband over that landline network in the form of basic DSL, usually at speeds of 1-3Mbps.  If that network is discontinued, their opportunity for broadband service goes with it.

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Alex Perrier
Alex Perrier
9 years ago

The FCC says that overall, “1 in 4 Homes Relies on Wireless Only.” So if AT&T, Bell Canada, Verizon and other telecoms want to keep their home phone business alive, they should offer very competitive plans. DSL *is* obsolete indeed! :O But does this also include U-Verse and other enhancements to DSL? Phillip, i’ve sent you an article about how yes, indie ISPs in Canada used to be limited to only 5 Mbit/s DSL via Bell’s line network. But last year, Rogers got into the reseller business too, competing with Bell and bringing affordable cable via independents like TekSavvy. For… Read more »

Kirk Schnable
9 years ago

I can’t say I fully agree with the last part. “Unfortunately, rural Americans overwhelmingly receive broadband over that landline network in the form of basic DSL, usually at speeds of 1-3Mbps. If that network is discontinued, their opportunity for broadband service goes with it.” I have lived in a rural area my entire life, and DSL has not been available from AT&T, our telecom. Since DSL is a distance dependent technology, DSL is not going to expand its boundaries, since doing so would require building more infrastructure AT&T doesn’t want to maintain. The last statement ignores wireless directional broadband, which… Read more »

Leslie Holman-Anderson
Leslie Holman-Anderson
9 years ago

DSL is NOT obsolete! I live on an island where it’s the only way to have internet — the phone lines run through a sea cable and the line-of-sight to satellites is very bad. Even if they were in a better location relative to the horizon, we have overcast over 200 days a year and things become very iffy.

And by the way — if 25% of computer owners now have wireless, that still leaves 75% — far and away the majority — with wired connections. There’s your main market.

Alex Perrier
Alex Perrier
9 years ago

Mrs. Anderson, DSL at its basic form is obsolete and rather slow, 7 Mbit/s max & still overpriced. Upgrades to DSL for up to 25 Mbit/s will breathe a little new life into DSL, but cable can easily deliver up to 100 Mbit/s if not more. Cable upload speeds are usually slow at 2 Mbit/s though, whereas DSL 25 has 7 Mbit/s uploads.

Fred
Fred
9 years ago

Mrs Anderson, DSL is NOT broadband and is obsolete. DSL is the equivalent of trying to outrun a Space Shuttle on the back of a mule; there is no chance of it occurring. Rural America must wake up and ditch DSL and build their own municipal FTTH networks for everyone.

JoeM
JoeM
9 years ago

To say that DSL is obsolete goes to show that propaganda is most effective on the know-it-alls of the world. I live in a rural area and when DSL came here back in 2010, many of us were thrilled to finally have decent broadband capability. At one time I had cable internet when I lived in town. Of course, DSL cannot compare to that. But it’s all I have here. Someone tried to bring a Wifi service into this area and failed miserably. The price was outrageous. And of course, Satellite should be eliminated completely since its both unreliable and… Read more »

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