AT&T Knows When to Fold ‘em

Updated, Friday 9 AM. Look, we told you the AT&T-BellSouth deal would get done. And with all its lawyers and lobbyists, it’s no surprise that AT&T made the smart political move, suggesting a few minor concessions that should grease the wheels at the FCC and help make Ma Bell bigger, sooner.

While it may be painted elsewhere as a victory for the Net neutrality team, don’t be fooled: Jim Cicconi and crew know it’s better to agree to the FCC’s watered-down version of NN rules than to play hardball and give Ed Markey an excuse to start hearings immediately in 2007.

Though big telcos can probably always count on the Bush administration to veto any laws they find unacceptable, they are probably guessing that the prez will have other things than telecom reform on his front burner for the near future.

And while the concession to supply naked DSL seems to have some teeth attached this time around (unlike last time), the fine print shows that AT&T only agrees to put a $19.95-per-month price tag on 768Kbps service, a speed which in a year may seem as quaint as dial-up does today. Remember this wording, after the 768K stuff: “AT&T/BellSouth may make available such services at other speeds at prices that are competitive with the broadband market taken as a whole.” In other words, 1.5K DSL and voice for… $20.95.

UPDATE: Longtime industry watcher Dave Burstein further parses AT&T’s concessions, saying there’s even less there than meets the eye (specifiically in regards to the Net neutrality wording, and leased-line agreements) in a comment below.

Smackdown score? By making AT&T back down a bit, Dem commissioners Copps and Adelstein earn at least a draw here. Chairman Kev will try to paint this one as a much-needed win, but all those really involved know that the telco taskmasters aren’t happy about how it all went down. No bracelet here for Martin.