updated 04:00 pm EDT, Thu October 25, 2007
Stephenson Forbes Comments
The iPhone is making AT&T reconsider its approach to data and video, company chief Randall Stephenson said today at the Forbes MEET II forum. While most users have typically been sparing with Internet use on their phones, the frequency of access "jumps by multiples" when existing subscribers switch to an iPhone, the carrier head noted. The executive also observed that the Apple handset's ability to play video had changed his and the company's approach to video playback, as he and many at the company had never thought it likely that customers would watch video on a cellphone until the iPhone became public.
This sudden discovery of the usefulness of video plays significantly into the motivation behind buying 700MHz spectrum from Aloha Partners, Stephenson said. The potentially fast, long-range frequency would allow AT&T to provide streaming video more easily than it can on today's HSDPA and upcoming HSUPA networks. Large amounts of built-in storage on the iPhone and similar devices are helpful for now, the AT&T chief added, but will be less essential when subscribers can stream the content instantly regardless of their location. No long-term plans for a 700MHz for the iPhone or any device were mentioned at the MEET II event.
Stephenson also reiterated his company's anti-regulatory stance on issues such as carrier device restrictions and net neutrality. The US federal government 'killed' broadband penetration at the turn of the century through controls on access and price, and was likely to do so again if it stepped in to resolve perceived problems today, he contended. AT&T was described as having no plans to violate the principles of net neutrality but would also resist attempts to pass laws that guarantee a level playing field. The company chief also did not object to private organizations offering municipal Wi-Fi but complained about having to "compete with the government" when a city administration proposes building a free or low-cost wireless connection.