AT&T and BlackRock fiber partnership can alter the US broadband landscape, but successful execution will take time, says GlobalData

Following today’s news that AT&T and a unit of BlackRock will form a joint venture to operate a commercial fiber-optic platform, with AT&T as its first wholesale tenant;

Tammy Parker, Principal Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view:

“AT&T is pursuing a shrewd path to extend its fiber footprint nationwide without assuming all the risk by itself. Although the new Gigapower platform will be operated as a joint venture with BlackRock, offering commercial open access to not only AT&T but also other internet service providers and businesses, the carrier’s influence features prominently: the moniker ‘GigaPower’ was formerly applied to AT&T’s fiber-based service, which was renamed ‘AT&T Fiber’ in October 2016.

“The Gigapower platform will serve customers outside of AT&T’s traditional 21-state wireline footprint, and as the platform’s first wholesale tenant AT&T will be able to sell fiber service in more wireline markets, complement its nationwide mobile service footprint, and enable the carrier to market fixed-mobile service bundles in those markets. Over time, AT&T should be able to leverage this dual-technology capability to not only attract new customers and revenue streams, but also increase customer retention as subscribers who take multiple services from a carrier tend to be ‘stickier’ and less likely to stray to a rival service provider.

“The AT&T and BlackRock JV poses a competitive challenge to cable providers and regional fiber providers, whose broadband reaches are geographically restricted, though those carriers could possibly become tenants on the open access Gigapower platform to extend their own footprints.

“Gigapower will also help AT&T extend its fiber offerings to compete against the highly successful fixed wireless access (FWA) services being marketed by rivals T-Mobile US and Verizon to residential and business broadband customers both inside and outside of AT&T’s existing wireline service area. However, unlike FWA services, which can ride on top of existing mobile network coverage and are often self-installable, fiber requires the deployment of new infrastructure and truck rolls to the premises to be served, impacting time to market for AT&T and BlackRock’s ambitious plan. Additionally, Gigapower’s initial footprint will cover only 1.5 million customer locations, and it is unclear what the deployment timeline will be.

“After largely extracting itself from its previous foray into entertainment, AT&T continues doubling down on its broadband focus, committing to both 5G and fiber nationwide. AT&T’s JV with BlackRock has the potential to alter the broadband landscape, not only by enabling AT&T to market fiber in more markets but also by providing a platform for public-private broadband partnerships between Gigapower and local municipalities. However, it will take time to see results from this long-term play.”

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