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FCC seeks more info on AT&T's plan to 'pause' fiber rollout

The plan was aired in response to President Obama's request to the Federal Communications Commission for tougher broadband regulations. Now the FCC wants details.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson's intent to go into " pause mode" with the company's plans to deploy high-speed fiber-optic lines throughout the country has piqued the Federal Communications Commission's curiosity.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson got on the FCC's radar with comments he made this week. Stephen Shankland/CNET

The FCC on Friday sent a letter to AT&T seeking more information about the company's fiber deployment plans, including the current rollout, the breakdown of the technology used and both its former and current plans on the number of households it plans to reach.

Stephenson was moved to make his announcement on Wednesday, a day after President Obama came out in support of tougher regulations that would treat broadband services like a utility. "We can't go out and invest in that kind of network without knowing the rules governing the network," Stephenson said.

The FCC said it would explore all options, including Obama's preference for placing broadband services under "Title II" regulations, which would give governments a say in how Internet service providers could price their offerings. Proponents say Title II represents the best way to ensure Net neutrality, or unbiased handling of all Internet traffic by Internet service providers. AT&T and other ISPs have argued the additional regulations would hurt innovation and capital investment.

The comments and subsequent letter come as AT&T is attempting to get approval from the FCC on its $48.5 billion deal to acquire DirecTV. The approval process at the FCC was already put on hold for a separate matter relating to consumer protection provisions.

The Dallas telecommunications giant said it would work with the FCC.

"We are happy to respond to the questions posed by the FCC in its review of our merger with DirecTV," the company said in an e-mailed statement. "As we made clear earlier this week, we remain committed to our DirecTV merger-related build-out plans."

AT&T had previously planned to deploy fiber-optic lines capable of achieving speeds of 1 gigabit per second to 100 cities next year. But Stephenson said he would limit the deployment to 2 million additional homes that were committed as part of the DirecTV deal. The GigaPower service is only in a few select cities, including Austin, Texas.

In addition to its rollout plans, the FCC wanted to look at whether AT&T's investment plan in fiber is unprofitable; whether the 2 million homes it has committed to would be an unprofitable venture; and all documents related to those plans following the acquisition of DirecTV.

The FCC gave AT&T until November 21 to respond.