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AT&T Ponders Life Outside the U-verse with Broadband TV

Telco takes temperature of consumers for virtual MSO service

AT&T may be considering jumping into the deep end of streaming. Or it’s just worried about someone else’s streaming service washing away its customers.

(From the pages of the April 2 issue of Variety.)

A customer survey sent out March 14 to AT&T’s U-verse subscribers asked whether they would be interested in signing up for, or even inquiring about, a “new video and Internet service” that would: Stream to customers’ own devices without a receiver box; include local broadcast channels and “popular sports and entertainment” cable channels; the option to bundle one streaming service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime; and better picture quality and shorter wait times for streaming, All this would be offered “at a significantly lower price than traditional pay TV services” and without usage charges for streaming. A WiFi router and 6-megabit Internet would be included. Content would be streamed to tablets and phones as well as TVs, Blu-ray players and game consoles.

The product description could mean AT&T is considering launch of a broadband-delivered TV package outside of its U-verse footprint, perhaps in the same virtual-MSO mold as Intel, albeit on its own broadband network.

The survey also suggests the company is asking for competitive reasons. “This service could be offered by any broadband provider, not necessarily AT&T,” the survey reads.

There are two ways to read this: AT&T may be pondering a bold move on offense, offering such a service in hopes of retaining customers who are thinking about cord-cutting. Or it could just be scouting on defense, trying to get a sense of how vulnerable it is should a competitor offer such a service.

The company has sent up many trial balloons regarding new product ideas through U-verse customer surveys. Few of those ideas have come to fruition — yet. But it’s unusual for AT&T to put out a survey this specific.

AT&T seems well positioned to provide such a service, especially considering it already has relationships with major content providers. Its U-verse network is “fiber to the node,” which already brings high-speed fiber optic cable into subscribers’ neighborhoods.

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