The commitment uses as its standard not the new net neutrality regulations being designed right now by the Federal Communications Commission, but rather the commission's old rules that were implemented in 2010 and subsequently struck down by a federal court in January. AT&T says it'll respect the old regulations no matter what the FCC's new proposed rules on net neutrality wind up looking like. Critics say the agency's current plan doesn't go far enough.
AT&T's net neutrality commitment follows in the footsteps of another media giant, Comcast. In 2011, Comcast agreed to uphold the 2010 FCC rules as a condition of its agreement to buy NBC Universal.
AT&T's terrestrial broadband service, U-Verse, currently reaches only about 25 percent of the country, according to analyst Craig Moffett. And AT&T's net neutrality commitment will likely not apply to mobile broadband, as the 2010 rules excluded the wireless industry.
But consumer advocates were quick to cast skepticism on AT&T's offer.
"If this is the perk of an acquisition, why is it ending after three years?" said Bartees Cox, spokesman for the public interest group Public Knowledge.