AT&T Publicly Promises Tennessee A Broadband Revolution, Privately Fights To Keep It A Broadband Backwater

from the cake-and-eat-it-too dept

As we’ve covered repeatedly, AT&T’s busy backing away from countless DSL markets it doesn’t want to upgrade, promising states that if they gut all consumer protections, those states will magically be awash in numerous broadband options. Of course what AT&T’s actually doing is gutting DSL and traditional phone service, then shoving those users toward significantly more expensive wireless service — which may or may not actually be available, and usually isn’t a full substitute. At the same time, it’s going state to state pushing protectionist laws that prevent towns and cities from improving their own networks, whether that’s through building their own broadband networks, or partnering with a private company to do so.

It’s a situation where AT&T truly gets to have its cake and eat it too. AT&T won’t provide quality service, but it wants state protection ensuring that nobody can either — just in case any of these efforts brush up against the company’s business interests sometime down the road.

As we’ve discussed, the FCC has finally started taking aim at these protectionist broadband laws in Tennessee and North Carolina. Tennessee has already filed suit against the FCC for trampling “states rights,” though the fact AT&T is literally writing stating law that tramples these same rights isn’t seen as much of a problem. While the FCC works to try and gut these protectionist laws, there are a few bills circulating in the Tennessee legislature (like HB 152) that would allow these municipal broadband operations to extend outside of their current footprints without the FCC having to get involved.

AT&T unsurprisingly opposes the proposal, and has played a role in killing similar proposals in three straight legislative sessions. With this latest fight, AT&T has been e-mailing its employees, telling them to oppose the proposals if they know what’s good for them:

“Government should not compete against the private sector, which has a proven history of funding, building, operating and upgrading broadband networks,” she said in the emailed statement. “Rather than delivering more broadband, we believe that this policy will discourage the private sector investment that has delivered the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today.”

Of course, the only thing AT&T has “proven” is that it will go to any lengths to project its uncompetitive fiefdom from outside competition. AT&T has spent years in Tennessee (and many other states) refusing to seriously upgrade broadband infrastructure, but doing its very best to ensure nobody else can either. Just ask the numerous Tennessee residents who filed their complaint with the FCC in support of the agency’s push to dismantle protectionist law:

“For the past 15 years, Joyce and other people in her community have requested better service from AT&T. They were told repeatedly it would be 3 months, 6 months, 9 months until they would get upgrades but it never happened. They finally decided to look for connectivity elsewhere. Joyce and her neighbors approached their electric provider, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, in the hopes that they could work with (Chattanooga’s municipal utility broadband company) EPB to bring services to the area. Volunteer and EPB had already discussed the possibility, but when the state law was passed that prevented EPB from expanding, the efforts to collaborate cooled.”

AT&T’s quick to claim it isn’t blocking municipal broadband, because the bills it’s pushing (usually based on draft legislation by ALEC in turn written by AT&T lawyers) do allow these operations to expand — but only if they target markets that aren’t “served” by existing providers. Of course, the bills then include an absurdly generous definition of what constitutes a community being “served,” whether that’s just one DSL line in an entire zip code, or the inclusion of pricey and capped wireless or satellite broadband services. AT&T President Joelle Phillips hides behind this logic when she tells people AT&T isn’t against municipal broadband:

“Phillips said AT&T is not opposed to municipal networks, but government-owned providers should be limited to areas where broadband service from the private sector is unavailable or is not likely to be available in “a reasonable time frame.” The proposed bill “allows for unfettered deployment of these publicly funded networks,” she said.”

A better idea would be for AT&T to either offer broadband services that don’t suck, or get the hell out of the way. Millions of AT&T customers in Tennessee (and elsewhere) pay an arm and a leg for slow DSL lines with 150 GB usage caps, thanks to the now all-too-familiar lack of broadband competition seen across vast swaths of the country. Allowing towns and cities to improve things would ruin AT&T’s ambitious plan to bathe those users in price hikes or apathy, or shovel these neglected customers toward hugely expensive and capped LTE service plans.

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Comments on “AT&T Publicly Promises Tennessee A Broadband Revolution, Privately Fights To Keep It A Broadband Backwater”

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Michael (profile) says:

but government-owned providers should be limited to areas where broadband service from the private sector is unavailable or is not likely to be available in “a reasonable time frame.”

According to the last time I had AT&T do some work at my house, their definition of “a reasonable time frame” was a 4 hour window.

We should just use that definition for everything related to them.

Steve Swafford (profile) says:

I’m not understanding why they would want to keep entire communities from fast internet. Why wouldn’t you want to upgrade your shit and be a hero? AT&T could swoop in to these areas and upgrade and charge a little more and have a metric shit ton of new subscribers wanting the faster speeds. Or am I missing why they would be so dumb?

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I am sure the numbers are something like this:

They can spend $10m upgrading their networks to get $12m in revenue, or leave everything and get $5m in revenue and take no new risk.

And you suggest that they will get lots of new subscribers, but from where? In many of these places, they are already the ONLY option for broadband service. At best, they may consume some of their wireless customers – and they were paying more and are easier to service.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

AT&T clearly wants out of the broadband business. Wireless is where it is at for them. For them, and ideal world would be one in which no wired broadband service was available and everyone had to use their capped and crazy expensive wireless services for all of their data at home.

Customers pay more, they never have to service homes again, and they aren’t subject to the wired service regulations.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They, and other cable companies pulling similar sleaze, don’t care about their reputation, because they don’t have to. When you’re the only game in town offering an internet connection(thanks to legislation you bought/wrote), whether people love you or hate you, they still have to pay you if they want internet access.

As a result, they can be as cheap and scummy as they want, and they know people have to swallow their hatred and hand over their money, which is why they’re panicking so much over the possibility of new competition from municipal broadband efforts. They know if actual competition is made available people will be dropping service with them in droves, and they’ll actually have to start giving a damn about their customers.

Mike S says:

telecom broadband territories

This article address the issue I feel hasn’t been brought out enough, these telecom companies don’t want to upgrade their existing wired broadband territories, the territories where they don’t have wired service they don’t want to install it and yet they don’t want to open it up to other providers, in hopes that consumers will buy their overpriced wireless service. For many years they’ve been receiving taxed money collected from every landline phone to support and improve rural lines. So I’m wondering, just how many rural areas have they improved, expanded and upgraded with this tax money. The biggest change we’ve seen in years is when Google comes into one of these telecoms territories to offer their service. Then the telecoms miraculously upgrade their network offering more speed and lower prices. I’ve only seen an improvement for the consumers when a new competitor comes into play, so I think the best thing for us it to break their territories up and allow free competition.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: We don't need DSL anyways

“It really bothers me when tech sites blame AT&T for not maintaining an outdated service.”

It really bothers me when people don’t read the article. AT&T’s not only refusing to upgrade lines, they’re actively trying to drive away paying DSL customers, and they’re lobbying for state laws preventing those same individuals from supporting community networks.

Anonymous Coward says:

What a joke. I just switched from a large cable ISP for a company that bought territory away from BHell, in my places in eastern/eastern-central Canada. The only thing wireless about my setup is the 2 tv’s with the terminals, with all desktops in the house having ethernet cables already drilled to their rooms since more than a decade, they happily installed the FTTH fibre optics router/modem at 50/30 (sure, less TV channels available but they’re an upstarting company) while with cable I had 30/10, and an impossibility of getting more than 10mbps upload unless I got the 120/40 plan.

This spring I received 7 different flyers for ISP’s, those not using cable, all using IPTV except one small ISP only offering cable or dry loop dsl and or phone.

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