Over At Politico, The AT&T Monopoly Gives Tips On Fixing A Broadband Problem It Spent Thirty Years Creating
from the do-as-we-say,-not-as-we-do dept
Every time legislation is looming that could threaten its broadband monopoly, AT&T attempts to get in front of it and steer the conversation away from subjects it doesn’t want tackled by legislation. The biggest of those subjects is the lack of overall competition caused by sector monopolization, and the high prices, crappy customer service, and patchy availability that usually results. With COVID-19 resulting in folks realizing the importance of affordable broadband more than ever, it’s becoming pretty clear that AT&T is worried somebody might just try to finally do something about it.
You’d be hard pressed to find a company more responsible for this country’s broadband shortcomings than AT&T, whose lobbyists work tirelessly to scuttle absolutely any attempt whatsoever to disrupt the mono/duopoly status quo. Which is why it’s ironic to see AT&T CFO John Stankey publish an op-ed at Politico professing to have the cure for America’s longstanding digital divide. Not too surprisingly, AT&T’s solution for the problem is greater subsidization of companies like AT&T, a company that has already received countless billions in subsidies for fiber networks it almost always only partially deploys.
Amusingly, most of Stankey’s fixes are things AT&T has routinely lobbied against. Like here, where Stankey acknowledges that fixing the digital divide isn’t something private industry can do alone:
“Our country needs to close that gap, and now is the time for legislators and policymakers to act to ensure the educational and economic success of all Americans by making broadband connectivity more accessible, affordable and sustainable. Market forces and private companies can?t do it alone because of the lack of return on the significant investment necessary to reach all Americans.”
Well gosh, perhaps AT&T shouldn’t have lobbied for (and in many instances written) legislation in nearly two-dozen states blocking towns and cities from building their own creative broadband alternatives then, huh? AT&T lobbyists have long fought tooth and nail against public or even public/private alternatives because, as a monopoly, it simply doesn’t like competition. Any suggestion AT&T has credibility on this subject is laughable.
From there, AT&T goes on to support another idea its lobbyists have routinely opposed: better broadband maps:
“To close the digital divide, we must know the contours of where the divide starts and ends. We need to telescope our broadband maps from the macro, census-block level to the micro, building level to understand with more precision where broadband is unavailable. The government?s existing mapping methodology is past its shelf life.”
Here too, AT&T has lobbied against better, more accurate broadband maps (or the inclusion of broadband pricing in said maps) because it doesn’t want people highlighting the lack of competition and coverage gaps in the sector. And while some broadband mapping improvements have finally been passed after relentless pressure from states looking for their cut of the pie, AT&T has lobbied to exclude technologies like 5G from those improvements.
Stankey also takes some time to pretend that deploying fiber isn’t “economical,” despite his company receiving untold billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors to deploy fiber networks that mysteriously, routinely, wind up only partially deployed:
“The FCC currently heavily weights subsidies toward gigabit speeds (fiber) over other technologies (such as fixed wireless). It is simply not practical or responsible to assume a fiber broadband service can be delivered to every unserved rural household?the prohibitive cost is part of why connecting many of these households has been uneconomical.”
This one’s a real laugher if you know AT&T’s history. For the better part of the last generation AT&T has received a fountain of taxpayer cash in exchange for fiber it never fully deploys. AT&T spent much of the aughts under-investing in fiber despite rampant deregulation that was supposed to incentivize it to do so. It just received a $42 billion tax cut from the Trump administration that resulted in more than 41,000 layoffs and a $3 billion CAPEX reduction for 2020. AT&T’s running a 30-year con in which it takes taxpayer dollars, pockets the lion’s share of it, under-deploys broadband, then tries to obfuscate the results.
AT&T just spent $150 billion on an array of terrible mergers that saddled the company in an ocean of debt and resulted in customers leaving in droves. Between tax breaks, subsidies, and the gutting of FCC consumer protections like net neutrality and privacy, it’s almost impossible to calculate the amount of taxpayer assistance AT&T has received in the last decade alone. In fact, the only reason Stankey is even CEO is because the last CEO got driven out of town for wasting money on misguided ideas. Yet here we have AT&T giving advice on what is or isn’t “cost prohibitive.”
What’s AT&T and Stankey really up to here? With stories in the press about kids having to squat outside of Taco Bell just to get online for class, AT&T’s policy guys know we’re likely to see new legislation in the next year to help bridge the digital divide. AT&T would prefer that legislation fixate on throwing billions in additional subsidies at monopolies like AT&T, instead of tackling the real cause of U.S. broadband mediocrity: rampant state and federal corruption, or the monopolization that results from timid policymakers fecklessly bending the policy knee to monopolistic telecom giants for the better part of a generation.