AT&T Gives Up On DSL, Leaving Many Out Of Broadband's Reach
from the making-matters-worse dept
AT&T has announced the company has stopped selling DSL lines completely as of October 1. It’s not particularly surprising. AT&T has long history of refusing to seriously upgrade its network to fiber despite untold billions in state and federal subsidies and tax breaks. Many of these DSL connections were far from meeting the FCC definition of broadband (25 Mbps down, 4 Mbps up). For its part, AT&T says its focus moving forward will be on 5G wireless and fiber:
“We are focused on enhancing our network with more advanced, higher speed technologies like fiber and wireless, which consumers are demanding…?Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”
One major problem: for millions of Americans, AT&T’s slow DSL is all they can get. And this being AT&T, fiber isn’t available across a huge swath of the company’s network footprint. AT&T is like countless other U.S. telcos and has effectively given up on upgrading DSL because Wall Street doesn’t think it’s profitable enough, quickly enough, despite massive subsidization. So at many telcos these connections have literally been allowed to rot on the pole. In turn, cable giants like Comcast have quietly been handed a bigger broadband monopoly than ever.
One well-timed study by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance pointed out that only 5 percent of households (217,284 out of 4,442,675) in AT&T?s rural network footprint have access to fiber. It also noted that less than 30 percent of households in AT&T?s 21-state territory have access to faster fiber service, thanks in large part to AT&T’s extremely long history of taking taxpayer subsidies and tax breaks in exchange for networks they then, like clockwork, wind up only half deploying. Oh, the group also made it clear AT&T’s upgrade apathy is particularly pronounced in low-income and minority markets:
“AT&T prioritizes network upgrades to wealthier areas, leaving lower-income communities with outdated technologies?households with fiber available have median income 34 percent higher than those with DSL only.”
AT&T has long denied it, but the NDIA has released a series of independently-verified reports showing that AT&T routinely refuses to upgrade poor and minority markets, again despite decades of untold state and federal subsidies aimed at covering the cost. But since AT&T isn’t transparent about what data it uses to calculate deployment, and the federal government no longer cares about holding telecom monopolies accountable for anything, it never quite seems to matter. AT&T’s a “valued partner” of the NSA, after all, and an investigation into false claims or misspent subsidies wouldn’t look too hot.
AT&T’s narrative here is that it’s ok to stop selling and upgrading DSL because fiber or wireless will be easily available in these markets. But that’s simply not the case. Both fiber and wireless availability is spotty at best in many of these markets, and the cost (and caveats like caps and throttling) means wireless doesn’t make sense as a wired alternative, especially for low-income families. 5G isn’t a panacea. U.S. consumers already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for wireless, and carriers like AT&T are hard at work trying to hide patchy 5G availability.
AT&T’s decision to axe DSL leaves users with even fewer options than they’ve had previously — at a time when broadband is essential to surviving a plague. This is a company that just received $42 billion in tax breaks from the Trump administration in exchange for investment cuts and 42,000 layoffs. It’s routinely under fire for under-delivering on promises and misrepresenting where broadband is available. But again, because it’s tethered to our intelligence and law enforcement communities, and insulated from meaningful competition as a natural monopoly, it’s immune from any genuine accountability whatsoever.