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“AT&T prioritizes network upgrades to wealthier areas, leaving lower-income communities with outdated technologies?households with fiber available have median income 34 percent higher than those with DSL only.”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.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “AT&T Gives Up On DSL, Leaving Many Out Of Broadband's Reach”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Next Census should collect data on Broadband options

The next time the census is done in the US, it should include a question about the highest available connection for that household. Once the hard data is in, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and whoever else is still in business at the time will have to explain why they claimed 1 thing yet reality demonstrates they can’t be trusted to tell their name.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Next Census should collect data on Broadband options

I don’t know what the US Census normally asks, but questions about broadband would be well within census-scope in other nations. In Canada, for example, we’re asked questions about income, work schedules, methods of commuting, etc. At times, answering such questions has been optional.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Next Census should collect data on Broadband opt

It looks like literally the second American census in 1800 was asking more than that, e.g., separately counting "Number of free white males of age 26 and under 45" and "Number of free white males of age 45 and over", a distinction that would not affect representation.

By 1820, they were asking about occupations. 1830 wanted counts of deaf, dumb, and blind people. 1870, value of real estate and personal estate, parents’ birthplaces.

Talmyr says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Next Census should collect data on Broadband opt

Sweet, sweet innocence.

You really expect to run a functioning modern society without using that information for a load of other stuff?

If you just needed it for reps you would only need a few questions. Or just one – how many warm bodies and/or adults in the household. You don’t even have to differentiate your slaves and women!

Anonymous Coward says:

the NDIA has released a series of independently-verified reports showing that AT&T routinely refuses to upgrade poor and minority markets

The linked page does not use the word "minority", only providing evidence of income-based discrimination. It calls this "digital redlining", which is an odd choice: actual "redlining" referred to true racial discrimination according to Wikipedia: "Neighborhoods with high proportion of minority residents are more likely to be redlined than other neighborhoods with similar household incomes, housing age and type, and other determinants of risk, but different racial composition."

True redlining is illegal. Income-based discrimination isn’t, and it remains a common and accepted practice for loan approval among other things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Are you suggesting all income-based discrimination be illegal, e.g., that property rentals and mortgages shouldn’t consider income?

It’s certainly poor public policy to be using it for broadband services, but should it be considered illegal or unethical? In my view, it’s the government’s role to take over when private industry fails. States/cities could require operators to service all areas as conditions for pole access and other easements. They could deploy networks themselves to underserved/overpriced areas. Legally, I think that’s much easier than expanding the scope of illegal discrimination.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In relation to a loan, for example, someone with lower income would be considered more risky (assuming all else is equal). It would seem silly to require proof of income for something like internet service, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing it. But when a private company is choosing where to expand/improve services, it seems quite predictable they’d prefer whichever one they think they can squeeze for more money. And why not do it, if the relevant governments are letting the "free market" run wild and are too spineless to declare them an essential service and impose fairness, universal service, or anti-monopoly requirements?

Questions about whether a company "should" have any particular discriminatory policy are largely academic unless one is willing to make the discrimination illegal. To my knowledge, the only American protection against income discrimination is the Equal Protection Clause which would only apply to (some) government actions.

Ann Brush (profile) says:

When DSL is all we have.

We connect to the internet through a rural DSL line (2.78/0.65), that’s all we get. We have Spectrum at the street but they want $22’000 to run cable from the street to the house half a mile down our driveway. I often wonder if Spectrum counts us as “being serviced” by them, in terms of their coverage. Our neighbor has the same issue except they want $9’000 from him. And here we sit with no alternatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When DSL is all we have.

It might be easier to use wifi, if service can actually be provided half a mile away. I’ve heard of people sharing from neighbors, or even going as far as to subdivide a large property so a "network shed" can have its own civic address inside the service area. That depends on electricity being available where the cable comes in, of course.

If the company is willing to connect to an existing cable, the cable costs look to be several hundred dollars at least. Running along a fence or privately-owned telephone poles would be easiest, but if trenching/digging equipment can be obtained, it might be preferable.

ECA (profile) says:

I really love it.

When was the last time our gov. enforced contracts??

There have been many times the Gov. wanted to do things, but nothing has been forth coming.
Like what would it take to upgrade the IRS and pentagon computers?
Our gov. seems to be going backwards. And depending on Corps to do Anything, is getting abit stupid. And probably 1 of the reasons, FDR went to hiring people all over the nation to get things done, when the corps Dropped all the workers after WWII. And he upped the taxes on the corps to get things done.

Its the same for Most things in this nation. Nothing the corps have done to advance this nation was DONE alone with their Money. The gov. Helped or fully paid for most of it. And the corps May have done the work, but also Took a good amount of money doing it, by cutting every corner they could.

Lets do it again. Lets have the USA gov. and military Build out the network and then CHARGE the corps if they wish to use it. It would give us Gov. workers on the lower end, get things Done, and add to the collection of money to pay the gov.

Would love to make the Gov. the Temp worker supplier of the nation.

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