A 90 Year Old Shouldn't Have To Buy A $10,000 Ad Just To Get AT&T To Upgrade His Shitty DSL Line

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

Last week I wrote over at Motherboard about 90 years old North Hollywood resident Aaron Epstein, whose family has been an AT&T subscriber since the 1930s. Epstein himself has been a loyal AT&T subscriber since around 1960, and has had the company’s DSL service since it was first introduced in the late 90s. Unfortunately for Epstein, much like countless millions of other Americans, his DSL line only delivered speeds of 1.5 to 3 Mbps, and he’s been waiting for decades for faster speeds to no avail.

To try and nudge AT&T to action, Epstein recently took out a $10,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal just to yell at AT&T CEO John Stankey:

When I spoke to him on the phone, he told me that AT&T had advertised faster speeds in his area for five years, but when he called to see if upgrades were actually available, they never were. But after a full week of national press coverage (the story quickly bounced around the country) about the lengths Epstein had to go to, AT&T finally scrambled to upgrade his line to fiber to help manage the PR crisis. AT&T, for its part, issued a statement that tried to pretend these upgrades were “planned” all along (there’s no real indication that’s true):

“Earlier this week we completed our planned expansion of AT&T Fiber in this customer’s neighborhood, and we were pleased to provide him the upgrade he wanted. This neighborhood was already planned to receive fiber and is part of our ongoing fiber expansion in the larger Los Angeles area. Nationally, we recently announced that we will bring AT&T Fiber to an additional 2 million residential locations this year.”

In reality, AT&T’s fiber expansions had been slowed dramatically (stopped entirely in many areas) so the company could throw nearly $200 billion at the DirecTV and Time Warner megamergers in a bid to dominate the video (and video advertising space). That’s not going well. AT&T has been losing video subscribers hand over fist and is preparing to offload DirecTV for a song.

Meanwhile, Epstein’s predicament isn’t uncommon. And unfortunately, most folks who have begging for upgrades for years don’t have $10,000 to throw at an ad in a major newspaper. AT&T has been accused for decades of “redlining” marginalized communities it doesn’t deem worthy of seeing network upgrades despite billions in subsidization and regulatory favors. The same story has played out in Detroit, Dallas, and Cleveland where users continue to wait for upgrades, which taxpayers already likely paid for in one form or another, that never arrive.

AT&T has spent years nabbing billions in tax cuts, subsidies, and regulatory favors in exchange for networks it routinely only half deploys, assuming those networks arrive at all. Time after time, AT&T promises that it will meaningfully upgrade its aging DSL lines to fiber if it gets “X,” where X is a merger approval, deregulation (the death of net neutrality for example), subsidies, and tax cuts, and time and time again AT&T only partially delivers what’s promised. If it delivers anything at all; recall the company received a $42 billion tax break from Trump in 2017, and all America got in exchange were 42,000 layoffs.

According to one union study, only 14.93 million of the 52.97 million households in AT&T’s 21-state wireline service area have access to fiber service. This game of empty promises has gone on for decades, and state and federal government leaders and regulators legitimately just pretend this monopolization and regulatory capture isn’t happening. Why? Because AT&T isn’t just politically powerful and a major campaign contributor, they’re now permanently tethered to both our intelligence gathering apparatus and our first responder response systems, making them effectively beyond the reach of any oversight beyond a wrist slap or two.

Needless to say, elderly people wouldn’t have to take out $10,000 ads just to get their broadband upgraded in a country that took the threat of monopolization and corruption seriously. And until we do, some variation of these stories just keep repeating themselves indefinitely.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “A 90 Year Old Shouldn't Have To Buy A $10,000 Ad Just To Get AT&T To Upgrade His Shitty DSL Line”

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35 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Scary!

Yow! So nobody can do what the US Government did to them back in the 1980’s and break them up into little pieces again?

That will not solve the problem, it will only create a lot of local monopolies that will gradually reassemble themselves into the next AT&T. The real solution to the problems in the US is to create regulatory bodies that are free from direct political interference by having the top management being short term political appointees with strong .political and industry associations.

Solve the regulatory system problem, and then perhaps you can regulate the infrastructure as a shared service, and force the breakup of vertical integration between content creation and delivery over a network.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Scary!

That will not solve the problem, it will only create a lot of local monopolies that will gradually reassemble themselves into the next AT&T.

They should still be broken up. It will likely result in less political lobbying dollars to try and maintain the laws on the books that favor monopolies. Also, any competition that occurs until a monopoly reforms will be welcome. If you want to take other steps in addition to this, that’s fine, but breaking them up the first step in the right direction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Scary!

They should still be broken up.

That has been tried, and what it mostly achieved is the rich making money as the break up was reversed via mergers. Now if the proposal is separate low level infrastructure from services provided over that infra structure, you will be able to have competition at the ISP, and streaming level.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Scary!

Also, any competition that occurs until a monopoly reforms will be welcome.

If you’re breaking it up into regional companies like before, there would still be no additional competition. Instead of one big monopoly, you would get a bunch of little ones. I’m not sure how else you envision breaking it up that would solve the problem.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Scary!

The comparison of the break-up and reformation of a monopolistic AT&T to the T-800 saying "Hasta La Vista, baby!" to a frozen T-1000 in Terminator 2 only for it to melt and fuse back together has been made many, many times.

I’ve made it.
Stephen Colbert and his writers made it.
You made it.

The analogy is just so obvious that it’s really just begging to be made.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

AT&T wrecking sports as well

If, like me, you’ve sworn a blood oath to never pay for cable again, the only way you can watch NBA games without cable in many areas is to subscribe to AT&T TV NOW for $80/mo.

I only watch my home team (and local fans are blacked out from watching on NBA League Pass) and the cost per game has been mounting for decades. Last time I did the math it would have cost me almost $7 per game for legal access. For games that used to be shown for free on broadcast television. The necessary provider seems to change every year, and every year the price goes up.

I cannot imagine how kids in poor families get to watch sports anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: AT&T wrecking sports as well

I am fortunate to be paying $65 a month on AT&T because I joined early. I split the cost of the plan with 2 other people in my family. $22 a month is ok for cable, but as you said, there is no other way to watch without having to pay for a monthly cable tv plan whether it is though a cable provider or a streaming service.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Ed (profile) says:

CenturyLink says, "LoL"

I could show you my parent’s DSL internet service from CenturyLink. It is the only service available in their area, and the fastest available speed is 1.7Mbps down/256Kbps up. That’s it. There is nothing faster and it has been that way for many years with no improvement and no plans to improve it. And those speeds are "best case", they are often much slower, with frequent outages. The wind blows, it’s out. It rains, it’s out. Try streaming a movie from Amazon Prime or Netflix, I dare you! 3Mbps would be a blessing! And this is just a 4 hour drive from Washington D.C. Not exactly in the middle of nowhere (though it is very rural).

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Don't piss off old folk...

An elderly lady is ordering at a drive-thru with a long line-up. She takes a bit of time to choose her meal and the impatient man behind her honks his horn repeatedly.

Rather than get flustered or annoyed, she proceeds to the payment window where she pays for her own meal and the man’s (who is right behind her). When he gets to the payment window, he looks embarassed, then waves his thanks. She procedes to the pick-up window and drives off with her order – and his.

Don’t piss off old people, they’re sneaky.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds familiar

For years AT&T has advertised speeds and services they don’t actually offer in my area, leading me to make the deal with the devil and switch to Comcast who at least actually offer the services they advertise. AT&T can burn and nothing of value would be lost.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
John85851 (profile) says:

What government regulation?

So when AT&T doesn’t deploy services as promised to people they promised to serve, there’s no talk of government regulation.

But Twitter bans racists for posting hateful comments and Republicans want to pass regulations telling Twitter how to run their business.

So the moral is- a company is free to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t seen as censoring conservatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

there’re several issues here, not just the obvious one as the reason why the ad was done, to get sorted. there’s the fact that multiple politicians get ‘campaign contributions’ from the various ISPs and phone companies; these same politicians, for obvious reasons, vote to ensure that these same companies remain in control, everywhere in the USA, of the various phone connections and broadband connections because they receive the ‘campaign contributions’ from these companies and want to continue to do so; these companies promise every 5 minutes that they will perform complete miracles in upgrading and installing new phone lines and broadband, will increase the number of employees by terms that only the likes of Stephen Hawkins understands but actually reduce the numbers astronomically instead; that the massive changes they promis can only be achieved if the government throws $billions at them but, when that happens, the only change is the increase in bosses salaries, shareholder dividends and a slowdown in works because of the reductions made in staffing levels; and please remember, everything stated above costs money and that is covered by the continuous feed of tax payers monies which could be used for schools, hospitals, roads and a gazillion other things instead of lining certain pockets!! and it shows how many politicians are involved here because none of them, ever, tries to do different to what is already happening, never tries to hold anyone to account, at worst of all, never stops continuously paying the companies for doing a damn thing except keep getting richer and having greater control!!

tubes (profile) says:

Just Sad

I was curious after reading this. I live in the Akron area & my community installed their own gigabit service. So for shits & giggles I checked to see if AT&T had upgraded any of their services in our area. Nope, the fastest available is 75mbps @ $55 with a cap for 1TB. I’m curious how many customers they have left?
I think I’ll stick with the community one, 1000 symmetrical @ $75 & no caps. Also included equipment including a battery backup.

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