AT&T Whines That FCC Report Highlights Broadband Coverage Gaps Company Helped Create

from the u-mad-bro? dept

The FCC's recent broadband progress report (pdf) highlighted the telecom industry's continued failure with not only getting any broadband to rural areas, but with getting next-generation speeds to existing broadband customers. The FCC has noted that 34 million Americans still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps for downloads, 3 Mbps for uploads. The agency also notes that two-thirds of homes lack access to more than one provider capable of delivering these speeds. If you recall, the FCC bumped its definition of broadband to 25 Mbps from a measly 4 Mbps about a year ago.

Outraged that the FCC would mysteriously have standards and release data highlighting the industry's failure to meet them, AT&T's top lobbyist Jim Cicconi penned a characteristically snotty blog post insisting the FCC's use of hard data was a mad power grab:
"It’s bad enough the FCC keeps moving the goal posts on their definition of broadband, apparently so they can continue to justify intervening in obviously competitive markets. But now they are even ignoring their own definition in order to pad their list of accomplishments. "We’ve seen this movie before. In order to apply its net neutrality rules to as many services as possible, the FCC considers very low speeds to be broadband then cites a much higher speed level in order to claim broadband is not being reasonably and timely deployed under Section 706. “It’s beginning to look like the FCC will define broadband whichever way maximizes its power under whichever section of the law they want to apply. This cannot be what Congress intended.”
Sure, that's because what "Congress intended" is to soak up AT&T's campaign contributions and do absolutely nothing about the nation's broadband connectivity gaps (I'd agree the national broadband plan was a failure, primarily because it was a politically-safe show pony big ISPs like AT&T generally approved of at the time). US Telecom, the telco lobbying group with AT&T as its biggest donor, also issued a missive in which it pretended to be shocked at the idea that U.S. broadband continues to have problems:
"It would seem that the FCC’s report should carry the headline ‘our policies have failed’ since it concludes that six years after adoption of the national broadband plan, the commission’s actions haven’t produced even so much as a ‘reasonable’ level of broadband deployment. But, of course, with more than $75 billion a year being invested by broadband providers, network capacity burgeoning, and speeds increasing exponentially – as the commission's latest fact-based broadband measurement report shows – no one actually believes that deployment in the United States is unreasonable."
Well, one, wasn't net neutrality supposed to have destroyed all broadband network investment? Two, I'm not sure you get to lobby tirelessly to ensure government dysfunction, then say "we told you so" when the government is dysfunctional (even though that is sort of a national pastime). The core issue is this: AT&T's mad because in dozens upon dozens of markets, the company's aging infrastructure isn't capable of meeting the 25 Mbps threshold, meaning that AT&T isn't technically even capable of delivering broadband. It's often not even capable of meeting the lower 10 Mbps definition the FCC now uses to determine subsidy recipients. It's not clear what we're to call AT&T's sub-6 Mbps, heavily capped (150 GB) DSL service, but it can no longer be called broadband.

Despite billions in subsidies given to AT&T over the years, many of these markets were never upgraded. Most of these are customers AT&T no longer wants, so it's going state by state gutting regulations and consumer protections, in the hopes it can disconnect them and shove them toward more expensive, even-more-heavily capped wireless service. AT&T calls its plan to hang up on these customers the "IP transition," and while AT&T insists it will result in revolutionary new connectivity options for all Americans, all it's really going to do is give the cable industry a monopoly over fixed-line broadband for much of the next decade.

While it's understandable that for-profit companies aren't keen on throwing money at low ROI areas of rural America, here's the important thing: AT&T has spent fifteen years lobbying for protectionist state laws in more than twenty states preventing towns and cities from voting to improve their own telecom infrastructure. In some instances, AT&T's laws even prohibit towns and cities from striking public/private partnerships with outside companies. So yeah, AT&T's quite literally buying and writing state laws ensuring that broadband coverage gaps continue, then whining when data highlights the end result.

AT&T might want to consider itself lucky. The FCC's studies primarily use data provided by ISPs that the agency takes at face value (read: it's rarely verified by third parties). This coverage data is usually artificially padded to make coverage look more impressive than it actually is, which is why ISPs so frequently claim they service the house you just bought when they don't. The FCC also collects pricing data from ISPs but refuses to share it as part of these reports. Were the FCC to seriously audit ISP claims and release data showing the lack of price competition, the numbers would look even worse, giving AT&T significantly more to whine about.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, fcc, jim cicconi
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 6:47am

    'Competition' means more than one viable choice

    "It’s bad enough the FCC keeps moving the goal posts on their definition of broadband, apparently so they can continue to justify intervening in obviously competitive markets.

    Yeah, about those 'obviously competitive markets'...

    The FCC has noted that 34 million Americans still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps for downloads, 3 Mbps for uploads. The agency also notes that two-thirds of homes lack access to more than one provider capable of delivering these speeds. If you recall, the FCC bumped its definition of broadband to 25 Mbps from a measly 4 Mbps about a year ago.

    When two-thirds of the population in a country lack any real choice if they want something sorta kinda resembling broadband, the idea that there's a super competitive market in place is laughable, unless by 'competitive' they simply mean the competitions between the major cable/broadband providers to see who can screw over the public more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Whatever (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:12am

      Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

      Pay attention: Two things in play here. First, the 34 million who can't get the newly defined high speed are rural. 96% of urban users do have access.

      As for the competitive marketplace, the FCC changed the definition of high speed, to a level that specifically eliminated much of what was out there. As a result, at that new higher level, there is less competition because nobody was shooting that high. So if you have a marketplace with one DSL provider at 10-15meg a second and 1 cable company at 25 meg, you have "no competition".

      Is that a truly honest play?

      I think AT&T actually has a pretty valid gripe here. The FCC needs to define the terms ONCE, and apply them in all cases. It needs to stop moving the goalposts when it wants to suck up more funding and keep itself relevant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:16am

        Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

        The FCC needs to define the terms ONCE,

        and then never update them as technology improves?

        It used to be that the definition of a supercomputer was 1 gigaflops of processing power. Today I've got a few hundred of those on my laptop, but nobody's calling it a supercomputer.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Whatever (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 4:12pm

          Re: Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

          That isn't the point. If the FCC says broadband, it should mean the same thing all the time going forward. But it appears that today they use one measurement (to show how things are good) and another tomorrow (to show the ISPs are bad) and then reverts back to the original lower number to prove something else again.

          FCC doesn't move foward. They move back and forth and select speeds that allow them to write reports and make policy based on whatever suits them today.

          If they want to change the definition, change it - and use that globally on all of their work. Don't make broadbad 5/1 today, 25/3 tomorrow, and 1/1 the next day just because it makes your point.

          It's not about make it once and never change it to a higher level, just don't change it every time you make a report to try to make political points.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:21am

        Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

        Wrong. The number, from the same data, is nearly a third of urban users in non-capital urban areas. On Tribal lands, that number is doubled to nearly two-thirds of all residences unable to get any broadband measured a tthe FCC's current rate.

        In addition, that means that the Federally-granted funds have been grossly misspent, given that the fund was supposed to only be open until 2012 - four years ago. So, aT&T have failed to uphold their end fo the deal. Moreover, those DSL lines? They're actively being killed through maintenance loss and an apathy twoards those people, in order to extort more money for 'fiber' offerings, which is against the law (surrounding access to 911 in emergencies).

        So no, sorry, AT&T might have had a valid gripe...if Verizon hadn't also tried to screw the pooch.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:21am

        Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

        The FCC needs to define the terms ONCE
        Then the ISPs need to set their prices ONCE.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Karl Bode (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:45am

        Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

        "Is that a truly honest play?"

        Raising the definition of broadband from a pathetic 4 Mbps is dishonesty? I think it makes perfect sense, and it's not the FCC's fault that AT&T refuses to upgrade technology operating on roughly half of the company's network after receiving billions in subsidies to build and maintain it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 10:08am

        Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

        It is a pretty degressive attitude. Technology evolves and if they can keep hardware from 1999 for 30 years, I bet, they would do that to save money: The only way to get improvements in digital infrastructure is through keeping the standards updated!

        No competition is a result of 25 meg being ambition for copper upgrading since you need to recable on last mile in most circumstances (new copper is plenty able to quadruple the speed). The telcos have found a way to cheat the system by using wireless nodes and promote that as broadband to save money, but technically the claimed speed there is often even more ridiculous overstated because of concurrency.

        While FCC has slowly started to take up the role of enforcing better practices for the telcos, they are not going off the deep end here.

        Of course they are pushing the market politically, but as you can see, the political counterpush is very noticeable! As with NSA needing some civil counter-push, so does all other lobsided lobbying!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Whatever (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 4:15pm

          Re: Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

          "It is a pretty degressive attitude. Technology evolves and if they can keep hardware from 1999 for 30 years, I bet, they would do that to save money: The only way to get improvements in digital infrastructure is through keeping the standards updated!"

          yes, but that means setting the standard, and using it universally on all reports and all statements, not moving it up and down because you want to make things look better on one report, and worse on another.

          I am not saying "never change it", just set a definition and apply it equally (set it once). If you are going to change the definition, then change it once for ALL reports and information, and apply it equally until the next time you raise the bar.

          THe FCC's bar on broadband goes up and down like a hooker on an army base.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            The Wanderer (profile), 10 Feb 2016 @ 7:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

            Do you have a citation on that? I have not previously seen it reported that the FCC was using lower figures for reports, etc., carried out after the higher figures were announced.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 13 Jan 2016 @ 3:08am

        Re: Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

        Ah the 14.400 USRobotics modem. Worked like a charm in 1994. Awesome speeds for the time. Sounds like a very up to date, sensible standard for broadband, no? 100% of the country would be served!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:45am

      Re: 'Competition' means more than one viable choice

      Yeah, about that competition thing. The telco's all think that wired and wireless are competitive with each other, yet tethering isn't allowed or is an extra cost. So when you get a choice of Comcast Broadband or AT&T DSL they both scream that the availability of Sprint or TMobile in the same location means there is robust competition taking place. Oh and look over there (said with excited baited breath).

      Those things are NOT alike and do NOT compete with each other (well maybe Spring and TMobile compete between themselves along with AT&T for wireless...but). They are only choices in that there are no other choices.

      Multiple cable broadband and/or fiber offerings along with multiple DSL offerings would be competition. Oh, and to every home, apartment, business, and outhouse in a zip code in order for that zip code to be counted. The wireless is not competition to wired even if some of the same functions take place. For one thing, we own the airwaves and lease them to those companies, we do NOT own the wires, even if we lease space via eminent domain to the utilities that run on some land we own. For another, the speeds, costs, and reliability are not the same, coverage is not the same, pricing is not the same, and wireless has its own competition problems.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 6:51am

    Two, I'm not sure you get to lobby tirelessly to ensure government dysfunction, then say "we told you so" when the government is dysfunctional

    Are you kidding? That's literally been the core strategy for corporatists everywhere since the 1970s!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:11am

    "obviously competitive"

    The only competition here is in the horse manure market.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:30am

      Re: obviously google...

      Obviously they are referring to the few small areas that google is serving, thus forcing them to compete in those relatively small markets.

      See, that one little town over there has 3, THREE, COUNT THEM THREE, options (Google, AT&T, and Craptastic) and there is competition (as AT&T and Craptastic had to lower their prices to compete with Google)...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 12:01pm

      Re:

      No, there's also been competitive lobbying, and competition to be the monopoly for any given area. Lots of competition between the ISPs; it's just not aimed at providing better service to consumers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Howard, 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:16am

    "obviously competitive markets"

    Funniest comment of the week right there!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 7:24am

    Slow speed capped service

    Since it is slow speed and capped, lets call it a Tortoise connection. Remember everyone caps only work if you have no other viable choice. They are also nice enough to sell access to all of the personal data that they collect on the service you pay for. You know that whole 3rd party doctrine thingy that the government claims allows them to circumvent your rights to privacy? Yeah they are totally using that to essentially become the monitoring branch of the government, just to make sure that they fully utilize all possible revenue streams on you as the paying commodity. The more people they can provide access too each month, the more money they make in bribes, or whatever you want to call the government paying for backbone access to their network is called. The cap is to make sure that you are paying for any additional costs of storing your monthly internet snapshots that are kept for sale to the highest bidder or whoever asks nicely and pays the fee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:08am

    Moving 'goalposts'

    The FCC could move the 'goalposts' backwards and I would still not have many choices!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:15am

    I have noticed sites stop calling internet broadband and now just call it high speed internet. Even if it is below the 25 Mbps.
    Ceturylink offers me 12-100Mbps packages. They call every single package high speed internet at X Mbps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      That's likely a bit of ass covering recommended by their lawyers. If they advertise internet broadband at speeds below what the FCC has defined broadband to be, they leave an opening for a false advertising lawsuit. Advertising "high speed internet" on the other hand, is something that isn't specifically defined, and shields them from most of the risk.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:26am

    ... with more than $75 billion a year being invested by broadband providers, network capacity burgeoning, and speeds increasing exponentially ...
    Out of all the nonsense in the US Telecom statement, why does this use of the word 'exponentially' bother me more than anything?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:37am

      Re:

      Perhaps because the other stuff could be seen as true, if looked at right, but for that bit to be even partially true you need to stretch the definition of 'truth' to the breaking point.

      Sure speeds are increasing 'exponentially'... for a handful of profitable areas, and primarily because the previous speeds were so pathetic that speeds seen as 'standard' in other similarly developed countries is seen as a huge boost in the local areas.

      If you're not in one of those profitable areas however the only way your speed is going to increase is if a company like Google looks like it might move in, forcing the incumbents to actually compete on service, or if the locals manage to bypass the bought and paid for anti-competition laws and do it themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:39am

      Re:

      It could be exponential. That exponent just may not be a whole number, e.g. speeds increased by ^1.000001%

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 9:41am

        Re: Re:

        Good point. There are ways to make it plausible, I'm just sad that as an idiom or a colloquialism 'exponentially' has gone the way of 'literally', and seems to mean "anything that's not zero". Of course, it's intentional in this case.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 10:17am

        Re: Re:

        Remember that exponents can be negative as well. There are huge numbers of DSL users in the US who are experiencing negative exponential speed growth as companies abandon them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      > Out of all the nonsense in the US Telecom statement, why does this use of the word 'exponentially' bother me more than anything?

      Well, I can remember when I had a 300bps modem connection to the Internet in 1990. 300x300 is 87Kbps, which kind of skips over the 2400 baud modem I had, the 14.4kbps modem I had and the 57.6kbps modem I had. But it's close to what I had on my partial T1 line circa 1998. So that's one exponent in 8 years. Let's assume it increases exponentially every ten years. That would mean that by 2010, we should have all had 26Mbps connections (up and down).

      My current connection is 15Mbps. Using their hyperbole, the standard should be 7.5Gbps connections nationwide by 2020. Is that REALLY going to happen?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 13 Jan 2016 @ 3:25am

        Re: Re:

        Well, it's a matter of expanding the pipes or cramming more data in the same pipes (ie: compression). But if you asked somebody in 1946 if they believed we'd be carrying hundreds of ENIACS in our pockets (a standard calculator) in less than 50 years ahead, would they believe it was going to happen? O in the 80s if we asked people we would be carrying a device that was at the same time a camera that didn't need films, thousands of computers, an agenda and a phone in a less than 30 years, would they believe?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 8:51am

    Some of the screwed cities/states should get enough money together to get an amendment hidden in a bill (hey it works for the other guys) that starts charging them to easements & right of way access. Then as the monopolies fight to undo the damage they have a nice warchest to bring in a company that is willing to service the area.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 9:12am

    'Were the FCC to seriously audit ISP claims and release data showing the lack of price competition, the numbers would look even worse'

    this would be nothing short of what it SHOULD DO!!

    then add in the level of corruption that exists in members of Congress who are more concerned with ensuring their own personal 'experiences' are good to go than sorting out what they should for the people they represent, ie, the voters!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 12 Jan 2016 @ 12:19pm

    "It’s bad enough the FCC keeps moving the goal posts on their definition of broadband"

    Just like the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, keeps moving the goal posts on vehicle regulations. I mean, TECHNICALLY a Ford Model T *IS* an automobile, but would you, could you use it for everyday commute to work?

    "apparently so they can continue to justify intervening in obviously competitive markets"

    bahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah .....

    hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2016 @ 6:46pm

    Country/Territory - Avg. connection speed (Mb/s) - Above 4 Mb/s - Above 10 Mb/s - Above 15 Mb/s

    South Korea 20.5 96% 68% 45%
    Sweden 17.4 92% 55% 38%
    Norway 16.4 88% 54% 37%
    Switzerland 16.2 93% 61% 36%
    Hong Kong 15.8 92% 59% 36%
    Netherlands 15.6 95% 60% 34%
    Japan 15.0 90% 54% 32%
    Finland 14.8 91% 51% 28%
    Czech Republic 14.5 86% 46% 27%
    Denmark 14.0 94% 51% 29%
    Romania 13.1 94% 57% 27%
    United Kingdom 13.0 87% 46% 28%
    Belgium 12.8 91% 52% 26%
    United States 12.6 80% 46% 24%
    Singapore 12.5 87% 51% 27%
    Ireland 12.4 76% 41% 23%
    Canada 11.9 87% 43% 21%

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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