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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  1. 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.

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