Over At Politico, The AT&T Monopoly Gives Tips On Fixing A Broadband Problem It Spent Thirty Years Creating

from the do-as-we-say,-not-as-we-do dept

Every time legislation is looming that could threaten its broadband monopoly, AT&T attempts to get in front of it and steer the conversation away from subjects it doesn't want tackled by legislation. The biggest of those subjects is the lack of overall competition caused by sector monopolization, and the high prices, crappy customer service, and patchy availability that usually results. With COVID-19 resulting in folks realizing the importance of affordable broadband more than ever, it's becoming pretty clear that AT&T is worried somebody might just try to finally do something about it.

You'd be hard pressed to find a company more responsible for this country's broadband shortcomings than AT&T, whose lobbyists work tirelessly to scuttle absolutely any attempt whatsoever to disrupt the mono/duopoly status quo. Which is why it's ironic to see AT&T CFO John Stankey publish an op-ed at Politico professing to have the cure for America's longstanding digital divide. Not too surprisingly, AT&T's solution for the problem is greater subsidization of companies like AT&T, a company that has already received countless billions in subsidies for fiber networks it almost always only partially deploys.

Amusingly, most of Stankey's fixes are things AT&T has routinely lobbied against. Like here, where Stankey acknowledges that fixing the digital divide isn't something private industry can do alone:

"Our country needs to close that gap, and now is the time for legislators and policymakers to act to ensure the educational and economic success of all Americans by making broadband connectivity more accessible, affordable and sustainable. Market forces and private companies can’t do it alone because of the lack of return on the significant investment necessary to reach all Americans."

Well gosh, perhaps AT&T shouldn't have lobbied for (and in many instances written) legislation in nearly two-dozen states blocking towns and cities from building their own creative broadband alternatives then, huh? AT&T lobbyists have long fought tooth and nail against public or even public/private alternatives because, as a monopoly, it simply doesn't like competition. Any suggestion AT&T has credibility on this subject is laughable.

From there, AT&T goes on to support another idea its lobbyists have routinely opposed: better broadband maps:

"To close the digital divide, we must know the contours of where the divide starts and ends. We need to telescope our broadband maps from the macro, census-block level to the micro, building level to understand with more precision where broadband is unavailable. The government’s existing mapping methodology is past its shelf life."

Here too, AT&T has lobbied against better, more accurate broadband maps (or the inclusion of broadband pricing in said maps) because it doesn't want people highlighting the lack of competition and coverage gaps in the sector. And while some broadband mapping improvements have finally been passed after relentless pressure from states looking for their cut of the pie, AT&T has lobbied to exclude technologies like 5G from those improvements.

Stankey also takes some time to pretend that deploying fiber isn't "economical," despite his company receiving untold billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors to deploy fiber networks that mysteriously, routinely, wind up only partially deployed:

"The FCC currently heavily weights subsidies toward gigabit speeds (fiber) over other technologies (such as fixed wireless). It is simply not practical or responsible to assume a fiber broadband service can be delivered to every unserved rural household—the prohibitive cost is part of why connecting many of these households has been uneconomical."

This one's a real laugher if you know AT&T's history. For the better part of the last generation AT&T has received a fountain of taxpayer cash in exchange for fiber it never fully deploys. AT&T spent much of the aughts under-investing in fiber despite rampant deregulation that was supposed to incentivize it to do so. It just received a $42 billion tax cut from the Trump administration that resulted in more than 41,000 layoffs and a $3 billion CAPEX reduction for 2020. AT&T's running a 30-year con in which it takes taxpayer dollars, pockets the lion's share of it, under-deploys broadband, then tries to obfuscate the results.

AT&T just spent $150 billion on an array of terrible mergers that saddled the company in an ocean of debt and resulted in customers leaving in droves. Between tax breaks, subsidies, and the gutting of FCC consumer protections like net neutrality and privacy, it's almost impossible to calculate the amount of taxpayer assistance AT&T has received in the last decade alone. In fact, the only reason Stankey is even CEO is because the last CEO got driven out of town for wasting money on misguided ideas. Yet here we have AT&T giving advice on what is or isn't "cost prohibitive."

What's AT&T and Stankey really up to here? With stories in the press about kids having to squat outside of Taco Bell just to get online for class, AT&T's policy guys know we're likely to see new legislation in the next year to help bridge the digital divide. AT&T would prefer that legislation fixate on throwing billions in additional subsidies at monopolies like AT&T, instead of tackling the real cause of U.S. broadband mediocrity: rampant state and federal corruption, or the monopolization that results from timid policymakers fecklessly bending the policy knee to monopolistic telecom giants for the better part of a generation.

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Filed Under: broadband maps, community broadband, competition, digital divide, john stankey, lobbying, op-ed, subsidization
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    Koby (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 6:51am

    Market forces and private companies can’t do it alone because of the lack of return on the significant investment necessary to reach all Americans."

    Every time a rural community threatens to create a public broadband utility, the private sector companies come running to establish their own.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 7:09am

      Re:

      No, they rush to make it illegal for the community to create their own, then maybe install something that only barely fits the definition of broadband (the definition they created, that wouldn't pass for broadband elsewhere).

      But, even if what you say is true, it shouldn't take communities giving up and trying to do the work themselves to get them adopted into the 21st century. The US government has already paid them billions to do it.

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

      • icon
        Koby (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 9:11am

        Re: Re:

        Certainly, the corporatist telecoms have used lobbyist efforts to rig the system and prevent municipalities from setting up their own broadband. But in places where the legislation route hasn't been successful, it has forced the telecom monopolies to get off their duff and get to work. Project Thor in Colorado worked well to shock CenturyLink into action.

        You're right that municipalities shouldn't have to wait on telecom monopolies to get service. That's why municipal broadband is such a great idea. It threatens the incumbents into building more/better service, and if the local monopoly fails to follow through, then the municipality gets its broadband anyhow. But if it does, then there's more competition and options for residents.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2020 @ 1:29pm

        Re: Re:

        then maybe install something that only barely fits the definition of broadband

        Or install real broadband, to like one guy in each zip code. Makes the FCC stats look better.

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

    • icon
      Chris-Mouse (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      Every time a rural community threatens to create a public broadband utility, the private sector companies come running to establish their own.

      Umm no, they don't. It's simply far more cost effective for them to lobby at the state level to make creating the public broadband utility illegal.

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

      • icon
        Another Kevin (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 8:36am

        Make it illegal for the community to do it, and then don't do it yourself, either.

        Instead, spin off your operation to someone who acquires it in a leveraged buyout (translation: by the subsidiary with the subsidiary's money), and then let the new company go bankrupt. Steal the assets and turn the rest over to yet another buyer, because there's one born every minute.

        Oh yes, and continue to pocket the universal service fee while abandoning even the idea of universal service. Or, really, service at all. The providers would love a world in which they can continue to collect fees while entirely avoiding the hurly-burly of actually doing business.

        I'd cite Verizon's abandonment of Vermont as an example, except that there are now co-ops emerging because the big carriers have pretty much abandoned the state, and even the bottom-feeders like FairPoint and Consolidated are pretty much dumping it, so you start seeing operations like Mansfield and VTel beginning to move in. I expect the big boys will drop the hammer on those soon enough, though.

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

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 7:28am

    Standby for "helpful" legislation from Sen. Marsha Blackburn in 3... 2... 1...

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

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 8:07am

    You said it

    "What's AT&T and Stankey really up to here?"
    "AT&T would prefer that legislation fixate on throwing billions in additional subsidies at monopolies like AT&T"

    So basically they're getting in now with the bullshit saying "This is what we've always wanted to do so give us the money! No, really, that was done by the last CEO, not me....."

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

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 8:20am

    a company that has already received countless billions in subsidies

    Is there really no list of subsidies they've received over the years? Would be fun to have that number whenever they whining about regulation again.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 9:15am

    So easy for the honest...

    The entire op-ed could have been summed up in a single point were the one making it even remotely honest:

    'Stop letting the major teleco companies(like us) write the laws and decide which, if any, regulations apply to them.'

    If you wanted to get really fancy you could expand that out to include 'Stop throwing good money after bad and simply repeating the same actions hoping that it will magically work this time, instead looking to other countries that have somehow figured it out to see how they did it.'

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 9:23am

    This whole thing Stankeys of hypocrisy.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Mike Hunter, 14 Sep 2020 @ 9:34am

    Reply

    These are just tips non of them won't be applied.
    Mike Hunter
    CEO at https://casinoshunter.com/

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2020 @ 9:55am

    Ever considered...

    Submitting this piece to Politico to give a wider view of things? Like ... say... an OpEd?

    Or maybe the Cit United/Free Speech decisions which gave the companies powers to misinform under the guise of free speech?

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 14 Sep 2020 @ 12:11pm

    Obviously the only tip AT&T ever really gave was "just shut up and keep giving us our money".

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 14 Sep 2020 @ 1:15pm

    "digital divide isn't something private industry can do alone: "

    Ummmm.
    REALLY?
    For all the complaints about the Gov. doing to much and wanting everything Privatized?
    Even tho, looking back that the Gov has pushed every USA advancement ever done? And that means 'WE the People', were the ones that PAID for most of them.

    Iv even suggested that the Gov. do the installs/upgrade/improve/ Make things Modular. And if the corps want in to it, they would have to PAY. Or buy out the Gov service.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2020 @ 3:09pm

    The problem is Att is doing fine, give donations to politicians, get massive tax breaks, ask politicians to pass laws to stop local municipal broadband networks being built and reduce competion.
    America has crony capitalism , corruption., lack of competion in the telecom sector.
    Att has no reason to change.
    The only reason the problem is being discussed is
    millions of students rely on broadband to study
    since its not safe to go to school.
    Broadband is being used to work at home
    Basic broadband is hardly a luxury now
    The only hope is if Biden gets elected the govermenment might try and bring some new rules into the telecom market to allow more competition

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2020 @ 3:57pm

      Re:

      The only hope is if Biden gets elected the govermenment might try and bring some new rules into the telecom market to allow more competition

      Good luck with that, despite what the tv ad playing right now is saying: "Biden will make corporations pay their fair share". LOL

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2020 @ 11:02am

    K-Street writes legislation and congress doesn't even read the shit they pass! Staffers do the leg work and get big comps for defection a year or two down the line to bring their insider knowledge into how to corrupt congress further. Both parties are completely corrupt. Epstein-alike blackmail networks are in play. ATT is a company that has been proven to actively work against the interest of both it's users but citizens in general, and often at behest of the military industrial complex (surveillance system post-9/11). It's time to start smacking some of these companies with anti-trust/anti-monopoly sticks.

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


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