As we've covered repeatedly, AT&T's busy backing away from countless DSL markets
it doesn't want to upgrade, promising states that if they gut all
consumer protections, those states will magically be awash in numerous broadband options. Of course what AT&T's actually doing is gutting DSL and traditional phone service, then shoving those users toward significantly more expensive wireless service -- which may or may not actually be available, and usually isn't a full substitute. At the same time, it's going state to state pushing protectionist laws that prevent towns and cities from improving
their own networks, whether that's through building their own broadband networks, or partnering with a private company to do so.
It's a situation where AT&T truly gets to have its cake and eat it too. AT&T won't provide quality service, but it wants state protection ensuring that nobody can either -- just in case any of these efforts brush up against the company's business interests sometime down the road.
As we've discussed, the FCC has finally started taking aim at these protectionist broadband laws
in Tennessee and North Carolina. Tennessee has already filed suit against the FCC
for trampling "states rights," though the fact AT&T is literally writing stating law that tramples these same rights isn't seen as much of a problem. While the FCC works to try and gut these protectionist laws, there are a few bills circulating in the Tennessee legislature (like HB 152
) that would allow these municipal broadband operations to extend outside of their current footprints without the FCC having to get involved.
AT&T unsurprisingly opposes the proposal, and has played a role in killing similar proposals in three straight legislative sessions. With this latest fight, AT&T has been e-mailing its employees
, telling them to oppose the proposals if they know what's good for them:
"Government should not compete against the private sector, which has a proven history of funding, building, operating and upgrading broadband networks," she said in the emailed statement. "Rather than delivering more broadband, we believe that this policy will discourage the private sector investment that has delivered the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today."
Of course, the only thing AT&T has "proven" is that it will go to any lengths to project its uncompetitive fiefdom from outside competition. AT&T has spent years in Tennessee (and many other states) refusing to seriously upgrade broadband infrastructure, but doing its very best to ensure nobody else can either. Just ask the numerous Tennessee residents who filed their complaint with the FCC
in support of the agency's push to dismantle protectionist law:
"For the past 15 years, Joyce and other people in her community have requested better service from AT&T. They were told repeatedly it would be 3 months, 6 months, 9 months until they would get upgrades but it never happened. They finally decided to look for connectivity elsewhere. Joyce and her neighbors approached their electric provider, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, in the hopes that they could work with (Chattanooga's municipal utility broadband company) EPB to bring services to the area. Volunteer and EPB had already discussed the possibility, but when the state law was passed that prevented EPB from expanding, the efforts to collaborate cooled."
AT&T's quick to claim it isn't blocking municipal broadband, because the bills it's pushing (usually based on draft legislation by ALEC
in turn written by AT&T lawyers) do
allow these operations to expand -- but only if they target markets that aren't "served" by existing providers. Of course, the bills then include an absurdly generous definition of what constitutes a community being "served," whether that's just one DSL line in an entire zip code, or the inclusion of pricey and capped wireless or satellite broadband services. AT&T President Joelle Phillips hides behind this logic when she tells people AT&T isn't against municipal broadband
"Phillips said AT&T is not opposed to municipal networks, but government-owned providers should be limited to areas where broadband service from the private sector is unavailable or is not likely to be available in "a reasonable time frame." The proposed bill "allows for unfettered deployment of these publicly funded networks," she said."
A better idea would be for AT&T to either offer broadband services that don't suck, or get the hell out of the way. Millions of AT&T customers in Tennessee (and elsewhere) pay an arm and a leg for slow DSL lines with 150 GB usage caps
, thanks to the now all-too-familiar lack of broadband competition seen across vast swaths of the country. Allowing towns and cities to improve things would ruin AT&T's ambitious plan to bathe those users in price hikes or apathy, or shovel these neglected customers toward hugely expensive and capped LTE service plans.