While the government and industry pay a lot of lip service toward expanding broadband availability and competition, we've noted how giant phone companies like AT&T and Verizon are actually backing away from unwanted DSL markets
. Through a combination of apathy (failing to repair the lines timely) and price hikes for services that cost less than ever to offer, the telcos are actively driving DSL users to either cable competitors
or wireless (or both, since cable operators now help sell Verizon wireless services). Fixed-line broadband is perfectly profitable, it's just not profitable enough quickly enough
for telco investors.
As a result, these companies are shifting their attention to significantly-more-expensive wireless services with caps and overages, and pretending this is just as good as an uncapped, less expensive DSL line. The result? A huge swath of the country where the cable broadband monopoly is going to be more potent than ever, resulting in worse customer service (if that's even possible
) and higher prices than ever before.
Of course, AT&T and Verizon can't just come forth and say that they no longer care about huge swaths of the country, so as they go state to state trying to gut all regulations requiring they continue to offer fixed-line services, they're claiming that if state legislatures do their bidding, the states will somehow be awash with amazing new technologies
. AT&T calls this the "IP transition
," and has been successful in conflating a general shift toward wireless and IP networks with the company's refusal to upgrade fixed-line assets. Both companies have even gone so far as to have folks like Steve Forbes issue editorials proclaiming DSL lines are dead
-- news to those for whom that's their only reliable connectivity option.
Verizon has also used natural disasters as justification for refusing to repair or upgrade customers
, with some victims of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast still waiting for their DSL lines to get repaired. Most recently, Verizon tried to claim that the reason it just sold its unwanted fixed-line assets in Florida, Texas and California was because of regulators' positions on net neutrality
It's of course not just rural regions that are impacted by this shift: Baltimore's one of several cities (like Boston, Alexandria and Buffalo) that didn't get chosen for Verizon's now-dead FiOS expansion plans. With Verizon not willing to spend the money for further FiOS expansion, the company needed something
to tell locals that not only aren't seeing upgrades, but in some cases are now waiting months
for repairs. This month's excuse? Parts are just too hard to find
"It's not just the wires that are going bad, it's the switches," said Sherry Lichtenberg, the principal researcher for telecommunications at the Washington-based National Regulatory Research Institute. "It's really hard to find parts." AT&T officials have said the company sometimes has to scrounge on eBay for parts."
Yes that's AT&T, a company that saw $132.4 billion in revenues last year, claiming that it has to head to eBay to upgrade its networks. Of course, parts aren't hard to find when you replace those older parts
-- like in more upscale development communities where AT&T is slowly starting to offer very limited 1 Gbps fiber deployments
(deployments, it should be noted, that AT&T also claims it paused over net neutrality
). Parts also aren't hard to find when you're offering wireless LTE services with $15 per gigabyte overages. Parts are, apparently, only hard to find in areas you're intentionally abandoning -- but don't want to admit
you're intentionally abandoning.
On one hand, you can understand that Verizon and AT&T are simply heading where the real money is. The problem is that after refusing to upgrade many markets, the telcos have lobbied for laws prohibiting these same towns and cities from upgrading themselves
(or in some cases engaging in public/private partnerships). When the FCC recently (and quite belatedly) announced they'd be trying to eliminate the most contentious parts of these protectionist laws
, the broadband industry threatened to sue. As such, the telecom industry has created a giant painful ouroboros of intentional dysfunction, one that only begins to unravel when we stop letting AT&T, Comcast and Verizon write state telecom law.