AT&T hopes you’ll overlook its years-long struggle in opposition to correct broadband maps

AT&T's logo pictured on a wall at its headquarters.
Enlarge / AT&T’s emblem at its company headquarters on March 13, 2020 in Dallas, Texas.

AT&T—which has spent the previous decade preventing US-government makes an attempt to enhance the nation’s horrible broadband maps—is now claiming to be very involved concerning the mapping drawback that has helped thwart efforts to wire up hundreds of thousands of American properties with out ample broadband entry.

AT&T CEO John Stankey this week revealed an opinion piece in Politico with the obvious objectives of bettering AT&T’s popularity, decreasing authorities regulation, and getting extra federal funding. The piece is titled, “A Sport Plan to—Lastly—Join Each American to Broadband,” and the primary merchandise on AT&T’s sport plan is “to establish the place broadband is unavailable with geographic precision.”

Stankey wrote:

We have to telescope our broadband maps from the macro, census-block degree to the micro, constructing degree to grasp with extra precision the place broadband is unavailable. The federal government’s present mapping methodology is previous its shelf life. At the moment, it doesn’t establish the precise quantity and placement of households that should not have significant broadband service, particularly in rural areas. Congress acknowledged this in March by passing the Broadband DATA Act, which can create a extra correct and detailed map of broadband availability, serving to firms like mine have the knowledge wanted to find out the main focus and price of deployment. The one drawback is that Congress hasn’t but appropriated the funds for the extra granular maps, though laws is at the moment pending.

AT&T’s years-long struggle in opposition to higher maps

Why does not america have already got broadband maps with this degree of precision? Partly as a result of AT&T and other ISPs have repeatedly fought the Federal Communications Fee’s makes an attempt to require submission of extra correct maps.

AT&T might have acknowledged that its struggle in opposition to extra correct broadband maps is essentially over, with Stankey’s Politico essay noting Congress’ passage of the Broadband DATA Act—and urging Congress to rush up in appropriating funding. However even with the Broadband DATA Act talked about by Stankey, AT&T remains to be pushing for limits on how the FCC implements the data-collection system mandated by Congress.

Listed below are some examples from AT&T’s filings to the FCC since 2011:

  • In April 2011, AT&T told the FCC that ISPs should not need to report the road addresses the place they’ve deployed broadband to properties and shouldn’t be required “to report precise broadband speeds.” AT&T additionally said the FCC mustn’t accumulate knowledge on broadband costs, service high quality, or buyer satisfaction.
  • In February 2013, AT&T met with FCC officials to debate how gathering extra correct broadband knowledge would “impose new burdens on AT&T” as a result of “the knowledge shouldn’t be gathered in the middle of its regular enterprise operations.”
  • In October 2017, AT&T told the FCC that “the Fee’s proposal to gather cellular broadband and voice subscribership, and stuck broadband deployment at a extra granular degree, e.g. the sub-census block/handle degree, must be rejected as a result of it will not generate helpful info.” Deal with-level knowledge wouldn’t be helpful “as a result of suppliers don’t document addresses in a standardized, uniform method,” AT&T mentioned.
  • In one other October 2017 filing, AT&T mentioned that the FCC mustn’t even give ISPs the possibility of offering geospatial broadband knowledge as an alternative of the less-accurate census-block knowledge ISPs had been in any other case required to submit. (The FCC lastly required geospatial maps in an August 2019 vote.)

Recognizing that opinion inside the authorities had shifted—with even a outstanding Republican senator criticizing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s failure to ship extra correct maps—AT&T in October 2018 conceded that extra correct knowledge was needed and offered its own proposal for gathering it.

Regardless of that change, AT&T continued pushing for limits on mapping necessities:

  • In September 2019, AT&T told the FCC that “transparency” round how ISPs use radio-propagation fashions to generate maps could be preferable to “extra prescriptive requirements.”
  • In October 2019, AT&T said the FCC mustn’t demand extra correct 5G maps, saying that “requiring 5G protection maps on this early stage of 5G deployment may reveal delicate details about cell web site areas and even buyer areas, in instances the place 5G is being deployed in high-band spectrum for particular enterprise prospects.” AT&T additionally pushed for limits on necessities for reporting the velocity of non-5G networks.
  • In July 2020, AT&T objected to the FCC’s proposal for implementing the Broadband DATA Act, saying that “many” of the information factors the FCC proposed requiring are “of questionable worth” or pointless for verifying the accuracy of carrier-submitted protection maps.
  • In August 2020, AT&T objected to the FCC’s proposal to require drive checks to confirm the accuracy of mobile-coverage maps, complaining that it will be “just too pricey particularly at a time when funding in 5G deployment is a high nationwide precedence.”
  • On September 8, 2020, the identical day Stankey’s essay in Politico was revealed, AT&T told the FCC that the company mustn’t require extra particulars to confirm the accuracy of propagation fashions utilized by cellular carriers to generate protection maps. AT&T additionally mentioned the FCC “mustn’t require suppliers to submit extra protection maps primarily based on totally different velocity thresholds, cell edge chance or cell loading elements.”

The FCC, which remains to be finalizing its plan, has good cause to ask for extra knowledge to confirm service submissions. In April, AT&T admitted a mistake during which it falsely reported providing broadband in almost 3,600 census blocks unfold throughout components of 20 states. Individually, the FCC found in December that Verizon, T-Cellular, and US Mobile exaggerated their 4G protection in official filings. Most of these errors can forestall the FCC from focusing on funding to the areas the place it is most wanted, and inaccurate knowledge usually may end up in ISPs giving potential prospects false information about service availability.

Extra money, please

Apart from mapping, different gadgets in Stankey’s sport plan may consequence within the broadband business getting extra money. Stankey famous that “Tens of millions of American households can’t afford or might lack entry to” high-speed broadband and that the “homework hole” has left many low-income, minority, and rural college students with out ample connectivity.

“Market forces and personal firms cannot do it alone due to the shortage of return on the numerous funding needed to achieve all People,” Stankey wrote.

AT&T’s targeting of probably the most worthwhile areas has left millions of homes in its 21-state service space with out ample broadband entry. AT&T does not need to carry fiber to all these properties that also have copper telephone traces, and Stankey thus urged Congress to acceptable broadband funding that might permit mounted wi-fi entry as an alternative of fiber in unserved rural areas.

“[A]s Congress debates earmarking as much as $80 billion for rural broadband as a part of the subsequent spherical of pandemic reduction, we must always give equal weight to wired and wi-fi choices,” Stankey wrote. He additionally urged the federal government to keep away from “pointless rules [that] will make larger non-public sector funding much less sustainable.” If america fails to shut its broadband gaps, the fault will lie with the federal government, not non-public business, in response to Stankey:

With so many college students having to be taught nearly this fall, and with so many employees now depending on house Web connections to maintain their jobs, now could be the time for us to work collectively to make sure all American households have entry to important connectivity and the sources wanted to fulfill the pressing challenges of at present and tomorrow. If policymakers fail to behave, at present’s “homework hole” is not going to solely exacerbate the proverbial “era hole,” however we can have didn’t bridge it.

AT&T has gotten quite a few authorities favors within the Trump period, such because the repeal of web neutrality guidelines, deregulation of the broadband business, and an enormous company tax reduce. AT&T’s then-CEO Randall Stephenson claimed in November 2017 that AT&T would use a tax reduce to create “7,000 jobs of individuals placing fiber in floor,” however AT&T has since laid off tens of hundreds of employees and reduced network spending.

Client advocates agree that authorities ought to promote broadband deployment, however they suggest one thing extra formidable than AT&T’s name for extra funding and fewer regulation. Noting that huge ISPs “fail to ship common entry however get pleasure from comfy monopolies and cost you costs at 200 % to 300 % above aggressive charges,” Digital Frontier Basis Senior Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon recently wrote in assist of a nationwide fiber plan proposed by Democrats:

Even when it is profitable to deliver fiber, the nationwide ISPs have chosen to not do it in alternate for short-term income. An enormous infrastructure program, the sort that helped nations like South Korea become global leaders in broadband, aren’t simply desperately wanted in america, it’s a requirement. No different nation on planet Earth has made progress in delivering common fiber with out an infrastructure coverage of this sort.

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