AT&T hopes you’ll forget its years-long fight against accurate 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 downside that has helped thwart efforts to wire up hundreds of thousands of American houses with out sufficient broadband entry.

AT&T CEO John Stankey this week printed an opinion piece in Politico with the obvious targets of bettering AT&T’s repute, decreasing authorities regulation, and getting extra federal funding. The piece is titled, “A Game Plan to—Finally—Connect Every American to Broadband,” and the primary merchandise on AT&T’s sport plan is “to identify where 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 authorities’s present mapping methodology is previous its shelf life. Currently, it doesn’t determine the precise quantity and placement of households that shouldn’t have significant broadband service, particularly in rural areas. Congress acknowledged this in March by passing the Broadband DATA Act, which can create a extra accurate and detailed map of broadband availability, serving to firms like mine have the data wanted to find out the main target and value of deployment. The solely downside is that Congress hasn’t but appropriated the funds for the extra granular maps, though laws is presently pending.

AT&T’s years-long fight against higher maps

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

AT&T might have acknowledged that its fight against extra accurate 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. But 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.

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

  • In April 2011, AT&T instructed the FCC that ISPs should not should report the road addresses the place they’ve deployed broadband to houses and shouldn’t be required “to report actual broadband speeds.” AT&T additionally stated the FCC mustn’t gather information on broadband costs, service high quality, or buyer satisfaction.
  • In February 2013, AT&T met with FCC officers to debate how gathering extra accurate broadband information would “impose new burdens on AT&T” as a result of “the information is not gathered in the course of its normal business operations.”
  • In October 2017, AT&T instructed the FCC that “the Commission’s proposal to collect mobile broadband and voice subscribership, and fixed broadband deployment at a more granular level, e.g. the sub-census block/address level, should be rejected because it would not generate useful information.” Address-level information wouldn’t be helpful “because providers do not record addresses in a standardized, uniform manner,” AT&T stated.
  • In one other October 2017 submitting, AT&T stated that the FCC mustn’t even give ISPs the possibility of offering geospatial broadband information as a substitute of the less-accurate census-block information ISPs had been in any other case required to submit. (The FCC lastly required geospatial maps in an August 2019 vote.)

Recognizing that opinion throughout the authorities had shifted—with even a distinguished Republican senator criticizing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s failure to ship extra accurate maps—AT&T in October 2018 conceded that extra accurate information was obligatory and supplied its personal proposal for gathering it.

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

  • In September 2019, AT&T instructed the FCC that “transparency” round how ISPs use radio-propagation fashions to generate maps could be preferable to “more prescriptive standards.”
  • In October 2019, AT&T stated the FCC mustn’t demand extra accurate 5G maps, saying that “requiring 5G coverage maps in this early stage of 5G deployment could reveal sensitive information about cell site locations and even customer locations, in cases where 5G is being deployed in high-band spectrum for specific enterprise customers.” AT&T additionally pushed for limits on necessities for reporting the pace 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 info factors the FCC proposed requiring are “of questionable value” 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 might be “simply too costly especially at a time when investment in 5G deployment is a top national priority.”
  • On September 8, 2020, the identical day Stankey’s essay in Politico was printed, AT&T instructed the FCC that the company mustn’t require extra particulars to confirm the accuracy of propagation fashions utilized by cell carriers to generate protection maps. AT&T additionally stated the FCC “should not require providers to submit additional coverage maps based on different speed thresholds, cell edge probability or cell loading factors.”

The FCC, which remains to be finalizing its plan, has good cause to ask for extra information to confirm provider 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. Separately, the FCC present in December that Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular exaggerated their 4G protection in official filings. These kinds of errors can stop the FCC from concentrating on funding to the areas the place it is most wanted, and inaccurate information basically may end up in ISPs giving potential prospects false data about service availability.

More cash, please

Besides mapping, different gadgets in Stankey’s sport plan may end result within the broadband trade getting more cash. Stankey famous that “Millions of American families cannot afford or may lack access to” high-speed broadband and that the “homework gap” has left many low-income, minority, and rural college students with out sufficient connectivity.

“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,” Stankey wrote.

AT&T’s concentrating on of probably the most worthwhile areas has left hundreds of thousands of houses in its 21-state service space with out sufficient broadband entry. AT&T does not need to deliver fiber to all these houses that also have copper cellphone traces, and Stankey thus urged Congress to applicable broadband funding that will enable fastened wi-fi entry as a substitute of fiber in unserved rural areas.

“[A]s Congress debates earmarking up to $80 billion for rural broadband as part of the next round of pandemic relief, we should give equal weight to wired and wireless options,” Stankey wrote. He additionally urged the federal government to keep away from “unnecessary regulations [that] will make greater private sector investment less sustainable.” If the United States fails to shut its broadband gaps, the fault will lie with the federal government, not non-public trade, in line with Stankey:

With so many college students having to study nearly this fall, and with so many employees now depending on residence Internet connections to maintain their jobs, now’s the time for us to work collectively to make sure all American households have entry to essential connectivity and the sources wanted to satisfy the pressing challenges of right this moment and tomorrow. If policymakers fail to behave, right this moment’s “homework gap” is not going to solely exacerbate the proverbial “generation gap,” however we can have did not 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 trade, 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 people putting fiber in ground,” however AT&T has since laid off tens of hundreds of employees and diminished community spending.

Consumer 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 large ISPs “fail to deliver universal access but enjoy comfortable monopolies and charge you prices at 200 percent to 300 percent above competitive rates,” Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon just lately wrote in help of a nationwide fiber plan proposed by Democrats:

Even when it’s worthwhile to ship fiber, the nationwide ISPs have chosen to not do it in trade for short-term earnings. An enormous infrastructure program, the type that helped nations like South Korea grow to be international leaders in broadband, aren’t simply desperately wanted within the United States, it’s a requirement. No different nation on planet Earth has made progress in delivering common fiber with out an infrastructure coverage of this kind.

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