Mississippi Says AT&T Took $283 Million For A Network It Never Fully Deployed

from the Charlie-Brown-and-Lucy-Football dept

We've noted for years that the U.S. simply adores throwing billions in tax breaks and subsidies at telecom monopolies in exchange for broadband networks that somehow, mysteriously, only wind up half deployed. AT&T's particularly gifted at this particular grift, routinely promising a massive boost in network investment if it gets merger approval, deregulation, or subsidization. Like most recently when it nabbed a $42 billion tax break from the Trump administration in exchange for not only network investment that never happened -- but 41,000 layoffs.

Because AT&T's so politically powerful -- and of course all but bone grafted to the intelligence and law enforcement communities -- the company never faces more than a wrist slap for its empty promises, if that. This month it's the state of Mississippi that's pissed off, accusing AT&T of taking $283 million from the FCC's Connect America Fund to deploy broadband to 133,000 locations in Mississippi, then once again failing to deliver. More specifically, AT&T promised it would use the money to expand fixed wireless service to these locations, then falsely reported the locations served when they weren't.

The Mississippi Public Service didn't really mince words in a letter (pdf) spotted by Ars Technica sent to the FCC:

"Our investigation has found concrete, specific examples that show AT&T Mississippi has reported location addresses... as being served when, in fact, the addresses are without service under their [Connect America Fund] obligations," said a letter to the FCC sent Tuesday by all three Mississippi PSC commissioners. "This pattern of submitting false data to the USAC [the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the program on the FCC's behalf] merits a full compliance audit by the FCC, USAC, or whichever appropriate agency. We feel it is our duty to alert you to this issue."

This is far from the first time AT&T has misrepresented its broadband availability. The company back in April was forced to admit to the FCC it misrepresented broadband availability across 20 states in its territories. AT&T's also fighting efforts to improve broadband map accuracy on several fronts. In a news release, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley urged the FCC to investigate what it called a history of inconsistencies and falsehoods:

"Our investigation has revealed a wide array of inconsistencies in what AT&T advertises as available and what actually exists when consumers try to get Internet service," Presley said. "All the while, AT&T has submitted data saying that they have used federal funds to bring Internet service to these specific homes. AT&T knows, for a fact, that information that they have provided regarding where their Internet service exists is false. They know that through their own, internal records. It's imperative that the FCC and other appropriate federal agencies work with us to hold them accountable."

Of course this is where an independent federal regulator would investigate AT&T more deeply, especially given more than two decades of similar complaints. But that of course isn't going to happen at Ajit Pai's FCC, which is not only a glorified rubber stamp for the industry it's supposed to be holding accountable to the public, but routinely participates in the industry's willful misrepresentation of broadband availability to try and hide the patchy coverage and muted competition that is the hallmark of the U.S. telecom industry.

Understand this: the FCC actively and routinely helps telecom monopolies misrepresent broadband availability and downplay high prices to try and obfuscate market failure. Regulatory capture remains a massive problem, no matter how many telecom-funded consultants, think tankers, and politicians try to convince you that U.S. broadband is a miracle of free market innovation.

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Filed Under: connect america fund, digital divide, fcc, lies, mississippi, unkept promises
Companies: at&t


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2020 @ 7:39pm

    Re:

    While that is something states mostly shouldn't be doing, that isn't what happened. The state which gave AT&T the money this time was the federal government, from a fund explicitly designed for this, with a name that says so.


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