A 90 Year Old Shouldn't Have To Buy A $10,000 Ad Just To Get AT&T To Upgrade His Shitty DSL Line
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
Last week I wrote over at Motherboard about 90 years old North Hollywood resident Aaron Epstein, whose family has been an AT&T subscriber since the 1930s. Epstein himself has been a loyal AT&T subscriber since around 1960, and has had the company’s DSL service since it was first introduced in the late 90s. Unfortunately for Epstein, much like countless millions of other Americans, his DSL line only delivered speeds of 1.5 to 3 Mbps, and he’s been waiting for decades for faster speeds to no avail.
To try and nudge AT&T to action, Epstein recently took out a $10,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal just to yell at AT&T CEO John Stankey:
— Raju Narisetti (@raju) February 3, 2021
When I spoke to him on the phone, he told me that AT&T had advertised faster speeds in his area for five years, but when he called to see if upgrades were actually available, they never were. But after a full week of national press coverage (the story quickly bounced around the country) about the lengths Epstein had to go to, AT&T finally scrambled to upgrade his line to fiber to help manage the PR crisis. AT&T, for its part, issued a statement that tried to pretend these upgrades were “planned” all along (there’s no real indication that’s true):
“Earlier this week we completed our planned expansion of AT&T Fiber in this customer’s neighborhood, and we were pleased to provide him the upgrade he wanted. This neighborhood was already planned to receive fiber and is part of our ongoing fiber expansion in the larger Los Angeles area. Nationally, we recently announced that we will bring AT&T Fiber to an additional 2 million residential locations this year.”
In reality, AT&T’s fiber expansions had been slowed dramatically (stopped entirely in many areas) so the company could throw nearly $200 billion at the DirecTV and Time Warner megamergers in a bid to dominate the video (and video advertising space). That’s not going well. AT&T has been losing video subscribers hand over fist and is preparing to offload DirecTV for a song.
Meanwhile, Epstein’s predicament isn’t uncommon. And unfortunately, most folks who have begging for upgrades for years don’t have $10,000 to throw at an ad in a major newspaper. AT&T has been accused for decades of “redlining” marginalized communities it doesn’t deem worthy of seeing network upgrades despite billions in subsidization and regulatory favors. The same story has played out in Detroit, Dallas, and Cleveland where users continue to wait for upgrades, which taxpayers already likely paid for in one form or another, that never arrive.
AT&T has spent years nabbing billions in tax cuts, subsidies, and regulatory favors in exchange for networks it routinely only half deploys, assuming those networks arrive at all. Time after time, AT&T promises that it will meaningfully upgrade its aging DSL lines to fiber if it gets “X,” where X is a merger approval, deregulation (the death of net neutrality for example), subsidies, and tax cuts, and time and time again AT&T only partially delivers what’s promised. If it delivers anything at all; recall the company received a $42 billion tax break from Trump in 2017, and all America got in exchange were 42,000 layoffs.
According to one union study, only 14.93 million of the 52.97 million households in AT&T’s 21-state wireline service area have access to fiber service. This game of empty promises has gone on for decades, and state and federal government leaders and regulators legitimately just pretend this monopolization and regulatory capture isn’t happening. Why? Because AT&T isn’t just politically powerful and a major campaign contributor, they’re now permanently tethered to both our intelligence gathering apparatus and our first responder response systems, making them effectively beyond the reach of any oversight beyond a wrist slap or two.
Needless to say, elderly people wouldn’t have to take out $10,000 ads just to get their broadband upgraded in a country that took the threat of monopolization and corruption seriously. And until we do, some variation of these stories just keep repeating themselves indefinitely.