On October 13, 2020 NDIA filed comments with Public Knowledge and six other organizations in response to the Federal Communication Commission’s Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers Reform and Modernization Order. Our comments focused on AT&T’s refusal to replace their ADSL1 (asymmetric digital subscriber line) network with a wireline connection of equal or superior quality. In their response, AT&T has stated they are no longer selling ADSL1 service to new customers and that existing customers with ADSL1 have the option of keeping their service. AT&T is leaving existing customers with the slow ADSL1 service as opposed to building a faster fiber-optic broadband service and have clearly stated they have no intention of ever doing so. 

Since the Obama-era net neutrality rules were rolled back in 2017, internet service providers like AT&T have been reclassified under Title I of the Communications Act and subsequently under the Federal Trade Commission’s loose authority which means all broadband service is largely unregulated by the federal government. Due to this lack of regulation from the FCC, AT&T has been able to neglect customers by not meeting the FCC’s 25/3 mbps benchmark for approximately 28% of households in their network footprint. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, this means that over 200,000 American households have no alternate internet service providers aside from mobile or satellite. Additionally, AT&T’s lack of action results in over 2 million American households being forced to rely on one alternative cable option. This is due to these areas only having two wireline broadband providers.  

Our main points in the comments are the following:

  • AT&T is failing its low income customers and workers by refusing to invest in crucial fiber-optic buildout that is the standard for broadband networks worldwide. 
  • The reclassification of broadband as a Title I service deprives the Commission of all oversight authority over broadband which has allowed for AT&T to deprive their customers of high speed internet.
  • The Federal Communication Commission has failed its responsibility to consider other alternatives that would still preserve the FCC’s authority to oversee the phase out of DSL and  protect customers from losing their only wireline broadband connection.
  • AT&T’s wireless internet alternative is not sustainable for many customers as low income families cannot avoid nor pay their way around data caps. 

AT&T’s actions most affect rural and low-income customers, making the loss of reliable broadband particularly painful. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further aggravates this harm. This announcement is unacceptable as it leaves thousands of customers without a viable internet option during a time where lack of internet access is similar to a lack of water or electricity.