In the wake of AT&T’s recent announcement that it will discontinue DSL sales nationally and disconnect 160,000 DSL customers, only some of whom have access to another wireline service from AT&T, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Public Knowledge, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Next Century Cities, Common Cause, and the Greenlining Institute submitted a filing today to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warning that the FCC’s deregulatory agenda leaves the agency powerless to protect Americans from losing critical broadband connections during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
View the filing HERE.
“It is unconscionable that AT&T would disconnect thousands of existing DSL customers, many of whom likely do not have another fixed broadband option, during a pandemic,” said CWA Senior Researcher Brian Thorn. “AT&T is making the digital divide worse and failing its customers and workers by not investing in crucial buildout of fiber-optic infrastructure. This failure, combined with the FCC’s lack of oversight, means AT&T may leave thousands of customers without a viable internet option.”
“The FCC’s stubborn insistence on protecting corporations from oversight rather than protecting subscribers from harm reaches its natural conclusion in the FCC’s draft order reaffirming its classifying broadband as a Title I ‘information service.’ Repeatedly, the draft Order affirms that whatever harms happen to the American people, this FCC considers it acceptable to keep the current broadband monopoly deregulated,” said Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated inequities in communities with few options for affordable and reliable broadband,” said Next Century Cities’ Policy Counsel, Ryan Johnston. “Now AT&T’s actions ensure that residents who don’t have access to, or can’t afford other options, will be left offline. This draft Order flies in the face of the Commission’s stated goal to keep households connected during these unprecedented times when broadband access is essential.”
The FCC has claimed that there are no authority problems with public safety, but AT&T’s announcement that it is discontinuing DSL service means that millions of households will be left with fewer or no options for home internet. Meanwhile, these communities are counting on the FCC to ensure reliable and uninterrupted access to broadband.
A new report from CWA and NDIA shows that 26% of households in AT&T’s wireline footprint, or 13.9 million households, had access to DSL as the fastest technology available from the company as of 2019. While these households may have competitor services available, AT&T's retirement of DSL in some areas will impact the overall market for broadband.
The company reported a total of 469,000 DSL subscribers as of June 30, 2020 and, for those subscribers not immediately cut off from DSL service, AT&T says they will “not be able to perform service changes after September 30, 2020.”
This haphazard retirement of DSL without alternatives available is the outcome of the FCC’s 2018 Order relaxing consumer protection standards around the IP transition.