3 new reports released today by the Communications Workers of America, the Economic Policy Institute, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance describe how profit-driven corporations have left communities without access to next-generation fiber networks and eliminated good jobs, with a spotlight on AT&T.
1. CWA and NDIA: AT&T’s Digital Redlining: Leaving Communities Behind for Profit
AT&T is making the digital divide worse and failing its customers and workers by not investing in crucial buildout of fiber-optic infrastructure that is the standard for broadband networks worldwide. The company's recent job cuts -- more than 40,000 since 2018 -- are devastating communities and hobbling the company's ability to meet the critical need for broadband infrastructure.
An in-depth analysis of AT&T’s network shows the company has made fiber available to fewer than a third of households in its footprint, halting most residential deployment after mid-2019. The analysis also shows that 28% of households in AT&T’s footprint do not have access to service that meets the FCC’s standard for high-speed internet, and in rural counties 72% of households lack this access. In some places, AT&T is decommissioning its outdated DSL networks and leaving customers with no option but wireless service, which is not a substitute for wireline service.
CWA recommends that AT&T dedicate a substantial share of its free cash flow to investment in next-generation networks across rural and urban communities, make its low-income product offerings available widely, and stop laying off its skilled, unionized workers and outsourcing work to low-wage, irresponsible subcontractors.
Read the full report here: http://www.cwa-union.org/ATTRedlining
2. CWA: AT&T’s Web of Subcontractors: Building Next Generation Networks with Low-Wage Labor
AT&T has used more than 700 contracting companies to construct and maintain its network over the last four years. A survey of 1,500 AT&T technicians conducted by CWA found that most techs who interact regularly with work done by contractors consistently see problems, including quality problems that increase costs, service quality problems for customers, and safety risks for workers and the public.
CWA recommends that AT&T end its relationship with irresponsible contractors and work with CWA to in-source work to its directly employed workforce and that Congress pursue legislative solutions to expand broadband buildout while protecting and expanding good jobs.
Read the full report here: http://www.cwa-union.org/ATTContracting
3. EPI: Decades of slow wage growth for telecommunication workers
A study of wage and employment trends in the telecommunications sector demonstrates that wages have not kept up with productivity increases. Despite four decades of rising skills, wage growth has been slow for the large majority of the workforce -- and has declined in real terms for lower wage telecom workers -- consistently lagging well behind average productivity growth in the economy as a whole. The downward pressure on wages stems from a variety of sources, including extensive outsourcing, or “fissuring,” and the long-term decline in unionization in the industry.
Read the full report here: https://www.epi.org/publication/decades-of-slow-wage-growth-for-telecommunication-workers/
On a briefing today moderated by Alan Barber, Policy Director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center, panelists from the organizations, including frontline telecoms workers who are CWA members, talked about how profit-driven corporations have left communities without access to next-generation fiber networks and eliminated good jobs, with a spotlight on AT&T.
“In the areas where AT&T has made fiber available, my coworkers and I have to clean up after the contractors that AT&T hires to do set-up work for us to connect fiber to a customer’s home,” said Charles Fuentes, a premises technician for AT&T in San Antonio and a member of CWA Local 6143. “Many jobs related to buried service wires end up as repeat jobs for us because subcontractors will not go deep enough into the soil, pull fiber lines too hard causing damage, or they lay parallel lines and end up taking customers out of service in the process. Additionally, these subcontractors routinely fail to inspect the integrity of the lines. These basic errors make it harder to provide service for customers in a timely fashion.”
“With the pandemic, the simmering crisis of digital redlining has become a five-alarm emergency,” said Stan Santos, a splicing technician for AT&T and a member of CWA Local 9408 in the Central Valley of California. “There is a huge swath of communities along the westside of Fresno County that lack basic infrastructure for broadband. As the incumbent local exchange carrier, my employer, AT&T, is directly responsible for this failure to connect our communities to broadband. The majority of these communities are ignored, the landlines left to die, as AT&T seeks to slough off these markets and cut the jobs of CWA members who carry out the deployment work and maintenance. In my view, AT&T is cutting jobs and abandoning rural communities in order to minimize capital expenditures and debt to improve its short term stock value.”
Angela Siefer, National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director, said “There is no dispute that internet service is essential. We, as a society, cannot be ok with families in lower-income households paying more for slower internet service than households in higher income neighborhoods. We cannot be ok with a system that places the interests of AT&T’s shareholders before that of our communities.”
"For four decades, wage growth in telecommunications has not come close to matching the skills upgrading that has taken place in the workforce,” said John Schmitt, Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute. “The two most important ways to reconnect wage growth to skills would be to place restrictions on the widespread use of subcontracting and to restore workers' rights to organize."
"AT&T's failures show that if we want to ensure all households have access to broadband and that the buildout of that broadband creates good jobs, the only way that will happen is if Congress acts to make explicitly sure it happens,” said CWA’s Director of Government Affairs Dan Mauer. “That means that passing the Moving Forward Act, with its strong investment in broadband infrastructure and its accompanying worker protections, and passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act to strengthen the National Labor Relations Act, must be at the top of Congress's agenda for 2021."
The Communications Workers of America represents 700,000 workers in private and public sector employment. CWA members work in telecommunications and information technology, the airline industry, news media, broadcast and cable television, health care, public service and education, manufacturing and other fields.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that identifies and develops solutions to build a more just, equitable, and resilient nation. Our network approach brings together community leaders, organizers, advocates, unions and policy experts to build people-led cutting edge policy. Through our Policy and Research Council, we harness the intellectual firepower of some of the top minds in the policy and research community, working together to develop real-time solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems and inform the public debate.
The Economic Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America. EPI proposes public policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers and assesses policies with respect to how they affect those workers.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is a unified voice for home broadband access, public broadband access, personal devices and local technology training and support programs. NDIA works collaboratively to craft, identify and disseminate financial and operational resources for digital inclusion programs while serving as a bridge to policymakers and the general public.