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AT&T to Urban Poor: No Discounted Internet Access if We Already Deliver Lousy Service

Phillip Dampier September 6, 2016 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Data Caps, Editorial & Site News, Public Policy & Gov't 7 Comments

access att logoAT&T is adding insult to injury by telling tens of thousands of eligible urban households they do not qualify for the company’s new low-cost internet access program because the company cannot deliver at least 3Mbps DSL in their service-neglected neighborhood.

In one of the worst cases of redlining we have ever seen, AT&T is doubling down on making sure urban neighborhoods cannot get online with affordable internet access, first by refusing to upgrade large sections of income-challenged neighborhoods and then by refusing requests from those seeking the low-cost internet service the government required AT&T to provide as a condition of its merger with DirecTV.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance reports their affiliates have run into serious problems helping AT&T customers sign up for Access from AT&T, the company’s new discounted internet access program open to users of the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the modern-day equivalent of food stamps. Participants are supposed to receive 3Mbps DSL for $5 a month or 5-10Mbps for $10 a month (speed dependent on line quality).

“As some NDIA affiliates in AT&T’s service area geared up to help SNAP participants apply for Access in May and June, they found that a significant number were being told the program was unavailable at their addresses,” NDIA reported. “Some of those households had recent histories of AT&T internet service or had next door neighbors with current accounts. So, why were they being told AT&T did not serve their addresses?”

It turns out AT&T established an arbitrary threshold that requires participating households to receive a minimum of 3Mbps at their current address. But AT&T’s urban neighborhood infrastructure is so poor, a significant percentage of customers cannot receive DSL service faster than 1.5Mbps from AT&T. In fact, data from the FCC showed about 21% of Census blocks in the cities of Detroit and Cleveland — mostly in inner-city, income-challenged neighborhoods — still cannot manage better than 1.5Mbps DSL.

Remarkably, although these residents cannot qualify for discounted internet service, AT&T will still sell them 1.5Mbps DSL service… for full price. AT&T even admits this on their website:

access att

“If none of the above speeds are technically available at your address, unfortunately you won’t be able to participate in the Access program from AT&T at this time. However, other AT&T internet services may be available at your address.”

“About two months ago, NDIA contacted senior management at AT&T and proposed a change in the program to allow SNAP participants living at addresses with 1.5 Mbps to qualify for Access service at $5/mo,” NDIA wrote. “Yes, we know we were asking for the minimum speed to be lower than it should be, but paying $5/mo is better than paying full price and in many neighborhoods, both urban and rural, Access is the only low-cost broadband service option. I’m sorry to report that, after considering NDIA’s proposal for over a month, AT&T said no.”

“AT&T is not prepared to expand the low-income offer to additional speed tiers beyond those established as a condition of the merger approval,” is the official response of AT&T, leaving tens of thousands of AT&T customers unlucky enough to be victims of AT&T’s network neglect and underinvestment out in the cold.

Slowsville: These Cleveland neighborhoods marked in red cannot get anything faster than 1.5MBps DSL from AT&T.

Slowsville: These Cleveland neighborhoods marked in red cannot get anything faster than 1.5MBps DSL from AT&T.

Internet access is not just a problem in rural America. Urban neighborhoods are frequently bypassed for network upgrades because there is a sense residents cannot afford to pay for the deluxe services those upgraded networks might offer. Similar issues affected city residents that waited years for cable television to finally arrive in their neighborhoods. Some providers evidently felt they would not get a good return on their investment. Yet data consistently shows cash-strapped urban residents are among the most loyal subscribers to cable television, because it is less costly than many other forms of entertainment. This year, urban content viewers were among the most loyal cable TV subscribers, even millennials notorious for cord-cutting.

Regulators should review AT&T’s compliance with its DirecTV merger conditions. Access from AT&T should be available to every qualified home, particularly those AT&T will happily furnish with appallingly slow 1.5Mbps DSL, if customers agree to AT&T’s regular prices.

Currently there are 7 comments on this Article:

  1. Josh says:

    Wait…so they only have 1.5Mb/s service, and because it’s so slow, they don’t offer legally required discounted service?!? I mean their product is so bad, that they won’t discount it?

    I’m seriously having trouble wrapping my head around this LOL

    I mean if they can’t offer $3, so wanted to charge only $2.50/month for 1.5, then sure, okay, buuuuuut….

    • Ann says:

      AT&T’s reasoning is that they’re not doing this because they care about poor people, only because the government forced them to – and the stipulations of the government’s contract apparently were (either mistakenly or conveniently) written in a way that only obligates AT&T to provide the deal where the government-mandated speeds are already available, rather than obligating AT&T to upgrade to *make* the government-mandated speeds available to areas that don’t have it yet. And anyone they aren’t being forced to give the discount to, they won’t, because their sole objective is maximizing profit.

  2. LG says:

    I’m convinced these people need to be arrested. The corporate accounts should be frozen and the company should be in federal receivership. Reneging on a deal with our government should mean jail time for the leadership of this company.

  3. Kate says:

    At least AT&T offers low cost internet service to people without kids! Comcast and Verizon only offer low income broadband to people with children – those companies discriminate against people who don’t have ids at home and on the free school lunc program and get away with it! People without kids or with grown kids fall on hard times too but Verizon and Comcast don’t care about that! Those companies are worse than AT&T!

  4. Shaun says:

    Spectum I would say is worse. We had “Time Warner” here, before Spectrum took over. When it was Time Warner, they offered a low cost $15 plan that was something like 3 meg down.. This was available to everyone. When Spectrum took over, they changed it to $65 as the lowest plan available. Spectrum does have “Spectrum Internet Assist”, but, it is more for show, and very few are eligible.

    Basically, you have to have kids, and get the free lunch program, or, have to be over 65 and get SSI.. If you do not have either, then you do not qualify.. To make it worse, if you have service through them, you have to disconnect it for months too, to get it.. It basically is a way for very few to qualify, yet, make it look good. At least AT&T is making it straight forward about eligibility, and not trying to put on a show.. That makes Spectrum a lot worse in my opinion, as they actually took away the low cost internet, vs AT&T that is just refusing to expand it. Here is a quote from Spectrum’s page.

    Programs that do not qualify for Spectrum Internet Assist: Social Security Disability (SSD), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and Social Security Retirement and Survivor Benefits are different from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and do NOT meet eligibility requirements.

    Offer valid to qualified residential customers who (i) have not subscribed to Charter Communications’ Internet services within 30 days prior to requesting services under this offer

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