A man with an umbrella walking past a building with an AT&T logo.
Enlarge / A person walks with an umbrella exterior of AT&T company headquarters on March 13, 2020, in Dallas, Texas.

AT&T falsely instructed the US authorities that it met its obligation to deploy broadband at greater than 133,000 areas in Mississippi, state officers say.

Since 2015, AT&T has acquired over $283 million from the Federal Communications Fee’s Join America Fund to develop its community in Mississippi. However the Mississippi Public Service Fee (PSC) stated it has proof that AT&T’s fixed-wireless broadband is just not obtainable to all of the properties and companies the place AT&T claims it gives service. The PSC requested the FCC to conduct “an entire compliance audit” of AT&T’s declare that it has met its obligation.

“Our investigation has discovered concrete, particular examples that present AT&T Mississippi has reported location addresses… as being served when, in truth, the addresses are with out service beneath their [Connect America Fund] obligations,” stated a letter to the FCC despatched Tuesday by all three Mississippi PSC commissioners. “This sample of submitting false information to the USAC [the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the program on the FCC’s behalf] deserves a full compliance audit by the FCC, USAC, or whichever acceptable company. We really feel it’s our obligation to warn you to this concern.”

The PSC instructed the FCC that its “workers is greater than prepared to cooperate with any a part of this investigation” and may present “all paperwork, subpoenas, and information requests that we have now propounded on this effort.” The proof is not public as a result of “AT&T Mississippi filed the proof in query beneath seal at our company,” the letter stated.

Finish-of-2020 deadline approaches

In August 2015, AT&T accepted $428 million in annual funds from the FCC’s Join America Fund, with the duty to “ship broadband at speeds of no less than 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps uploads to over 1.1 million properties and companies in its rural service areas” in 18 states. That included $49.8 million a yr in Mississippi, the place AT&T is required to deploy broadband to 133,981 properties and companies by the tip of 2020. The Join America Fund is paid for by Individuals by charges imposed on telephone payments.

With its deadline arising in a couple of months, AT&T claimed it’s offering service to over 133,000 areas in Mississippi, however state officers had been skeptical. AT&T initially tried to thwart Mississippi’s investigation by refusing to offer information in response to a request from PSC Commissioner Brandon Presley, reportedly saying that it was “not obligated to offer that.” However the firm equipped the paperwork in mid-September after Presley issued a subpoena.

“AT&T has pocketed $283,780,632 of public cash with a promise to develop Web service, but they refuse to reply essentially the most fundamental questions of a regulator surrounding the usage of these {dollars} and the precise success of their plans,” Presley stated on the time. The subpoena requested for “paperwork exhibiting the variety of precise subscribers to AT&T’s mounted wi-fi service throughout the 133,000 areas the place the corporate claims to have supplied service, the variety of complaints filed with the corporate by prospects who’ve taken service, and the variety of Mississippians who utilized for mounted wi-fi service primarily based on AT&T’s assertion that it was obtainable and had been later decided to not be in an space coated.”

The Mississippi PSC now “has clear and convincing proof that information submitted by the AT&T Mississippi to federal entities is invalid and that the corporate has factual data that the knowledge is inaccurate,” Presley stated this week when he introduced the request for an FCC audit.

“Our investigation has revealed a big selection of inconsistencies in what AT&T advertises as obtainable and what really exists when customers attempt to get Web service,” Presley stated. “All of the whereas, AT&T has submitted information saying that they’ve used federal funds to carry Web service to those particular properties. AT&T is aware of, for a reality, that data that they’ve supplied relating to the place their Web service exists is fake. They know that by their very own, inner information. It is crucial that the FCC and different acceptable federal businesses work with us to carry them accountable.”

Historical past of false claims

When contacted by Ars, AT&T didn’t handle the particular allegations however stated, “The information we report as a part of Section II of the Join America Fund is already topic to strict audit and compliance measures by the federal authorities. We are going to proceed to give attention to doing work that issues to Mississippians by deploying high-speed infrastructure in communities throughout the state.” AT&T beforehand instructed the Clarion Ledger that it’s on observe to fulfill its deployment necessities by the tip of 2020, however that it would not disprove the allegation that AT&T claimed it gives service at areas the place it doesn’t.

AT&T has a historical past of constructing false claims just like those alleged by Mississippi. In April, AT&T disclosed to the FCC that it falsely reported offering home-Web service in practically 3,600 census blocks unfold throughout elements of 20 states, together with Mississippi. (This was a separate report beneath the FCC’s Kind 477 data-collection program and never tied to any particular funding.) The error had gone unnoticed for over two years—AT&T blamed it on an issue “with a 3rd get together’s geocoding software program.” On the identical time, AT&T is combating an FCC plan to require drive assessments that might confirm whether or not its cell protection claims are correct.

As we beforehand reported, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai touted inaccurate information submitted by one other ISP with the intention to declare that his deregulatory agenda sped up deployment, regardless that FCC workers had already flagged the information as probably being inaccurate. We contacted the FCC yesterday about Mississippi’s request for an audit of AT&T and can replace this text if we get a response.


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