If you live in an area where AT&T has taken government funds in exchange for deploying broadband, there’s a chance you won’t be able to get the service—even if AT&T initially tells you it’s available.
AT&T’s Mississippi division has received over $283 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund since 2015 and in exchange is required to extend home-Internet service to over 133,000 potential customer locations. As we previously reported, the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) accused AT&T of submitting false coverage data to the FCC program. As evidence, Mississippi said its “investigation found concrete, specific examples that show AT&T Mississippi has reported location addresses… as being served when, in fact, the addresses are without service.”
AT&T has since provided an explanation that confirms it submitted false data on the serviceability of some addresses but says it will still meet the overall requirement of serving over 133,000 new customer locations. The problem is in how AT&T determines whether its wireless home-Internet service can reach individual homes and businesses. AT&T uses propagation modeling software to map out coverage areas, but the software isn’t always accurate. This wouldn’t be a problem if AT&T deployed fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-the-node in these areas, but the company is meeting its obligations with wireless service.
“Unsuccessful installation” attempts
In some cases, customers set up appointments with AT&T to set up broadband service at addresses that AT&T had incorrectly reported to the FCC’s universal service program as being served.
“To be clear, AT&T Mississippi learned, via an unsuccessful installation attempt, that it could not offer service meeting the CAF II [Connect America Fund] minimum performance requirements at those addresses only after it had reported those addresses [to the administrator of the FCC program],” AT&T wrote last week in a letter to the FCC that was published by the Daily Journal of Northeast Mississippi.
AT&T said these locations represent a tiny portion of the addresses it reported as served to the FCC, and that the carrier is correcting the mistakes. AT&T also said it tries to exceed the buildout requirements so that it can hit the overall numbers even when some addresses can’t be served:
The PSC’s letter implies AT&T Mississippi is deceiving the Commission and consumers by advertising Internet access service as available but then being unable to install the service once the technician arrives and checks available signal strength. That concern is unfounded. As the Commission understands, fixed wireless services are affected by terrain. AT&T employs sophisticated propagation modeling software that accounts for factors such as terrain and clutter to identify areas where FWI [fixed wireless Internet] service is available. However, there are instances, such as the ones the PSC notes, where AT&T subsequently learns that the signal may not be strong enough to guarantee service that meets the CAF II performance requirements because, for example, the customer has a significant number of large trees between her/his home and the serving cell tower. Indeed, AT&T has endeavored to exceed each CAF II build milestone to