AT&T accused of using loophole to deny subsidized broadband

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AT&T has been accused of using a loophole to dodge a regulatory requirement to provide subsidized broadband services to the poor. 

As a condition of its purchase of DirecTV last year, the FCC’s merger order says AT&T must provide 5-10 Mbps broadband service for $10 a month to families qualifying for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, the ISP isn’t making its “Access from AT&T” product available in the regions where it offers speeds of 3 Mbps or under. 

And this gap doesn’t apply to just a few far-flung rural areas. According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), 21 percent of the urban footprint in Detroit and Cleveland are ineligible for Access from AT&T, as well. 

AT&T seems to be exploiting a loophole in the wording of the merger order, in areas where 5 Mbps speeds are unavailable, AT&T “shall offer wireline broadband internet access service at speeds of at least 3 Mbps, where technically available, to qualifying households in the company’s wireline footprint for no more than $5 per month.”

“The vast majority of the locations where we offer internet service are able to subscribe to internet speed tiers at 3Mbps or higher,” AT&T said in a statement. 

“Our low-cost internet service speed tiers for qualifying households participating in SNAP – 10Mbps, 5Mbps or 3Mbps – were determined by the FCC as part of its order approving the DTV merger,” the company added. 

"AT&T's response is very unfortunate for tens of thousands of households in the company's 21-state service territory who may need affordable Internet access the most but who happen to live in places — both city neighborhoods and rural communities — where AT&T has failed to upgrade its residential service to provide reasonable speeds," the NDIA said in a statement. 

AT&T's allegedly evasive stance on subsidized broadband comes as Comcast has embraced its similar "Internet Essentials" program. Comcast recently expanded the program to millions of consumers receiving assistance from Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

For more:
- read this National Digital Inclusion Alliance press release
- read this Gizmodo story
- read this Ars Technica story

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