Monday, January 18, 2016

FCC declines to forbear universal service requirement; AT&T complains

The FCC’s Half-Shoveled Sidewalk | AT&T Public Policy Blog

This blog post by AT&T notes that it wants the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to relieve it from the obligation to provide landline voice service to all premises in its service territory requesting it, even those in areas not eligible for subsidization through the FCC's universal service subsidy program, the Connect America Fund (CAF). While the subject of the requested relief is voice telephone service, it also extends to Internet service now that the FCC reclassified it as a common carrier telecommunications service subject to the Communication Act's universal service obligations under its 2015 Open Internet Order

Although not mentioned in AT&T's blog post, that's the real issue here. AT&T does not want to invest in upgrading and building out its infrastructure to bring landline Internet service to all premises in its service territory -- service that would also be capable of delivering voice service.

Germane to AT&T's complaint are those communities where the cost of deployment is relatively high, but not high enough to justify universal service fund subsidies intended for high cost rural regions. There are a lot of these neighborhoods in its vast service territory because AT&T continues to rely on limited range, obsolete (in its own words) DSL technology to deliver Internet service over aging copper plant that cannot reliably serve premises more than a couple of miles from its central offices or field distribution nodes.

The question going forward is whether the FCC pursuant to its Open Internet order will enforce the universal service obligation on AT&T when a consumer living in one of these unserved areas beyond the range of DSL technology requests Internet service. So far, the FCC has shown no inclination of doing so as AT&T allows its legacy copper plant to rot on the poles. Consumers in these redlined neighborhoods will continue to face the worst of all worlds: no service from their nominal ISP, nor meaningful regulatory action to remedy their plight.

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