AT&T offers $10 service to low income homes lucky enough to have wireline service

27 April 2016 by Steve Blum
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Oops. There goes the $10 a month service.

AT&T is rolling out its low cost Internet access program for low income households. It’s one of the conditions attached to the FCC’s approval of AT&T’s purchase of DirecTv last year.

It only applies to homes where Internet access service “is delivered to a fixed location over a physical wire or cable“. In other words, the wireless service AT&T wants to use to replace wireline service in rural and inner city California isn’t eligible. When AT&T pulls out the copper, the low cost broadband service disappears too.

If one person in a household is eligible for food stamps – now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – and no one owes AT&T any money for fixed Internet service (at least, no debts have been incurred in the last six months) then AT&T’s Access program offers service at $5 to $10 per month. AT&T’s online explanation is a little convoluted – not unusual for programs like these that aren’t exactly top of the incentive list for the sales department – but what it seems to be saying is this:

  • If 10 Mbps service or better is available at a qualifying home, then the cost is $10 per month. If not, then 5 Mbps service can be had for the same price.
  • If 5 Mbps isn’t possible, then a 3 Mbps package is available for $5 per month.
  • You don’t get to pick and choose which level you get, whatever the highest (and, consequently, most expensive) speed is available, that’s what you get.
  • If AT&T can’t deliver 3 Mbps to your house via wireline, sorry, you’ll have to pay market rates or do without.

That’s just one of the catches, though. The biggest potential gotcha is in the fine print regarding data caps. There’s a monthly limit of either 150 GB or 250 GB – it doesn’t say which applies where, but I’m guessing the caps correspond to legacy DSL or Uverse-based service, respectively – and a steep hit if you use more data. The cost is an extra $10 for every extra 50 MB or fraction thereof. So, if your limit is 150 MB and you use 151 MB, your low cost service doubled from $10 to $20 for that month.

Where it’s available, AT&T’s low income Access program would be a good deal for eligible households that keep an eye on data usage. It matches Comcast’s Internet Essentials price and is less than similar programs in the works for Frontier ($14 per month) and Charter ($15 per month). The question still to be answered is how enthusiastic AT&T will be about signing up customers at that low rate. If the sales and marketing effort behind it is as grudging and upsell focused as the terms and conditions, the actual benefits could be very limited.