AT&T delivers low quality service to low income Californians, but lavishes fiber on the rich

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Att outages by hh income

AT&T provides the highest quality service in the highest income neighborhoods of California, and the lowest quality in communities with the least income, according to a network quality study done by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The study’s initial findings were released last year. The top line conclusion was that AT&T and Frontier Communications are deliberately choking off investment in ageing copper phone systems, particularly in rural areas – now-bankrupt Frontier because it had no money for upgrades; AT&T because it could get away with it.

Chapters of the study are being released piecemeal. Some of the details are startling. The final conclusions and recommendations chapter expands on the initial summary’s description of AT&T’s economic redlining strategy. The average annual income in places where AT&T has upgraded its systems to full fiber to the premise technology is $72,000, versus $61,000 where it’s left copper networks in place.

Although the number of AT&T service outages climbed everywhere over the seven years of the study, high income neighborhoods also have more reliable service. Customers whose household income averages $42,000 a year or less experience nearly twice the number of “out of service incidents” as those who make $88,000 a year or more.

The study concludes that AT&T is holding people in low income communities hostage to deteriorating copper-based service and milking them for all they’re worth…

Those areas with the lowest household incomes tend to have the highest trouble report rates, the longest out-of-service durations, the lowest percentages of outages cleared within 24 hours, and the longest times required to clear 90% of service outages…wire centers that have experienced the smallest [legacy copper phone service] drop-off rates have exhibited the poorest performance on all service quality metrics. Clearly, those communities that AT&T perceives as the most captive are afforded the lowest levels of attention by the company. Since, as we have also found, wire centers that have received fiber upgrades exhibit superior performance on all of the service quality metrics, the fact that these upgrades have favored higher income communities may well explain the apparent inverse relationship that we have observed as between household incomes and service quality overall.

Recommended solutions include tightening service quality standards – including treating small, rural facilities the same as large, urban ones – and increasing fines when those standards aren’t met. Although the study points to the CPUC’s cynical policy of allowing AT&T and Frontier to effectively pay fines to themselves as part of the problem, it doesn’t explicitly recommend changing it.

For more background documents, click here.