California supervisors hear AT&T pitch, not told of plans to scrap copper service

31 October 2016 by Steve Blum
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AT&T’s rural California road show is continuing, as the company pitches county supervisors on the wonders of wireless service and the need for speedy approval of towers and other infrastructure, without making it clear that the plan is to use it to replace copper wire networks.

A story by Will Houston in the Eureka Times-Standard describes one such presentation to the Humboldt County board of supervisors…

AT&T is now looking to bring high-speed internet service to underserved areas in Humboldt County, which will require the company to construct new cell towers. [AT&T staff lobbyist Marc] Blakeman said they are looking for landlords, including the county, that are willing to allow them to build new towers near Fieldbrook, Blue Lake, Jacoby Creek, Kneeland, Bridgeville, Redcrest and Miranda.

As they are using federal funds for this project, AT&T must meet certain deadlines such as improving service to 40 percent of underserved areas by the end of next year.

What the story didn’t pick up on is the fact the federal money referred to – the latest round of the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund program – is intended to boost residential, and not mobile, service. AT&T claims to be doing that too, but glosses over the fact that these so-called residential upgrades will come via its still mysterious wireless local loop (WLL) technology, which will be grafted onto mobile infrastructure.

A similar presentation was made to supervisors in Yuba and Sutter counties, according to a story by Kirk Barron in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat (h/t to Fred Pilot at the Eldo Telecom blog for the pointer.

AT&T claims that WLL will meet the federal broadband service benchmark of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, and is capable of even faster throughput. What’s not known is how much capacity a given WLL access point will have – in other words, how many homes will actually be able to dependably get those speeds.

Another issue is growth: AT&T has only allocated 20 MHz of spectrum for WLL and has said it’s only useful for areas where population density is 250 people or fewer per square mile. As more people move in and greater percentages of households subscribe, the infrastructure and service configurations so far described by AT&T will not be adequate to the task.

Naturally, AT&T isn’t mentioning the serious weaknesses of its plan to replace copper service with WLL and, unfortunately, few people at the local level are questioning the happy happy, joy joy presentations offered by its lobbyists.