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Digital Inclusion

Union and Advocacy Group Criticize AT&T’s Broadband Deployment Practices For ‘Redlining’ and Cutting Jobs

Jericho Casper

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Photo of Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, from her web site

October 6, 2020 — The National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Communications Workers of America put AT&T under the microscope during a webinar on Monday as they examined millions of Americans left without affordable broadband.

Specifically, the panelists targeted what they described as “digital redlining” and job cuts that they said were devastating communities and stifling their ability to meet the critical need for broadband infrastructure.

“AT&T’s digital redlining has left communities behind,” said Angela Siefer, executive director of NDIA. They specifically criticized the limited nature of AT&T fiber-to-the-home footprint: The telecommunications giant has made fiber available to fewer than one-third of the households within its footprint.

AT&T largely halted its national build out of fiber to residential homes in mid-2019, after it met Federal Communications Commission imposed conditions, according to a report (PDF) by the Communications Workers of America.

The report critiques AT&T for abandoning rural communities in an attempt to lower capital expenditure, finding that as a result of what it described as redlining, only five percent of household in rural counties where AT&T operates have access to fiber broadband.

Further, CWA found that AT&T prioritizes fiber builds to higher-income neighborhoods: Households with fiber available have a median income 34 percent higher than those with digital subscriber lines.

Meanwhile, people in low-income neighborhoods often pay the same amount for lower-quality and lower-speed internet service that others in more affluent neighborhoods pay to receive fiber broadband.

In addition to failing to build critical infrastructure to all of its consumers, the report said AT&T is cutting and outsourcing jobs – more than 40,000 jobs since 2018, according to a second report (PDF) from CWA.

Outsourcing jobs to subcontractors appears to help AT&T spread legal liabilities to other companies. In a 2012 investigation, ProPublica and Frontline documented that AT&T escaped liability over the death of a tower climber who was working on AT&T equipment because he was employed by a subcontracted company.

The CWA union also raised a grievance of their own on Monday. In the past, AT&T was almost entirely union-represented. The company’s outsourcing of jobs is causing union representation in the telecom industry to decline.

“AT&T wants to look like it’s supporting our communities but it needs to walk the walk”, said Stan Santos, splicing technician at AT&T, urging the company to “provide good jobs and stop relying on contractors.”

Dan Mauer, director of government affairs at CWA, called on Congress to pass the Moving Forward Act, which would put limits on the ability of companies to use subcontractors.

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