TUPELO • In communications with federal officials, AT&T has responded to recent concerns raised by the Mississippi Public Service Commission about the telecommunications company’s deployment of federal money to construct rural internet infrastructure.
In an October 7 letter to the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T senior legal counsel Cathy Carpino acknowledged that the company will need to revise some information about locations where internet service has been made available with public dollars.
However, she objected to some previous assertions made by Mississippi’s utility regulatory body as “unfounded” and insisted that only a very small number of addresses will have to be revised.
The PSC – with Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley taking an especially vocal stance on the issue – sent its own letter to the FCC on Sept. 29 claiming AT&T has exhibited a “pattern of submitting false data” to federal authorities.
The issues stems from public dollars AT&T received from phase two of the Connect America Fund, sometimes referred to as CAF II.
Companies accepting CAF II money agreed to mandatory build-out agreements, obligating them to make internet service available to certain numbers of address locations.
Information about address locations provided with service through the CAF II program are reported by telecommunications companies through a High Cost Universal Broadband portal, or the HUBB.
In its Sept. 29 letter, the PSC told the FCC that in AT&T’s reporting through the HUBB, AT&T has claimed to have used CAF II money to provide internet service to addresses where service still remains unavailable.
AT&T acknowledged in its own letter to the FCC that some addresses currently listed in the HUBB cannot be provided with internet service that meet the requirements of the CAF II standards, but stressed that service problems at these addresses were only discovered after the HUBB reporting was made.
“There are instances, such as the ones the PSC notes, where AT&T subsequently learns that the signal may not be strong enough to guarantee service that meets the CAF II performance requirements because, for example, the customer has a significant number of large trees between her/his home and the serving cell tower,” according to AT&T’s letter of last week.
However, according to the telecommunications company, these problems are very few in number and often cannot be discovered until a service installation is attempted.
The AT&T letter reports that these addresses represent only 0.006 percent of AT&T Mississippi’s addresses reported through the HUBB. The letter did not identify the number of addresses in question, reporting the figure only as a percentage.
Even so, Carpino stressed the company’s view that PSC communications about this matter have been misleading by implying that AT&T has either knowingly submitted false information or been deficient in removing inaccurate information.
According to Carpino, the company is moving forward with updates through the HUBB to correct a small number of inaccurate addresses and will complete these updates by the end of the year.
“The PSC’s letter implies AT&T Mississippi is deceiving the Commission and consumers by advertising internet access service as available but then being unable to install the service once the technician arrives and checks available signal strength,” Carpino wrote. “That concern is unfounded.”
Carpino went on to note that updating data reported through the HUBB was somewhat unwieldy until earlier this year and that AT&T will make the needed revisions to its service location data by the end of the year.
“AT&T has done its level best to comply with the Commission’s CAF II requirements and the PSC’s assertion that AT&T has submitted false data to USAC is unfounded,” Carpino wrote. “At the end of day, factoring in all the expected HUBB updates and removals described above, AT&T can assure the Commission that it remains in compliance with its interim build milestones and will exceed its 100% build requirement by the end of this year in all eighteen of its CAF II states, including Mississippi.”
Presley told the Daily Journal that AT&T is attempting to “spin” and “downplay” the issue. Even as the company says it retained a firm to inventory all CAF II locations ahead of a comprehensive updated, Presley objected to any delay to those updates.
“The fact is, if you report, the number of mistakes and false data that they have in the USAC HUBB right now, that is an indicator of a larger problem. And how deep that problem goes, we don’t know right now,” Presley said. “They are trying to minimize that, but it is concerning to me. There comes a responsibility with $283 million, and that responsibility is to get it right.”
In a column distributed to press outlets last week, AT&T Mississippi President Mayo Flynt insisted that the company is in compliance with all federal requirements.
“We met all previous milestones in this federal program and are ahead of schedule on our remaining build requirements in Mississippi,” Flynt wrote. “With that momentum, we are confident we will exceed the final federal target of making high-speed services available to more than 133,000 previously unserved or underserved, rural Mississippi locations by the end of this year.”