America’s Digital Divide Made Easy: 7 States, 7 Maps & 7 Broadband Failures.
What caused the Digital Divide? In state after state, AT&T, Verizon and Centurylink, which are three holding companies that control most of the state-based telecommunications public utilities in America, all made statements and commitments to do upgrades of this critical infrastructure by replacing the existing copper wire with a fiber optic wire. And though it varies by state, in almost all states, laws were changed to give the incumbent state utility — and thus the holding company, more money to build out these ‘new networks’, starting in the 1990’s.
These maps, created using BroadbandNow’s maps and data, and other sources, gives a disturbing picture of what happened in 7 states pertaining to fiber optic deployments. Most of the state is not supposed to be empty. (We note that their data has caveats.)
This ‘promise them anything fiber optic future’ happened multiple times in both state proceedings as well as federal ‘promises’ and even during the mergers. In fact, the mergers that created AT&T and Verizon were all based on a ‘public benefit’ that almost always never showed up. Moreover, in almost all of these states, the cities, even with franchises, like New York City, were not completed.
The Social Injustice: The pattern of harm, this social injustice, is much worse in the details. Even though there is specific language in most franchises to not cherry-pick the wealthier neighborhoods, the research shows that low income areas, including areas in NYC, were not fully upgraded, and in all cases, rural areas have a much higher percentage of unserved or underserved areas.
And the pandemic has shown that these divisions are much larger and deeper than previously discussed.
Worse, over the last 2 decades, the companies decided to divert the construction budgets of the state utilities to build out their wireless networks instead of the inner cities or rural areas being upgraded.
America’s Digital Divide, then, is the consequence of the corporations, what are now AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink, not being held accountable for decades, thus leaving large parts of their utility territories to deteriorate instead of upgrading these networks to fiber. And these maps show the end result — the Digital Divide.
As Karl Bode, a respected telecom reporter, detailed in VICE, America’s wired broadband is mostly a monopoly where there is 1 primary provider, ‘cable’, or the only other broadband option is slow and expensive DSL
“Studies suggest that 42 million Americans lack access to any broadband whatsoever, double official FCC estimates. ILSR estimates that roughly 83 million more Americans live under a broadband monopoly, usually Comcast. Tens of millions more live under a duopoly, usually consisting of Comcast and a largely apathetic regional telco selling aging DSL lines.
“With muted competition and regulators and lawmakers largely loyal to entrenched monopolies, the end result is a broken market in which U.S. consumers pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for slow broadband and abysmal customer service.”
Go After the Money to Solve the Digital Divide: As we discuss elsewhere, there should be plenty of money in each state that could be used to finally upgrade the state to fiber optics and solve the Digital Divide. But it requires the States to wake up and investigate — How did the state public utility construction budgets get diverted to build out the wireless networks? And how is it possible that the local phone customers, including low income families and rural customers, paid for a broadband future they will never get? Moreover, the history of state commitments and the monies charged to local service has yet to be investigated by the FCC.
Worse, these maps clearly show a pattern of collusion — If there are 50 states, why weren’t at least some of them properly upgraded? As you can see from the opening chart, all of the holding companies have left these states in disrepair; digital wastelands. (Note: A utility can cover almost all of the state, like MA or NJ, or the majority of the state, like AT&T CA.)
Note: This is the first in a new series of stories to expose how the incumbents failed to properly upgrade their state utilities, and the regulators failed to hold the companies accountable for commitments. Moreover, we will expose one of the largest accounting scandals in American telecommunications history. With this two intertwined, harmful paths, we will supply a series of next steps that need to be taken that can pay for upgrades, lower rates on all services, as well as solve the Digital Divide.
We include a “resources” link for states that we previously examined.
New Jersey, Verizon
RESOURCES: Verizon New Jersey Fiber Optic Failure
By the end of 2010, 100% of the Verizon New Jersey (formerly New Jersey Bell, then Bell Atlantic New Jersey) territory was to have a fiber optic service, capable of 45 Mbps in both directions. State laws were changed to give the company deregulation, i.e., tax perks and more profits that would end up being charged to local service customers. Based on the last data from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, we colored in the areas that were not upgraded to fiber, though, there are also significant holes in the areas that are marked.
This is the definition of fiber optic high-speed broadband as stated in the 1993 Verizon New Jersey Opportunity plan and NJ State Order, as well as used in other states.
Pacific Bell, now AT&T California, announced in 1993 that it would have 5.5 million households upgraded with fiber optics by 2000 and stated it would spend $16 billion on this. This is a map of the AT&T fiber optic deployment, as of October 2020, as told by BroadbandNow.
Note: AT&T fiber is only available to 35.9% of San Francisco; the map doesn’t have the detail to show the holes; BroadbandNow has more details at the site.
Overall, the map shows that only a fraction of the state was ever upgraded to fiber optic services. Moreover, as we pointed out in a current broadband proceeding in CA, there are potentially billions in cross-subsidies and other financial perks, which are funding the other lines of business, potentially violating state laws; if halted, this money could be redirected to fund fiber to the rest of the State.
RESOURCES: Mississippi Broadband Broken Promises
Mississippi citizens were told that there would be a fiber optic future and in 1994, state laws were changed to give then BellSouth Mississippi more money to do the build outs. In 2020, Commissioner Presley of the Mississippi Public Utility Commission filed with the FCC to investigate the $283 million given to AT&T for the federal Connect America Fund, but that locations were not upgraded over the last 5 years.
This is a multiple-whammy as not only were customers charged for network upgrades starting in the 1990’s, and not only did AT&T claim 100% of their 21 state territories would be upgraded to broadband by 2007, but AT&T appears to be getting money from the Federal FCC Connect America Fund, and then appears to have not finished what they got paid to do. — NOTE: If it is happening in one AT&T state, there is the likelihood it is happening in all 21 AT&T states.
RESOURCES: Massachusetts Fiber Optic Broadband Failures
In 1994, Verizon MA filed with the state claiming it would have 330,000 lines of fiber optic networks, replacing the existing copper wires for these lines, by 2000.
As is clear from the map, Verizon just decided to stop doing western Massachusetts and only did sporadic areas. They even left out Cambridge, MA and other cities, even though there was a list of cities to be done before the year 2000.
RESOURCES: Verizon Pennsylvania Fiber Optic Failure
In the 1990’s, Bell Atlantic controlled New Jersey down through Virginia; Pennsylvania used the exact same study called “Opportunity Pennsylvania”, with the claim that the company would have 100% of the state territory with a fiber optic service capable of 45 Mbps in both directions in rural, urban, and suburban areas equally by the end of 2015.
Verizon was able to wiggle out of the agreement so that the obligations went from fiber to the home service to everyone, to a service at a speed of 1.5 Mbps in one direction, and it could even be wireless And here’s what’s been built; the pinkish-red spots representing FiOS deployment. And note that these ‘franchises’ for FiOS, were also never completed.
In 1993, US West, which was the holding company, announced it was putting fiber optic services in various cities under the “video dialtone” proceedings at the FCC, with the plan to have 500,000 homes a year being built in the US West territories, which included the north and western states, (the Dakotas, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Arizona, and Colorado). Denver was to have 144,000 lines to homes by 2000. Note: US West was turned into Qwest, which was then taken over by Centurylink.
New York & NY City, Verizon
RESOURCES: Verizon NYC Fiber Optic Failure
In every state, besides these maps of coverage, there are deeper problems. Most of the cities were never completed, even when there is a franchise laying out that the entire city was to be covered.
Take New York City. Starting in 2008, Verizon New York had a franchise with NYC to have 100% of the entire city’s residences, to be upgraded to fiber optics for FIOS, the Verizon TV service, and completed by July 2014. By 2017, NYC took Verizon to court to have them complete the work and as of 2019, over 25% of the City had not been done with the lower income areas having a much higher rate of incompleteness. The map on the right is by the NYC Comptroller’s office showing the ‘households without broadband internet access’.
And upstate New York did not fair well. Starting in 2005, Verizon received multiple rate increases for “massive deployment of fiber optics”, but in checking in 2012, we found than the funds were being diverted to wireless.
There are other issues, such as the massive financial cross-subsidy scheme underway that has not only overcharged us, and not only took the money that was supposed to be upgrading cities and diverted it to wireless, but it also is giving a free ride to the other lines of business.