AT&T faces subpoena over federal funds for rural broadband

A Mississippi commissioner says AT&T failed to deliver on promises of providing fixed wireless broadband service despite the company's acceptance of federal funds.
(Image: Mississippi Public Service Commission/Graphic: The Desk)

Officials in Mississippi have subpoenaed phone company AT&T to learn more information about how the telecom giant used more than $283 million in federal funds that were supposed to be spent building out its broadband network there.

This week, Brandon Presley, a commissioner with the state’s Public Service Commission Office, signed an investigative subpoena after he says AT&T refused informal inquiries into how the company spent grant money from the federal Connect America Fund that were supposed to go toward expanding wireless broadband Internet connections in his state.

“AT&T has pocketed $283,780,632 of public money with a promise to expand internet service, yet they refuse to answer the most basic questions of a regulator surrounding the use of these dollars and the actual success of their plans,” Presley said in a statement. “With their claim that they have exceeded making service available to 133,000 locations, it is natural to ask these questions, especially in light of the lack of internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, AT&T refuses to answer.”

In a press conference on Tuesday, Presley said he’s heard from numerous constituents who claim AT&T promised broadband Internet service that has yet to arrive. Specifically, Presley said customers were told by AT&T representatives that their homes were “eligible for fixed wireless service, only to find out later that they were misled by company materials and representatives.”

Presley’s office has reached out to AT&T on numerous occasions to find out how the Connect America Fund grants were spent, but the company has not cooperated with these requests, Presley complained.

“It is very clear to me that AT&T’s position is to take as much public money as possible and answer as few questions from regulators as possible,” Presley said. “AT&T entered into a contract with the public when they took the public’s money…these are very basic questions that you and I would ask of anyone we gave our personal money to and AT&T should not be treated any different when they take government money.”

Representatives of AT&T have not returned inquiries from from The Desk since this summer, and another email sent to AT&T seeking comment on this topic was not returned as of Tuesday evening.

Presley is asking those who feel duped by AT&T’s promise of fixed wireless Internet to contact his office by calling 1-800-637-7722 or by emailing [email protected]

Disclosure: As of the publication date of this article, the author of this story owned stock in AT&T.

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