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AT&T will comply with subpoena over Mississippi broadband buildout

A state commissioner says the telecom giant will provide insight into how it spent millions of dollars in federal broadband grants.

A state commissioner says the telecom giant will provide insight into how it spent millions of dollars in federal broadband grants.

The logo of AT&T. (Photo: Handout)

Telecom giant AT&T says it will comply with a subpoena issued by a Mississippi state commissioner over how the company spent millions of dollars in federal grant money earmarked for the buildout of rural broadband Internet infrastructure.

On Thursday, an AT&T executive confirmed to the Associated Press that it will provide records and other materials to the Mississippi Public Service Commission Office after commissioner Brandon Presley issued an investigative subpoena seeking the records.

Presley said he was frustrated that AT&T refused to respond to informal questions from his office on how the phone company spent $283 million in federal grant money through the Connect America Fund, which was intended to help Internet service providers like AT&T build out its network with the overall aim of providing broadband connections to under-served communities and rural areas.

Presley began probing AT&T after hearing from constituents that representatives of the company promised to provide fixed wireless broadband Internet service, only to learn those promises contained material misrepresntations on what the service was and how it worked.

“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 earlier this week.

Now, AT&T says it will comply with the subpoena and intends to provide records as long as the commissioner’s office ensures “competitively sensitive” information isn’t disclosed. Specifically, AT&T wants to ensure the number of customers it serves in Mississippi isn’t released publicly, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

Presley appeared willing to grant AT&T its request for confidentiality, saying he understood the competitive nature of the telecom industry. Still, he counts the move as a “victory” that “goes to show that when you are willing to stand up to these Goliaths, they’ll back down.”

For its part, AT&T says data provided to government auditors and others proves it has signed on 133,000 households in Mississippi as promised, though exactly where those households are and whether they incorporate under-served communities as expected through the spirit of the Connect America Fund remains to be seen.

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

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).