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Summary:

AT&T plans to possibly bring speeds of up to a gigabit to 21 new cities. But before these cities get too excited it’s time to call Ma Bell out for its gigawashing.

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AT&T said Wednesday that it will consider bringing its GigaPower service that offers speeds of “up to 1 gigabit” to 21 new cities. Before anyone gets too excited, can we take a moment to call out AT&T for using the nation’s legitimate excitement over gigabit networks to sell privacy-invading broadband plans that don’t even make the gigabit grade, while also stripping away generations of broadband policies designed to ensure low-income areas get service? I call it gigawashing.

Much like I might announce a plan to discuss options to cook dinner tonight with my husband — which may or may not result in a home cooked meal — AT&T is announcing that it plans to discuss bringing its gigabit service to 21 municipalities that have that certain set of je ne sais quoi that AT&T is looking for. From the release:

AT&T will work with local leaders in these markets to discuss ways to bring the service to their communities. Similar to previously announced metro area selections in Austin and Dallas and advanced discussions in Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem, communities that have suitable network facilities, and show the strongest investment cases based on anticipated demand and the most receptive policies will influence these future selections and coverage maps within selected areas.

As I’ve written before, those “receptive policies” mentioned above and “strongest investment cases” dismantles the idea that network providers must serve all community members and can take away a point of leverage that municipalities have traditionally used to ensure that low-income areas also get infrastructure upgrades. Google is guilty of this as well, but it has done far more to provide service to community centers in low-income areas and to also get local groups and residents out to sign up for fiber, so all areas can benefit.

But wait, there’s even more uncertainty ahead. In Austin, which AT&T is “already servicing with fiber today,” so far AT&T’s GigaPower service is limited to 300 Mbps and is set to get an upgrade to a full gigabit some time this year. Yesterday I was at my brother in-law’s house where he is a GigaPower subscriber, his computer was registering speeds of 70 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up using Ookla on a wired connection. That’s fast, but not 300 Mbps fast and certainly not a gig.

My brother and sister-in-law are not speed freaks like myself, but they were disappointed with the GigaPower product. To me, what was most troubling is that they couldn’t tell me if they had signed up for AT&T’s service plan that offers them a lower price on internet service if the customer lets AT&T use your surfing habits to offer ads. They signed up for a bundle, they said, that was cheaper than their previous service.

As someone watching the industry, this is troubling in the extreme. My family is buying a service that is far from what was advertised, and is unaware (and doesn’t seem to care all that much) if they signed away their privacy in an attempt to buy a service they aren’t actually getting. And now AT&T is touting that it wants to bring this service to even more cities if it gets the kind of government help that I worry will let it (and even Google) cherry pick neighborhoods to serve.

And yes, Google is not blameless here, but given the new type of invasive plans that offer advertising in exchange for a lower price tag, and the fact that AT&T’s efforts to bring a gigabit so far aren’t delivering a gig, Ma Bell should have some explaining to do before these 21 cities get too excited about their hoped-for gigabit service.

  1. So it is “troubling to the extreme” that your family got a faster service that is cheaper than what they had?

    And other cities shouldn’t be happy that ATT may provide faster and cheaper service to them?

    Your constant cheerleading for Google over the past year when they aren’t delivering (I’m in austin and still waiting for a connection) , but criticism of those who do deliver internet every day – puts you in an ivory tower and implies a thought process with an alice in wonderland feel.

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  2. How about some REAL data and not something based on some website speed test. Also give us some details on their computer and local network You said that they were not speed freaks so it’s safe to assume it’s very possible that their own LAN and computer can’t get past 100Mb anyways.

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  3. are you sure your brother and sister in law’s pc has gigabit NIC’s on their pc? you obviously can’t do over 100Mbps if the NIC has limited capability.

    besides, web based speedtests are not reliable standards.

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  4. Anecdotal evidence from your brother isn’t journalism.

    I have GigaPower and it’s over 300Mbit in each direction. Sounds like your brother isn’t willing to open a support ticket with AT&T. For what it’s worth, my neighbor also had speed issues and they took care of it next day, some bad wires. Note that a single bad Cat5e cable can reduce the speed to Gigabit or less, which is what your brother is seeing.

    The fact that your brother doesn’t read the not-so-fine-print isn’t AT&T’s fault either. It was pretty clear to me what my choices were when I signed up.

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  5. Correction, to 100Mbit or less…

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  6. It’s disingenuous at best for you to publish an article bashing AT&T for failing to deliver speeds based on an anecdotal observation at your brother in law’s home (seriously the old “I know a guy who’s neighbor” style of journalism?). Was your brother going to a site that can support 300M of throughput? There are very few of them out there. Have him double check that his computer has a Gigabit NIC card and a CAT6 cable plugged directly into his NVG-589. Then have him go it att.com/speedtest and give you the results. If it’s only 70MB then, he should call customer care and have them run tests on his line and send out a technician if needed. If his results are closer to the 300MB speeds he signed up for, we will wait for your update and retraction of this article’s tenuous at best assertions.

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  7. It appears most of the people commenting work for AT&T.

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  8. The router could be defective as well, at&t like fios gives you a shitty single band wireless n router. It isn’t good for much.

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  9. This article is hard to read. Your baseless claims and lack of true testing and evidence make none of this FACT. “It’s time to call out ma bell…” really? You realize you are one of the those people who disseminate bad information. They fact they can’t tell you if they signed up for that specific ATT plan makes me wonder if they really even have Gigapower.

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