AT&T's Digital Divide in California

Broadband Data Analysis

Broadband Data Analysis

The AT&T Footprint

AT&T’s total California wireline broadband footprint encompasses 9,683,239 households, or 70.8 percent of total California households.3 The analysis in this report focuses on this footprint—the households located in areas where AT&T California is the Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC). The data was compiled from two sources. The AT&T California broadband figures were compiled using the FCC Form 477 data. We used the most recent dataset, which presents data as of June 2016. The FCC Form 477 data is self-reported by each company and contains the maximum speed that companies advertise by census block.4 The income data was derived from the American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates, which provides demographic data at the block group level.5 The methodology is explained in more detail in the Appendix.

The FCC requires companies to report data separately for wireline, fixed wireless, and mobile broadband, as well as for residential consumer and business broadband availability. This study analyzes only wireline broadband advertised by AT&T to residential customers; all other broadband data is excluded. This methodology is consistent with the FCC 2016 Broadband Progress Report and the CPUC 2016 Competition Report, both of which explain that wireless is not a substitute for a home wireline connection because wireless is less reliable, more expensive, and it is difficult to do important activities such as homework or apply for a job on a smartphone or small mobile device.6

Because the FCC Form 477 data does not report the number of households with no broadband availability, this report focuses only on characteristics of California households with access to AT&T wireline broadband. However, the approximate number of California households in AT&T’s footprint with no broadband available from AT&T as of December 2015 was 252,075, comprising 2.5 percent of California households.7 This data is reported in Appendix Table 7.

This report analyzes AT&T residential wireline broadband deployment in California in two ways: technology and speed.

In AT&T service areas there are 252,075 households with no broadband available.

AT&T uses three wireline broadband technologies:

  • DSL is the oldest and slowest wireline broadband technology. DSL delivers data traffic over the traditional copper network at download speeds typically in the range between 0.768 Mbps and 6 Mbps, depending on the customer’s distance from the switch. This is the only wireline broadband technology available to 2,677,141 California households (27.6 percent) in AT&T’s wireline footprint. 
  • VDSL, which AT&T markets as U-verse, is a fiberto-the-node (FTTN) network that delivers data over fiber to a neighborhood cabinet and then over the traditional copper network to the customer location. This technology typically delivers Internet download speeds between 12 and 18 Mbps over a single copper pair (again depending on the distance from the switch), but the speed can go up to 75 Mbps with pair bonding (two copper pairs) and boosts in digital frequency. AT&T U-verse deployment began in 2006 and continued through 2015. Almost threequarters (71.6 percent) of California households in the AT&T wireline footprint—6,937,319 households— have access to U-verse Internet, almost all in urban or suburban communities. AT&T has largely bypassed rural communities in deploying U-verse.
  • Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH). In the past year, AT&T began to deploy all-fiber networks in communities across its 21-state wireline footprint, including California. All-fiber networks are capable of delivering “Gigapower” speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps download and upload. To win regulatory approval of its DirecTV acquisition, AT&T committed to deploy all-fiber networks to 12.5 million customer locations by 2019. As of April 20, 2017 AT&T reported that it had deployed all-fiber networks to 4.6 million customer locations across its 21-state footprint.8

AT&T’s Initial Fiber-to-the-Home Deployment Targets High-Income Households

This analysis of the June 2016 FCC Form 477 data provides a first look at the income characteristics of the California communities that AT&T has chosen as pioneers in its fiber-to-the-home deployment. The June 2016 data reports AT&T fiber-to-the-home deployment in 2,886 census blocks reaching 68,029 households. Because there is no regulatory oversight of AT&T’s fiber-to-the-home deployment, AT&T is free to choose the communities in which it builds its all-fiber GigaPower network. Our analysis finds that AT&T has built its all-fiber network disproportionately in higher income communities. If this pattern continues, it has troubling consequences for low- and moderate-income Californians, leaving many without access to AT&T’s gold standard all-fiber network and exacerbating the digital divide. 

Table 1 and Charts 1 through 8 detail the median household income for the most advanced technology available to households across California and in seven counties where AT&T has deployed fiber-to-the-home. A clear pattern emerges: those with access to AT&T’s fiber-to-the-home network have the highest median household income and those with only DSL availability have the lowest median income.

  • The median household income of California communities with access to AT&T’s fiber-to-thehome (FTTH) network is $94,208, to U-verse is $67,021, and to the DSL network is $53,186.
  • The median household income for fiber-to-thehome households exceeds those with only U-verse availability by $27,187 (28.9 percent) and those with only DSL availability by $41,022 (43.5 percent). 
  • This pattern is replicated in each of the seven counties where AT&T has early fiber deployment. For example, in Los Angeles County, the median income of households with fiber-to-the-home access is $110,474, compared with $60,534 for those with U-verse availability, and $47,894 for those with only DSL availability. This amounts to differences of $49,940 (45.2 percent) for U-verse and $62,580 (56.6 percent) for DSL.
  • Our analysis did not find a correlation between the areas where AT&T has deployed its fiber-to-thehome technology and racial/ethnic characteristics, but policymakers should continue to monitor this aspect of AT&T’s fiber deployment going forward.

Table 1 showcases the  Median Household Income by AT&T Broadband Technology Speed

Charts 1-8 showcase Charts 1-8. AT&T Fiber to the Home Deployment in California Median Household Income by Technology

AT&T Leaves Many California Communities Stuck in the Slow Lane

AT&T’s advertised broadband speeds leave many Californians underserved, below the official CPUC standard pf 6/1 Mbps, and without high-speed broadband meeting the federal standard of 25/3 Mbps. The following figures drawn from our analysis present a stark picture of the inadequacy of AT&T’s wired broadband network in California. A complete list of AT&T broadband speeds by county is available in Table 5 in the Appendix. 

  • 18.1 percent of California households in AT&T’s wireline footprint, or approximately 1.7 million households, are underserved by AT&T broadband, without access to the CPUC benchmark of 6 Mbps broadband download.
  •  42.8 percent of California households in AT&T’s wireline footprint—approximately 4.1 million households—cannot get AT&T broadband at the FCC broadband speed standard of 25/3 Mbps.
  • AT&T does not advertise any broadband, at any speed, to more than one-quarter million (252,075) California households in its wireline footprint. (This figure is based on data from December 2015). 9
  • More than one-quarter (27.6 percent) of California households in AT&T’s wireline footprint— approximately 2.7 million households—can only get DSL from AT&T.
  • AT&T’s higher-speed U-verse broadband technology is not available to virtually any household in 14 largely rural counties.
  • Many urban and suburban counties have a significant number of households that are underserved by AT&T broadband. In Los Angeles County, approximately 443,000 households (20.4 percent) in AT&T’s wireline footprint lack access to AT&T broadband at 6/1 Mbps and approximately 1.1 million households (51.5 percent) lack access to AT&T broadband at 25/3 Mbps. In Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, approximately 98,000 households (17.5 percent) are underserved by AT&T and approximately 176,000 lack access to AT&T broadband at 25/3 Mbps.

Table 5 in the Appendix breaks these statewide figures down by county. In 14 largely rural counties, virtually no household has access to AT&T broadband at the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps speed and between one-third and two-thirds or more households are underserved without access to AT&T broadband at the 6 Mbps download CPUC benchmark.

Table 6 in the Appendix provides a complete list of AT&T broadband technology deployment by county. In 14 largely rural counties—Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Glenn, Humboldt, Imperial, Tehama, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, San Luis Obispo, Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tuolumne— AT&T has not deployed its more advanced U-verse fiberto-the-node (FTTN) or fiber-to-the-home technology to virtually any household. 

AT&T’s lack of high-speed Internet is not limited to rural areas: the company also falls short in populous urban and suburban counties throughout California. Table 3 shows the number of households without access to AT&T broadband at CPUC and FCC standard speeds for the 10 counties where AT&T has the largest footprint. 

Table 2 includes a table showing Counties with Slowest AT&T Broadband in AT&T Wireline Footprin

Table 3 includes a table showcasing  Households without Access to Broadband at CPUC and FCC Standards for 10 Largest Urban/Suburban Counties in AT&T Wireline Footprint

Map 1 includes a map of the Fastest AT&T Broadband Speed Available by Census Block as of June 30, 2016

Map 2 includes a map of the Most Advanced AT&T Broadband Technology Available by Census Block as of June 30, 2016