JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state of Mississippi on Tuesday questioned whether AT&T has adequately followed through on a federally funded initiative to make internet service available to residents as officials asked the U.S. government to perform an audit into the matter.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Mississippi’s three public service commissioners said records recently provided by the telecommunications conglomerate through a subpoena have led “to great concern surrounding the validity of AT&T Mississippi’s claims and the honesty of data submitted by them.”
“Our investigation has revealed a wide-array of inconsistencies in what AT&T advertises as available and what actually exists when consumers try to get internet service,” Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said in a statement.
Presley presented a subpoena to AT&T Mississippi on Sept. 11 for records related to work it completed in the state to provide fixed wireless service access through the Connect America Fund, a multiyear federal program designed to expand access to broadband in rural areas of the country that are currently underserved.
The Federal Communications Commission provides funding to service providers to subsidize the cost of building new network infrastructure or performing network upgrades. AT&T has received nearly $284 million in federal money as part of the Mississippi initiative.
Presley said Public Service Commission officials requested the records after receiving complaints from residents who said they were told by AT&T that they were not eligible for service.
The company agreed to comply on Sept. 17. Officials said in their letter Tuesday that an investigation by the Public Service Commission found “concrete, specific examples” of homes where AT&T reported to the federal government that it had made service available, but that service was not actually provided.
While the government has gained access to these records, AT&T has said that Mississippi law protecting companies from disclosing “competitively sensitive” information shields them from publicly disclosing the records.
AT&T has said it is on track to provide service to more than 133,000 Mississippi households by the end of the year. Data provided by AT&T and made public by the Universal Service Administrative Company shows well over 133,000 addresses where AT&T says service has been deployed.
“The data we report as part of Phase II of the Connect America Fund is already subject to strict audit and compliance measures by the federal government,” AT&T said in a statement Tuesday. “We will continue to focus on doing work that matters to Mississippians by deploying high-speed infrastructure in communities across the state.”
On its website, Universal Service Administrative Company said it verifies data provided to it by recipients of federal Connect America Fund dollars by checking with a sample of the total households where companies report service has been provided.
Along with the number of actual subscribers to AT&T’s fixed wireless service, the Public Service Commission requested the number of complaints filed with the company by customers who have taken service. It also sought information on the number of Mississippians who applied for fixed wireless service based on AT&T’s assertion that it was available and were later determined not to be in an area covered.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.