AT&T Exploits Massive Loophole to Deny Budget Internet to Some Low-Income Customers

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

When AT&T merged with DirecTV, the Federal Communications Commission mandated the company give anyone on food stamps internet service for a monthly fee of $10 or less. The program, which launched in April, is called “Access From AT&T” and requires the company to charge SNAP recipients $10 (plus tax) if the download speed “technically available” in their area is 5 or 10 Mbps. Poor folks in areas where the download speed “technically available” is 3 Mbps pay $5 (plus tax).


But as the National Digital Inclusion Alliance attempted to help people apply for this discount, the organization discovered that many were told “the program was unavailable at their addresses” even if AT&T internet service was available in their neighborhood.

The NDIA figured out that AT&T was able to deny SNAP beneficiaries discounted internet service in areas where the fastest speed available was less than 3 Mbps. And while you might think such slow internet is a rarity in rural areas, it actually accounts for around 21% of blocks in Cleveland and Detroit. The blocks with internet service below 3 Mbps constitute some of the cities’ poorest areas.

When the NDIA reached out to AT&T to propose a change in the program that would give low-income people in those areas the same discounts, the company told them “AT&T is not prepared to expand the low income offer to additional speed tiers beyond those established as a condition of the merger approval.”

So if you’re not rich enough to live in area that has internet speed 3 Mbps or higher “technically available,” then you won’t qualify for the discount program put in place to help you.

Update, 11:04 EDT: An AT&T spokesperson told Gizmodo:

The vast majority of the locations where we offer internet service are able to subscribe to internet speed tiers at 3Mbps or higher.

Our low-cost internet service speed tiers for qualifying households participating in SNAP – 10Mbps, 5Mbps or 3Mbps – were determined by the FCC as part of its Order approving the DTV merger.


[National Digital Inclusion Alliance via Ars Technica]

Eve Peyser was the night editor at Gizmodo.


Group B-raaaaaaaaaap!

It’s been nearly 35 years since a government-mandated breakup of AT&T (known then as “Ma Bell”). Maybe it's time for another; preferably with a bat.