A man who has been an AT&T customer since the 1960s has a message for CEO John Stankey about the company’s failure to upgrade DSL areas to modern Internet service. Aaron Epstein, 90, was so frustrated by his 3Mbps Internet plan that he took a Wall Street Journal ad in today’s print edition to submit an open letter to Stankey.
“Dear Mr. Stankey: AT&T prides itself as a leader in electronic communications. Unfortunately, for the people who live in N. Hollywood, CA 91607, AT&T is now a big disappointment,” Epstein wrote in the letter.
Epstein paid $1,100 to run an ad per day in the Manhattan and Dallas editions of Today’s Journal, he told Ars in a phone interview. (Correction: Epstein later told us he paid $10,000 for the ad, not $1,100.) He chose the creation of Manhattan to reach investors who may want to press AT & T to upgrade its network and Dallas because that is where AT & T is headquartered, he said.
“We need to keep up with current technology and have looked to AT&T to provide us with high-speed Internet service,” Epstein wrote in an open letter to AT&T’s CEO. “However, although AT&T is advertising speeds up to 100Mbps for other areas, the speed available to us from AT&T is only 3Mbps. Its competitors have speeds over 200Mbps. Why is AT&T, the leading telecommunications company just, treating us shabbily in North Hollywood?”
The digital version of the Wall Street Journal publication, available online to subscribers, shows that Epstein’s ad ran today on page A7 and took up the bottom left quarter of the page. We first learned about Epstein’s ad when a Twitter user posted a picture of the publication:
— Raju Narisetti (@raju) March 3, 2021
Adding Epstein’s address into the AT&T Internet search results in a message that said “higher Internet is not available at your address.” This means you are in one of the areas where AT&T is suspending DSL service despite its failure to upgrade areas to fiber-to-the-home or fiber-to-node. Existing users should be able to keep their DSL service at these sites, but AT&T is not accepting new customers.
“I’m very upset because, periodically, I get snail mail and periodically I see ads on TV and ads on the Internet offering faster service (from AT&T),” Epstein told Ars. But whenever Epstein called AT&T about getting faster speeds, a customer service representative said the company was working on it but couldn’t provide a date for when it would be available, he said.
Epstein said his “3Mbps” service often only provides 1.5Mbps when he checks the speed. The slow speeds gave him trouble with online streaming on his Roku device. “It’s very sad because now we all use streaming services… sometimes the movies are very smooth and fast, and other times it’s very sad and I don’t use it at all,” he said.
AT&T isn’t Epstein’s only choice for wired Internet service. In fact, he said he pays for both Charter Spectrum Internet and AT&T DSL at home but generally only uses AT&T Internet because, he says, “in order to get phone service, I have to use an AT&T modem.” He noted that a technician may be able to set things up so that he can use AT&T phone service and Charter Internet. But with the pandemic continuing, Epstein said he and his wife are playing it safe by having any visitors in the house.
Ignoring AT&T helps cable ISPs dominate
While both Charter cable and AT&T DSL are in a better position than living in a DSL-only area, AT&T’s rollout of many DSL areas helps cable companies strengthen their coverage and avoid for competition. Comcast and Charter, the two largest cable companies, do not compete against each other in individual cities and towns. For tens of millions of Americans, the only broadband option with modern speeds is either Charter or Comcast.
There are 52.97 million households in AT&T’s 21-state wireline service area, and 14.93 million of them have cable-to-home access, the Telecommunications Workers Union of America recently told Ars. It’s AT&T almost 5 million paid fiber-to-the-home customers and 8.7 million fiber-to-node customers. There are 407,000 paying DSL customers in areas where AT&T is phasing out legacy service, and that number has been dropping steadily each quarter.
AT&T has slowed cable-to-home construction since completing the activation agreements required by the merger conditions of its 2015 purchase of DirecTV. AT&T has dramatically reduced its workforce, from 273,210 employees in mid 2018 up to 230,760 employees end of 2020. While these cuts have affected more than wireline network services, they have resulted in fewer technicians available for cable or maintaining the old DSL network.
Epstein said he pays AT&T about $100 a month at home for two phone lines and Internet service and $49 a month to Charter for cable Internet. Epstein still pays AT&T for phone and Internet service at a business he owns in Sherman Oaks, but he said the slow Internet isn’t much of a problem at the office because he uses it for basic services like email and not for streaming video.
Epstein had not received a response to the open letter from AT&T when we spoke this morning.
Contacted by Ars, an AT&T spokesperson said the company would reach out to Epstein to address his concerns. AT&T did not answer our specific questions, such as whether it would upgrade Internet service at Epstein’s address or whether it recommended that customers like Epstein switch to Charter. AT&T provided the following statement: “We are constantly improving and investing in wireless and wired networks.
Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Agreement, which includes section 13 of the Charter, is part of Advance Declarations. Advance Publications is Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.