Mississippi official urges FCC to audit AT&T’s CAF coverage

A Mississippi official called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to audit AT&T’s use of Connect America Fund (CAF) money in the state, citing concerns about the accuracy of broadband coverage information submitted by the operator. AT&T denied it has done anything wrong.

In a letter sent to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel earlier this month, Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley claimed his agency uncovered evidence during its annual certification for Eligible Telecommunications Carriers which “led to great concern” about the validity of data AT&T submitted. He alleged AT&T has a "history of submitting false data” and “should not be able to receive federal funding without oversight and accountability.”

Presley elaborated in an interview, telling Fierce the issue relates to the fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband service AT&T deployed with CAF funding. He said the state Commission found specific examples “where the address was claimed both to USAC and the consumer that it was covered and then when a technician is actually deployed and rolls up in a truck to check it, it’s not there.” USAC refers to the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the FCC’s Universal Service Fund programs.

“We need to have an honest accounting to find out what’s covered and what’s not,” Presley said. “My concern as an American is that if this could go on in Mississippi, what’s happening in the other 49 states where they deployed fixed wireless, and is there a true accounting?”

“I’m not trying to make any inflammatory accusations that are not backed up in fact, and it’s why I feel like at the very minimum the FCC should review the evidence that we’ve gathered,” he continued.

RELATED: AT&T takes $427M in CAF II funding, sets plan to bring wireline, wireless broadband to 18 states

In 2015, AT&T accepted nearly $428 million in annual support from the FCC’s Connect America Fund to help it deliver broadband to 2.2 million customers across 18 states. That total included $49.8 million each year to help it reach 133,981 homes in Mississippi. Funding recipients were required to cover 40% of the required locations by the end of their third year of support and 100% by the end of the sixth year.

AT&T vehemently denied the allegation it has misstated coverage. An operator representative told Fierce it has invested billions of dollars in fixed and mobile networks in the state and is “proud of the work we have done.” Regarding its use of CAF money, the representative said, “We have worked closely with the FCC and USAC on this program and any suggestion that we filed false data is patently incorrect.”

Presley’s letter renews a request originally submitted by the entire Mississippi Public Service Commission in September 2020. The Commission said at the time it sent the letter after finding “concrete, specific examples” which showed AT&T had reported location addresses as served when they were without service.

Presley told Fierce to his knowledge nothing was done after the first letter was sent, which is why he decided to send a follow up letter after Rosenworcel’s confirmation as chairwoman.