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Your neighbors get high-speed Internet but you don't

Back in 2006, the FCC required AT&T to offer Internet speeds of up to 200kbps to all customers in its service area by 2008 as part of an agreement that allowed the company to purchase BellSouth. The FCC didn't contend AT&T's claims that it met its obligations under this agreement.

The merger agreement required AT&T to meet 85 percent of the ubiquitous broadband commitment with wireline technologies such as DSL and to keep offering DSL for 30 months.

However, many customers claim this didn't happen. They say that they have no access to broadband Internet and that AT&T never offered them a wireless alternative. Now, AT&T is attempting to purchase DirecTV, and it's making promises to expand its network again. But, opponents of the deal want the FCC to take another look at the BellSouth merger before approving this new one.

AT&T tells Lewis and customers the same situation that there aren't enough "ports" in the area to provide service to their homes. These ports are housed in a large metal box in your neighborhood or at the one of the providers' offices. All of the copper lines that provide phone and Internet service to homes in the area feed to this box. A fiber line then connects this box to the ISP's office to provide Internet service to homes.

A typical cabinet can hold one or two DSLAMs [Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers] and serve about 400 to 800 subscribers, one household per port, he said. The cabinet typically connects via fiber to the provider’s central office, and from there to the rest of the Internet. The main limitation for subscribers is in the copper phone line that connects from their homes to the DSLAM. The more distance data has to travel over copper from the DSLAM to homes, the fewer megabits (or kilobits) per second customers get. But as long as the nearest DSLAM has enough ports to serve each local household, they can typically get service.

If the box in an area runs out of ports, then new customers are out luck. The ISP, AT&T in this case, could add another box or add more ports to the existing box, but many companies are hesitant to do this unless they believe the investment and time commitment is worthwhile.

Without enough ports in the area, customers like Lewis are forced to purchase expensive wireless data plans or satellite Internet service that often include monthly data caps. Lewis has been paying Verizon for 10 GB per month of cellular data to connect to the Internet.

Next page: How can AT&T fix the problem?
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