FCC Mediating AT&T Redlining Complaint

The FCC is attempting to mediate the broadband redlining complaint filed against AT&T by attorney Daryl Parks on behalf of "Cleveland broadband consumers," according to Parks, who says he is ready to talk, but also to sue.

According to Parks' office, they are scheduled for a Nov. 13-14 session with AT&T and FCC staffers to try and resolve the complaint.

"It is my sincere desire to resolve these matters during the November 13 - 14 FCC staff monitored mediation session," said Parks. "However, I am preparing to litigate and win on behalf of my clients and our communities."

To that end, Parks says he has employed several lawyers, including Andrew Jay Schwartzman of Georgetown University Law Center, a veteran public interest attorney specializing in communications access issues, saying while he hopes mediation is the ticket, "we are preparing to fight and win.

Parks has suggested the complaint calls into question AT&T's fitness to run the FirstNet public safety network, a multi-billion dollar contract as well as a multibillion dollar investment by AT&T. 

Related: FCC's Pai: DOJ Will Do Right Thing By AT&T-TW

Parks, who gained national prominence as the attorney for the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, is representing families in Cleveland who allege they have been "severely impacted" by a lack of connectivity.

The complainants—Joanne Elkins, Hattie Lanfair, and Rochelle Lee—allege that "wealthier and predominantly white areas have gotten premium upgradable high speed broadband access at bullet speed," while the three complainants "receive slow speeds at a rate as low as 1.5 mbps downstream or less, although they pay AT&T for high speed access."

They say that is unjust and unreasonable discrimination in violation of the Communications Act. They also allege that is part of a pattern of discrimination by AT&T nationwide, relying on a study by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Parks says the redlining is systemic, citing Detroit as another example.

In a letter to Parks last May, a copy of which was supplied to B&C, James Meza, AT&T senior VP assistant general counsel, said the company takes his complaint seriously, has invested $135 billion over the past five years to insure "Americans of all income levels" can get internet service, will continue to expand its Ohio networks, and is promoting broadband adoption by low-income customers.

"AT&T's investment decisions are based on cost and demand forecast modeling to determine where we can serve potential customers and, at the same time, recover the costs of deployment," Meza said. Factors include topology, aerial vs. more expensive buried cable, the competition, the customer base size, the density of households, "civic cooperation" and more. "They do not [emphasis his] include household incomed, race or ethnicity."

FCC officials were not available for comment Friday (Nov. 10) , which was a federal holiday for many workers (Veterans day is Nov. 11).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.