First and foremost, AT&T shares the goal of ensuring connectivity for those in need. In the midst of unprecedented demand during the COVID-19 crisis, American broadband networks have proven up to the task in keeping Texans connected to each other, their schools and their jobs. This achievement is no accident and is the result of decades of bipartisan public policies that have encouraged more than a trillion dollars in private sector investment in our nation’s broadband networks. While the networks did not buckle as some predicted they might, the pandemic has revealed challenges related to broadband accessibility, affordability and adoption in many Texas households. As legislators and other policymakers consider ways to address the digital divide, AT&T has developed the following Texas Broadband Policy Recommendations as a framework for this important work.
We are proud to partner with policymakers across our great state as we work together to meet the needs of Texas communities. We hope the following recommendations are a helpful resource for you, your staff and your colleagues. AT&T has been in the business of connecting consumers for over 140 years. As experts in the broadband business, we are here to assist Texas during this critical time. Please reach out to me or my team if you would like to discuss these further.
AT&T Texas Broadband Policy Recommendations
- Federal funding must be explored and exhausted before expanding state funding.
- Pending the FCC broadband mapping effort, identify with geographic precision where broadband is not available so that investments and build are focused on unserved areas as a top priority; precious funding should not be spent building additional infrastructure where broadband already exists nor should it be directed to address areas being funded by other government broadband programs, such as Connect America Fund, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and ReConnect.
- Future technologies, such as 5G, and where society as a whole is moving is also important to this discussion. This is why mobile, wireless broadband and satellite are an important piece of the broadband discussion.
- If the State does create a broadband fund, funding needs to come from general revenue since broadband is deemed a “universal need” so not one class of customers bears the burden of cost. Since the TUSF is funded by a select group of Texans and only one industry, it is not the best source of funding for broadband.
- Governments should work with ISPs to explore the best options for investment and deployment instead of attempting to build their own, often overbuilt, broadband infrastructure.
- The State of Texas should work with Congress to revamp the federal Lifeline program to make broadband more affordable for low-income households.
- Support an increase in the current federal Lifeline subsidy and modernize the program via digital payments similar to the SNAP program.
- It is important to recognize that the benefits of high-speed broadband connectivity are only achieved if Texans with broadband service options actually subscribe to the service. Texas must provide targeted efforts towards encouraging adoption of broadband services.
- We must avoid treating broadband as a utility. The light-touch approach to broadband and its infrastructure has worked with proven results.