Together, We Can Connect Communities to Affordable Internet

Rhonda Johnson, Executive Vice President, Federal Regulatory Relations, AT&T
February 6, 2023
Broadband Access and Affordability

Together, We Can Connect Communities to Affordable Internet

A lot has changed since I started my career with AT&T over 30 years ago. From focusing on landline phone-service to playing a role in the advent of internet technology, it’s been a journey of distinct destinations.

But there’s been continuity too. Namely, an unwavering commitment to connecting people to greater possibility.

Now, I’m bringing that commitment with me from California – where I most recently led AT&T’s state-level policy, regulatory and philanthropic advocacy efforts – to Washington, D.C.

In my role leading the D.C. Federal Regulatory team, I’m embracing lessons learned from my previous roles to advocate for connectivity on the national stage.

Lesson One: Barriers to internet connectivity don’t occur in silos

In my work, we talk frequently about how the digital divide is compounded by the barriers to broadband access, adoption and affordability. And I’ve learned that these three issues don’t occur in silos – they’re often interrelated and can create a push-pull effect further hindering customers already struggling to get online.

The good news is there is recognition of this at all levels: federal, state and local. I highlighted one example of this last year in the work we’re doing in California with the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund – that allowed local decision-makers to work with the private sector to make momentous change in their communities.

The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program is another great example – and one that has implications not only for broadband affordability, but adoption as well. In addition to offering a low-cost option that allows qualified ACP recipients get high speed broadband from AT&T for free, last year, we set our sights on educating our customers and stakeholders of the benefits of this program by:

  • Employing targeted marketing including advertising, door hangers in multi-dwelling units, and equipping our ~1,900 AT&T retail stores and 4,000 authorized retailers with flyers and marketing materials; and
  • Engaging with local organizations to help spread the word with their members and the communities they serve. We’ve had success in reaching families through community events such as Los Angeles’ annual Gardena Jazz & Music Festival as well as through digital literacy workshops at AT&T Connected Learning Centers.

Lesson Two: Momentum is everything

And now is not the time to lose it. Because – as helpful as benefit programs like the ACP are – their existence alone does not guarantee universal connectivity. There is still a gap between those who are eligible for the ACP benefit and those who have already enrolled.

  • In fact – while estimates indicate that 49 million or more households nationwide may be eligible for ACP,1 only 16.7M have opted in.2

That’s why it’s equally vital that communities have awareness of the benefits of the internet, and of programs like the ACP, so we can light a clearer path to broadband adoption. Recognizing this critical need, last November the FCC kicked off four complementary grant programs to promote ACP nationwide, enlisting trusted community organizations and digital navigators to develop innovative outreach strategies to reach historically unserved and underserved communities.

But, ACP’s continued success more quickly depletes the program’s resources, with estimates predicting that funds could run out as soon as early 2024. This means Congress and the FCC must consider how to continue the program and keep these customers connected.

It’s going to take a combined effort – between the government, industry and community members – to connect people to the benefits of the internet.

Lesson Three: Customers need choices

It’s important to recognize that no one household or community is the same. Every community and person’s connectivity needs differ, and we want to meet people where they are.

Qualified customers can apply the federal ACP benefit to the plan that works best for them including our consumer AT&T internet plans, such as those offered through Access from AT&T, or our AT&T wireless plans with data, such as PREPAID3 and Cricket Wireless.

  • By combining our $30 Access from AT&T plans providing up to 100Mbps service and unlimited data with the up to $30 ACP benefit, we’re making no-cost home internet possible for households in need.4
  • An Access from AT&T plan is also available for $10/mo. for customers with maximum speeds of 5-10 Mbps and $5/mo. for customers with maximum speeds of 3Mbps or lower. As with the standard Access from AT&T offer, eligible households who apply the ACP benefit to lower cost Access from AT&T can receive internet with a zero monthly charge.₅
  • And customers who choose to apply ACP to their wireless service can still receive the low-cost Access from AT&T internet offers.

To build on the choices currently available, we’re continuing to give our customers options and invest in innovative technologies – and sharing these options clearly with consumers and with more customer input than ever before.

Lesson Four: Get involved and stay involved

Today, there is almost unanimous agreement that internet connectivity is an essential tool in our lives – and its relevance will only increase as technology continues to develop.

So, how can you help ensure everyone experiences the advantages of this technology? Make sure the people around you know about the ACP and its benefits. Whether you’re talking to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues or constituents, communicating the importance of connectivity is something we all can do.

Check out these resources on the ACP, to see if you or anyone you know, could be eligible.

Thank you for your support as we work together to help bridge the digital divide and bring more people online.

1 “Estimating participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)” | Measuring the Effectiveness of Digital Inclusion Approaches – USC Annenberg Research Network on International Communication (October 2022)

2 ACP Enrollment and Claims Tracker | Universal Service Administrative Co. (January 30, 2023)

3 Limit of one ACP benefit per household.

4 Plans up to 100Mbps and includes unlimited data. Limited availability/areas. Free internet subject to household’s continued ACP eligibility and application of the ACP benefit to Access from AT&T plans.

5 Limited availability/areas. Free internet subject to household’s continued ACP eligibility and application of the ACP benefit to Access from AT&T plans. $5 and $10 plans subject to monthly data allowance of 1.5Tb/mo for AT&T Internet and 150 Gb/mo for DSL.  Data overage charges may still apply if the monthly data allowance is exceeded.