AT&T Floats BEAD in USF Areas, Counties Concerned About FCC Map, Alabama’s $25M for Broadband

AT&T suggested the FCC look into relieving USF by considering other public funding in ACAM areas.

AT&T Floats BEAD in USF Areas, Counties Concerned About FCC Map, Alabama’s $25M for Broadband
Photo of AT&T CEO John Stankey

March 6, 2023 – AT&T is proposing that the Federal Communications Commission consider exploring whether locations funded by a Universal Service Fund program should also be considered eligible for other public funds, including the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

The subject of the comments, outlined in a meeting summary Thursday, was the Alternative Connect America Cost Model program, a fund of the USF for building out broadband to rural and high-cost areas. The FCC is proposing to modify the program to potentially increase its funding support in exchange for higher internet service provider commitments to expand in new locations and increase internet speeds, including 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload – the new federal standard.

But because the USF is being funded by a revenue base made up of voice service providers with dwindling revenues, AT&T has said that adding to ACAM’s funding would put a further strain on the other programs under the USF.

To rectify that, the telecom has recommended in a meeting in late February that the FCC consider whether some ACAM locations should be eligible for funding from federal and state programs, including the $42.5 billion BEAD program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Because there is limited funding in these programs, federal officials are seeking to avoid putting scarce money into areas with existing infrastructure.

At the same time, the provider also recommended that the commission consider eliminating areas from being eligible for ACAM funding “where states, localities, or other federal agencies [Treasury and Agriculture] have awarded funds to broadband providers to support build-out at 100/20 or greater and where competitive providers have risked private capital to enter the marketplace.”

AT&T also suggested the commission look to its own broadband data, which it is using to formulate its enhanced broadband location map, to “target ACAM funding only to the specific locations where additional investment is necessary.”

The provider is also recommending that the commission consider avoiding committing to a long funding term so that it can see how other federal programs are doing with infrastructure builds, as others have suggested.

Counties concerned about role in data collection for broadband map

In another meeting in late February, the FCC fielded concerns from the National Association of Counties regarding its members’ role in the data collection process for the commission’s new and enhanced broadband map.

In a brief summary of notes dated Thursday, the NACo discussed with commission officials “issues of concern” about the “current role of local governments” in the broadband data collection process and the “need for financial resources to support consumer and local government data collection processes, and how counties are contributing to improvements” in relation to the dataset underpinning the map.

The NACo represents all 3,069 counties in the country.

The concerns come after letters were sent to the commission and the NTIA in early January urging them to consider pushing back the deadline for challenges to the data submitted on the basis that local governments did not have sufficient resources for that purpose. The broadband map will determine how much money each state will get from the $42.5 billion BEAD program, which is expected to be allocated to the states by June 30.

Alabama plows $25M for broadband

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced Friday the state is putting $25 million in grants toward projects to expand broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas.

The money will go to nine projects to provide access to high-speed internet to nearly 20,000 households, businesses and community anchor institutions, according to a press release.

The affected counties are Cullman, Morgan, Winston, Tuscaloosa, Bibb, Shelby, Baldwin, Escambia, and Mobile, with providers being Mediacom, Spectrum Southeast, and Cullman Electric Cooperative.

“Broadband continues to be a top priority of my administration, and as we continue to move into these next four years, we’re taking our broadband journey with us,” Ivey said in the release.

“The projects underway reach across the state and will allow better access to opportunities in education, health care, business and other normalcies of life,” she added. “Broadband is vital infrastructure, and our map continues to light up. I am pleased to support these transformative projects as we work toward achieving high-speed internet availability for every Alabamian.”

The state has awarded $88.6 million supporting 109 projects since the Broadband Accessibility Fund’s start in 2018, the release noted.

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