A year ago, AT&T (News - Alert) and Verizon Communications were unhappy enough about possible strings attached to receipt of Connect America Fund (CAF) monies that both refused to accept any. But the Federal Communications Commission appears to have modified the rules in ways that the carriers find less burdensome.
AT&T now says it is willing to accept up to $100 million from the Connect America Fund to deploy broadband to approximately 129,000 locations that lack any fixed broadband service of at least 768 kbps/200 kbps.
Last year, AT&T declined the CAF support that was available to it, due largely to uncertainty about the company’s overall strategy for rural areas, as well as uncertainty about some of the obligations associated with acceptance of CAF money. In both cases that uncertainty has been resolved, AT&T says.
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AT&T says the FCC (News - Alert) modifications were important. CAF Phase 1 recipients will not be subject to any later-adopted broadband measurement requirements, for example.
CAF recipients will also be in compliance with the requirement that pricing and usage allowances be “reasonably comparable” to urban areas, if they offer identical plans in such areas.
Acceptance of funding will not trigger reporting requirements beyond the funded locations, and obligations will end within three years.
AT&T says what is important are the clearly-defined obligations, limited in time and geographic scope, and to which providers voluntarily agree in exchange for funding.
The National Broadband Plan has estimated a rural broadband investment gap of about $24 billion. At present, there are 14 million people living in seven million housing units that do not have access to terrestrial broadband infrastructure capable of meeting the national broadband availability target of a minimum of 4 Mbps downstream speed.
A $100 million CAF award to AT&T frankly will not do much to close that funding gap.
One key issue is that a very small percentage of locations are very high cost dwellings to reach.
Building new fixed network facilities to serve the 250,000 housing units with the highest gaps accounts for $14 billion of the broadband availability gap, the National Broadband Plan says.
Those dwellings represent less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all housing units in the United States.
The average amount of funding per housing unit to close the gap for these units with terrestrial broadband is $56,000.
Some would make the argument those last 250,000 homes should be served either by satellite or by mobile networks.
Edited by Alisen Downey