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Deployment to Rural Areas and Underserved Populations

Materiality Assessment Topic: Deployment to rural and underserved areas; Investing in education and high-tech skills development, Affordability | Global Reporting Initiative G4 Indicators: SO1, EC7, Affordability DMA

Issue Summary

We’re in the midst of a communications revolution, one based on high-speed internet, and it has the potential, like no other technology, to democratize opportunity. High-speed internet is an important tool for advancing opportunities in all communities by offering increased access to education, healthcare and employment.

Our Position

As innovation introduces new opportunities every day, we are helping to shrink the digital divide for rural areas and underserved populations.


Data Highlights

2016 Key Performance Indicators
  • Investment in wired and wireless networks in 2016: $22.4B
  • Locations reached by the end of 2016, against a goal to expand all-fiber internet access capability to at least 12.5 million customer locations by mid-2019: nearly 4 million

Our Action

We are connecting more Americans to internet in three ways:

  • Our low-cost home internet programs;
  • Connecting communities to high-speed internet connections; and
  • Empowering consumers to get the most out of their connections. 

Low-Cost Home Internet Program

In April 2016, we launched our low-cost home internet program, Access from AT&T.i The focus of the Access program is to help make internet service more affordable for qualifying low-income households in our 21-state wireline footprint. 

Access from AT&T is available to households that participate in the federal government’s USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In California only, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients also may qualify. Access from AT&T provides eligible households internet speed tiers of 10Mbps and 5Mbps for $10 a month, and internet speed tiers of 3Mbps, 1.5Mbps or 768Kbps for $5 a month.ii Customers will be assigned the fastest speed available where they live. AT&T will also waive installation and internet equipment fees for participating households.

Other eligibility requirements also apply. Visit att.com/access for full details.

As part of our Access from AT&T outreach efforts, we’ve connected with more than 600 national, state and local groups that work with low-income individuals and families to educate potential program participants. The organizations include social service groups and organizations that represent veterans, seniors, non-English speakers and other groups. In 2016, we began a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to hold a series of local events to help increase awareness of our program among HUD residents. We’ve also reached out to local school districts across our 21-state footprint, asking them to include information about the program in communications to families.

Connecting Rural and Underserved Communities

We are committed to using a variety of technologies to expand internet access to more locations.

To help meet the needs of customers in largely rural areas and expand the opportunities enabled by internet access, AT&T participates in the FCC’s Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) program. By the end of 2020, AT&T will have used funds from the program to deploy, maintain and offer internet access and voice service to 1.1 million mostly rural homes and small business locations in FCC-identified areas.

As one of the technologies which will help us meet our commitment for the CAF II program, we are deploying fixed wireless services, which will deliver internet through base stations and fixed antennas on customers’ homes or buildings in order to reach customers that are difficult to serve through other technologies.

In April 2017, AT&T announced we had completed a first wave of fixed wireless internet availability for rural and underserved locations in the state of Georgia. In accordance with CAF II requirements, we expect to reach more than 440,000 locations across 18 states by the end of 2017, bringing high-speed internet capability to many for the first time.

Fixed wireless internet service will support speeds of at least 10 Mbps for download and 1 Mbps for upload. Additionally, many areas where we deliver fixed wireless internet service as part of this initiative will be upgraded to also receive mobile LTE services—if they do not already have them. This will continue building on AT&T’s 4G LTE network that already covers 355 million Americans.

In addition to our CAF II build-out, we are advancing toward our goal to expand all-fiber internet access capability to at least 12.5 million customer locations, such as residences, home offices and very small businesses, by mid-2019.i By the end of 2016, we reached nearly 4 million locations. As part of this goal and combined with AT&T’s existing high-speed broadband network, at least 25.7 million customer locations will have access to broadband speeds of 45 Mbps or higher.ii

AT&T is also investigating innovative new approaches, such as our Project AirGig, to provide connectivity. This technology could one day deliver low-cost, multi-gigabit wireless internet speeds using power lines. By using existing infrastructure, such as power lines, Project AirGig can enable a dramatically expanded wireless footprint to provide service in urban, rural and underserved parts of the world. We are currently testing the technology at AT&T Labs and so far, the testing at our multiple outdoor facilities — spanning 262 acres — has been positive. We expect to kick off our first field trials later in 2017. For more information, visit http://about.att.com/innovation/labs.

Educating Communities

As we bring more affordable access to more Americans, we are working in communities around the country to provide people with the skills they need to maximize the value of high-speed internet access.

Our Digital You® program includes efforts to inform people about the benefits of internet access through tools, tips, apps, guidance and community education events for people of all ages and levels of online experience. The Digital You website (digitalyou.att.com), created in collaboration with Common Sense Media and other experts, is a resource that provides parents, youth, digital newcomers, people with disabilities and community leaders with information on the devices they use and how to maintain privacy, safety and security in an increasingly connected world. The website addresses topics such as how to prevent cyberbullying, managing your online presence and tips on how to use devices.

We also work with organizations including Family Online Safety Institute, Common Sense Media, iKeepSafe, CTIA Parent’s Initiative with ConnectSafely and LULAC to engage communities. For more information on our work to educate communities, please visit our Promoting Safety issue brief.

Policy Advocacy

The economics of building and expanding high-speed internet to often sparsely-populated rural areas can be challenging. We believe it will take a collaborative approach between the public and private sector and smart public policy to continue connecting more rural areas and underserved populations to the benefits of high-speed internet.

To that end, policies developed at all levels of government need to work with the market and foster continued private sector investment and innovation by eliminating barriers to network deployment. The private sector has the expertise and a proven track record of meeting consumer demand at the speeds and with the service options and technologies consumers want.

The FCC is directing substantial federal resources to update its high-cost universal service programs to support high-speed internet deployment, and these programs will make significant progress in bringing high-speed internet service to currently unserved parts of rural America. These federal programs alone, however, will not achieve the goal of universal Internet access. The answer to achieving the goal of universal service cannot rest solely (or even primarily) with the government. Public dollars are limited and in high demand for pressing public issues, including education, public safety and repair of aging roads and bridges. The most rational and effective approach, in combination with high-cost support programs like CAF II, is for government—at the local, state and federal levels—to pursue policies that work with the market to foster the greatest private sector investment and expansion of internet access possible.  

Consistent with the requirements of the FCC DTV Merger Order.

ii NOTE REGARDING INTERNET SPEED AND DATA ALLOWANCES: Internet speed claims represent maximum network service capability speeds. Actual customer speeds may vary based on factors including site traffic, content provider server capacity, internal network management factors and device capabilities, and are not guaranteed. For more information, go to att.com/speed101. Pricing excludes taxes. Service will include a monthly data allowance of either 150GB, 160GB or 1TB of data/mo. depending on the type and speed of service purchased. Exceeding the applicable monthly data plan allowance will result in an automatic charge of $10 for each 50GB of data usage in excess of the data allowance, even if less than 50 gigabytes is used. For more information, go to att.com/internet-usage. 

Updated on: Sep 27, 2017

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