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Deployment to Rural and Underserved Areas

Materiality Assessment Topic: Deployment for rural and underserved areas | Global Reporting Initiative G4 Indicators: EC1,EC8

Issue Summary

Innovation in communications technology drives consumer demand and staggering increases in consumer demand compel continual growth in infrastructure deployment and investment by the industry. People in many situations seek the benefits of high-speed Internet at home, at work and on the move. However, access to communications technology is not evenly distributed across the United States. Currently, many populations, especially lower-income groups, have not adopted high-speed Internet access even when it is available. While rural communities are steadily advancing, many still lag behind with limited access to next-generation Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks.

Our Position

Our customers embrace having choice in how they connect with each other and to the Internet in many aspects of their daily lives, including the use of smartphones, tablets or IP-enabled TVs. As innovation introduces new opportunities for our customers every day, we are competing vigorously to improve and expand their service.

By working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and participating in the Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) program, we are seeking to accelerate expansion of Internet access and all of the educational, economic, healthcare and civic opportunities it enables into more unserved, rural areas.  We likewise support efforts to increase adoption by underrepresented populations.


Data Highlights

2015 Key Performance Indicators
  • Investment in wired and wireless networks in 2015: $21 billion
  • Number of locations to which AT&T offers service through its participation in the FCC’s Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) program, which requires the company to offer voice and broadband services to 1.1 million locations by 2020: Progress toward the 1.1 million CAF II location requirement will be reported in AT&T’s USF Annual Reports filed each July.

Our Action

CAF II

To help meet the needs of customers in rural and/or unserved areas and expand the opportunities enabled by Internet access, AT&T has decided to participate in the FCC’s Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) program. In August 2015, AT&T accepted about $427 million per year in CAF II support to be used for the next 6 years. These funds are being used for deploying, maintaining and offering Internet access and voice service to 1.1 million mostly rural homes and businesses in 18 states located within our traditional exchange areas.  AT&T is now building the network to provide this service to homes and small businesses, with availability growing throughout 2017 to about 440,000 locations by year end. 

AT&T Low-Cost Internet Program

Use of the Internet can change people’s lives. It makes it possible to apply for jobs online, connect with family and friends, access virtual library shelves, research health questions, finish school assignments, complete an online education—and a whole lot more. AT&T’s new program will help qualifying households subscribe to low-cost wireline Internet service.

For a four-year period beginning in April 2016, AT&T will offer wireline home Internet service at a new low price to households where at least one member participates in the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The offer will be available to those qualifying households with an address in AT&T’s 21 state service-areas in which we offer wireline Internet service. AT&T will offer the following speeds/prices:  at least 10Mbps download speeds, where technically available, for $10 per month; if 10 Mbps is not available, then 5Mbps download speeds for $10 per month; if 5MBPS is not available then 3Mbps download speeds (where technically available) for $5 per month.  Other eligibility requirements also apply.1

Connecting More Americans to High-Speed Internet

Fixed Wireless Internet

By participating in the CAF II program, we’re working to bring Internet access to more hard-to-reach rural areas to allow residents there to better connect with their world and bring them more access to the innovative, Internet-based tools and resources they need for education, healthcare, civic engagement and business.

  • To connect these mostly rural areas located in 18 states within our traditional service areas, we plan to broadly deploy a technology called Fixed Wireless Internet.
  • Fixed Wireless Internet service is anticipated to support speeds in excess of 10megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.
  • Many of these communities will see a tremendous leap in terms of speed in the move from dial-up connections to Fixed Wireless Internet.
  • Additionally, areas where we deliver Fixed Wireless Internet service as part of this initiative will be upgraded to 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 more than 390 million people in North America.  

Connecting more consumers, more businesses, more schools and more communities to blazing-fast Internet speeds

In July 2015, AT&T acquired DIRECTV. As part of that transaction, and building on a voice and data service network that covers more than 390 million people:  

  • By mid-year 2019, AT&T will have expanded its all-fiber Internet access service to reach at least 12.5 million mass market customer locations, such as residences, home offices and very small businesses. Combined with AT&T’s existing high-speed broadband network, at least 25.7 million customer locations will have access to broadband speeds of 45Mbps or higher.*
  • This commitment to build fiber to 12.5 million locations is in addition to the 1.1 million locations in the CAF II program.*
  • For a four-year period beginning in 2015, AT&T will offer up to 1 Gbps service to any eligible school or library requesting E-rate supported services, where we have deployed fiber-based broadband Internet access services.*

*Conditions of the FCC DTV Merger Order.

For more detail, as well as the latest information on our deployment and coverage, visit www.att.com/network.

Transitioning to Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks brings new opportunity for rural and unserved communities

The transition to IP-based networks holds new opportunity for rural and unserved communities, where high-speed connections can augment traditional services in areas such as education and health care. The IP transition can help:

  • Expand economic opportunity to help alleviate high unemployment in unserved communities. For example, a study by economists Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett shows that the transition from 2G to 3G wireless created approximately 1.6 million U.S. jobs.2
  • Boost adoption by increasing competition, making home broadband more affordable and convenient.
  • Improve access to quality health care, improve health outcomes and cut health care costs — especially in rural communities. High-speed Internet enables access to distant health care specialists and services, as well as a range of health applications, such as remote monitoring that enable better management of chronic conditions. As context, rural America has fewer than half the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 residents than urban areas do.3 The average rural American travels 60 miles for specialty care, compared to only 6% of urban patients who do so.4
  • Bridge educational divides. Online classes made more widely available through IP networks can also help address the shortage of advanced and expanded course offerings in rural and underserved schools, only 69% of which are able to provide Advanced Placement classes, compared to 93% of city schools.5


We’re working with the Federal Communications Commission as we implement our proposal to conduct geographically limited IP transition trials in two sites. These trials will be overseen by the FCC as we transition from legacy network technologies to an all-IP, wireless and cloud communications network, where we will learn from the customers’ experiences. The multi-year trials are taking place in two limited test sites — Carbon Hill, Alabama, and the West Delray Beach area of Florida. We’re working with consumers, communities, government entities, businesses and others to put in place technology solutions that benefit everyone; and, we’re doing this while the traditional telephone network is still in place.

We considered a range of factors in selecting the sites. We wanted to test different customer experiences, recognizing that our customers are located in small towns and large cities, and have a range of technology interests, professional experiences and needs. We chose these sites because they are diverse in terms of size, density, location and other factors, and are representative of our customers across the country. For instance, many perceive seniors as being particularly vulnerable to technological change. We expect our proposed trial in the West Delray Beach area — with its large population of older Americans (more than 70% of its population is over 50 years old) — will provide key insights into the challenges the IP transition may pose for seniors. To address concerns about the availability of affordable IP-based services in rural areas, we proposed a trial in Carbon Hill. We believe we can learn how to help address the economic and geographic challenges of moving away from a legacy telephone network in a predominantly rural area with a significant low-income population.

For more information on these trials, visit http://ip4westdelraybeach.att.com/ and http://ip4carbonhill.att.com/, or follow our public policy blog at http://www.attpublicpolicy.com/category/ip-transition/.

Enabling Mobile Learning

AT&T and the White House ConnectED Initiative

In 2014, AT&T committed — as part of the White House’s ConnectED initiative — to provide $100 million of free mobile broadband connectivity for mobile learning to students and teachers in Title I schools across the country over the next few years starting in 2016. AT&T remains committed to providing connections to devices supplied or donated by manufacturers. In 2015, AT&T forged a partnership with Apple, another ConnectED participant company, and is on track with plans to provide more than 30,000 students and teachers with mobile broadband and optional web filtering by the end of the 2016/2017 school year.The commitment supports President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, which has the goal of bringing broadband connectivity to 99% of American students within five years.

Currently, approximately one in five students does not graduate high school with his or her peers; of those who do, many are not fully prepared for college and career success. Nationally, high school graduation rates are increasing, but not nearly as quickly as they need to be. By participating in ConnectED, AT&T can use technology and innovative programs to support teachers and help students achieve.

To learn more about the initiative, visit the ConnectED homepage on whitehouse.gov or att.com/csr.

Engaging In Communities

As part of our long-standing commitment to educate and empower consumers, AT&T works directly with communities and key organizations to advance digital literacy and online safety awareness.

Digital You

In August 2015, AT&T launched Digital You, an initiative to provide tips, tools and information to help consumers get online safely and securely.

Digital You Online Resources

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.

AT&T also supported the launch of Common Sense Media’s Digital Compass app, a free animated gaming platform, developed with middle schoolers in mind and designed to teach valuable digital citizenship skills.

Community Training

AT&T has a long history of working with local and national organizations to train people to get the most out of technology. As with the Digital You website, the trainings cover topics ranging from technology basics to how to combat cyberbullying and are designed for people of all ages. The Digital You program has brought trainings to new communities throughout the country and over the course of just a few months these trainings have reached thousands of Americans. This expands on the tens of thousands of consumers who have experienced AT&T-supported trainings over the past decade.

The OASIS Institute

In addition to the Digital You trainings, AT&T is helping to narrow the technology skills gap for older adults by supporting the OASIS Institute’s Connections program. AT&T’s support enables OASIS to continue expansion of the Connections technology training program, update curriculum and increase workplace skills training to help older adults gain valuable job skills. OASIS Connections job training programs are currently offered in 49 cities across 26 states on a variety of topics from smartphone use to using tablets. AT&T retail employee volunteers also provided hands-on instruction to more than 900 older adults at many of these sessions. 

AARP TEK Program

In October, AARP announced that it was expanding its 2015 AARP TEK Program, a series of free, live workshops aimed at helping close the technology gap among people 50-plus. With support from AT&T the program is expanding to eight new cities and eleven locations overall, where people learn to leverage personal technology to enrich their lives.

AARP TEK (Technology Education and Knowledge) launched in 2014 and includes hands-on workshops as well as the AARP TEK Academy, which is a free, easy-to-use online classroom. Both are open to anyone, including but not limited to AARP members, and are designed to allow Americans to connect with people and passions in their lives using technology.

AARP TEK workshops are aimed at empowering people 50-plus to increase their digital literacy by teaching them the skills and giving them the confidence they need to use technology that is transforming the way information is found, business is conducted and people connect with one another.

Relaunching Tech Centers with LULAC

Through the “Empower Hispanic America with Technology” program, LULAC has established the nation’s largest Latino network of technology centers. This year AT&T worked with LULAC to revamp and upgrade 7 LULAC technology centers in Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Florida, Illinois and Missouri. The initiative seeks to enhance community technology centers in existing locations that serve Hispanic communities by providing high-speed Internet access and up-to-date computer and networking equipment.

The AT&T-provided upgrades to these LULAC technology centers include computer equipment, office applications software and technology curriculum in addition to tech support. Visitors to these centers will have access to the types of technology and equipment they need to help complete school work, prepare for college or get the skills they need for a new job.

Conclusion

It will take a collaborative approach between the public and private sector and smart public policy to continue connecting more rural and unserved areas to the benefits of high-speed Internet.

The economics of building and expanding high-speed Internet to often sparsely populated rural and unserved areas are challenging. The most effective way to keep pace with consumer needs in rural areas and to connect the unconnected will be for the public sector and private sector to continue working together.

To that end, government policies, at all levels, should 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 they 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 by 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.  

1 Efforts are contingent on FCC e-rate compliance requirements, and federal, state, and municipal procurement frameworks that will not prohibit or extend these types of initiatives. Eligible school locations will be subject to network congestion, availability, and performance criteria.

2 NDN and New Policy Institute. The Employment Effects of Advances in Internet and Wireless Technology: Evaluating the Transitions from 2G to 3G and from 3G to 4G.http://ndn.org/blog/2012/01/ndnnpi-releases-new-paper-employment-effects-advances-internet-and-wireless-technology.

3 UnitedHealth, Center for Health Reform & Modernization, “Modernizing Rural Health Care: Coverage, quality and innovation.” July 2011

4 Ibid

5 The Alliance for Excellent Education. http://www.all4ed.org/files/RuralHSReportChallengesOpps.pdf.

6 Efforts are contingent on FCC e-rate compliance requirements, and federal, state, and municipal procurement frameworks that will not prohibit or extend these types of initiatives. Eligible school locations will be subject to network congestion, availability, and performance criteria.

Updated on: Nov 17, 2016

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