AT&T thinks that internet-based technology giants should contribute to a fund that subsidizes access to telecoms and broadband services in the US, and wants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to force them to do so.

Speaking at a telecoms industry forum in Utah, AT&T chief John Stankey said that Congress should give the FCC the power to require Big Tech firms to contribute to the Universal Service Fund (USF), according to Reuters.

The USF is designed to subsidize access to telecommunications and services such as high-speed internet for consumers living in rural or on low incomes, paid for through contributions from providers of telecomms services.

In practice, the USF spends about $8 billion a year, currently collected from surcharges on telephone bills, while consumer communications increasingly revolves around the internet.

“The seven largest and most profitable companies in the world built their franchises on the internet and the infrastructure we provide,” Stankey is reported as saying, adding: “Why shouldn’t they participate in ensuring affordable and equitable access to the services of today that are just as indispensable as the phone lines of yesteryear?”

The company’s EVP for Federal Regulatory Relations Rhonda Johnson made the same point in a posting on AT&T’s blog last week, so this appears to be something it is gearing up to campaign for.

“USF’s current system is broken,” she said. “And with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) funding at an end, now is the time to find a sustainable and effective way to truly provide universal service – one that includes a revitalized ACP – for all Americans.

The ACP offered eligible US households a discount of up to $30 a month on internet service or up to $75 per month for eligible households on qualifying tribal lands, but April was the last full month of funding for the program.

ACP had received $17 billion from Congress since 2020, but Efforts by the White House to secure an additional $6 billion were unsuccessful, Reuters said.

Johnson states that AT&T continues to advocate for the reinstatement of the ACP, but that the US Congress should seize this opportunity to reinstate a revitalized ACP by combining it with reforms to the USF.

“Americans today rely on innovative and modern products, services, and platforms to communicate. But the current USF funding model explicitly relies on revenue from those older, legacy products and services for support,” she claims. “As these legacy products and services fall more deeply into existential decline, the USF funding burden increases for those customers still using them.”

Not surprisingly, AT&T thinks the answer is to make those Big Tech companies cough up.

“Our digital ecosystem is thriving thanks to Americans’ ability to get online. Tech companies – like Meta and Google – that utilize consumer broadband connections to offer their broadband-enabled services have seen astronomical benefit because Americans are online,” Johnson states.

“These tech companies should also contribute to a reformed fund that helps to ensure broadband continues to be universally accessible by supporting that connectivity. It’s our collective responsibility to keep America connected.”

There are several current proposals in Congress to require tech companies and broadband providers to contribute to the fund, Reuters said.

Similar proposals were floated in the European Union to make Big Tech should contribute to the cost of the networks that carry its traffic, but a consultation apparently found little enthusiasm for the idea. ®

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *