Under FCC pressure, AT&T promises $10 broadband for poor

Starting next Summer, any household enrolled in the Federal food assistance program (“SNAP”) in AT&T’s wireline service territory will have the chance to get pretty decent broadband Internet service for $10 a month.

That’s one of the commitments AT&T made to the Federal Communications Commission in order to win approval for its acquisition of DirectTV, finalized in an Opinion and Order handed down on July 24:

Within nine (9) months of the Closing Date, the Company shall establish and commence a program to substantially increase broadband adoption in low-income households throughout AT&T’s wireline footprint (the “Discounted Broadband Services Program”).

a. The Company shall offer wireline Broadband Internet Access Service with download speeds of at least 10 Mbps, where technically available, to qualifying households in the Company’s wireline footprint for no more than $10 per month. If 10 Mbps wireline Broadband Internet Access Service is not technically available, the Company shall offer wireline Broadband Internet Access Service with download speeds of at least 5 Mbps, where technically available, to qualifying households in the Company’s wireline footprintfor no more than $10 per month.

b. Where AT&T has deployed broadband service at top speeds below 5 Mbps, the Company shall offer wireline Broadband Internet Access Service at speeds of at least 3 Mbps, where technically available, to qualifying households in the Company’s wireline footprint for no more than $5 per month.

c. Qualifying households are those where at least one individual participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), subject to annual recertification, and that do not have outstanding debt for AT&T’s Fixed Broadband Internet Access Services that was incurred within the six (6) months prior to the individual’s request for services under the Discounted Broadband Services Program or that is incurred for services provided under the Discounted Broadband Services Program and that is subject to the Company’s ordinary debt collection procedures.

d. The Company shall offer the discounts set forth in this condition for at least four (4) years from the commencement of the Discounted Broadband Services Program. Qualifying households who sign up for the Discounted Broadband Services Program in the fourth year of the Discounted Broadband Services Program shall remain eligible for at least twelve (12) months.

e. Qualifying households shall not be required to pay any installation or modem charges or fees in order to participate in the Discounted Broadband Services Program.

This final plan — now a legally binding condition of the AT&T/DirectTV merger — is a much-strengthened version of a proposal AT&T first submitted to the FCC after meeting with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn on June 30 and learning of her “desire to see the combined AT&T/DIRECTV offer an affordable, lower-priced, standalone broadband service to low-income consumers in AT&T’s wireline footprint.” Apparently Clyburn and her colleagues wanted more out of the last-minute horse-trading… and they got it.

The discount plan has the potential to help millions of poor households get on line all across AT&T’s far-flung wireline (i.e. conventional phone and UVerse) service territories, including Cleveland and Detroit.

SNAP (formerly “Food Stamps”) is generally available to households with gross incomes below 130% of the Federal poverty level.  According to the most recent County report, there are about 140,000 households receiving SNAP benefits in Cuyahoga County alone,  It’s possible that this total includes more half of all households in the city of Cleveland.

In a comment for a Plain Dealer story about the AT&T plan that appeared online today, CYC 2.0 Director Bill Callahan gave this appraisal:

$10-a-month broadband for SNAP households could seriously help community efforts to get all our neighbors on line. It could make real Internet access affordable for  thousands of low-income Cleveland households — to get to job opportunities, education tools, health and civic information that are now beyond their reach.  But that depends on how well AT&T implements the plan, how well the FCC oversees it, and whether they’ll work with communities to create the grassroots training and support needed for its success.  We’re cautiously optimistic.

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