In 2011, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission unveiled the Connect America Fund, a plan that overhauled the $8 billion federal budget set aside for rural and low-income phone customers. AT&T was among the internet providers that agreed to expand coverage area in exchange for funding and made good on its promise this week.
On Tuesday, AT&T said that it had completed an initial network rollout in Georgia. Residents are guaranteed speeds of “at least” 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream on a one-year, $60 per month LTE plan, and DirecTV and smartphone plan subscribers get a $10-a-month discount.
“AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet service is a great example of the innovative thinking necessary to bring high-speed internet to rural and under-served communities,” Betsy Huber, president of the National Grange, said in a statement. “When you consider that farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents are also small business owners, the need for high-speed internet becomes obvious. This is a milestone for communications services for rural and small-town America.”
AT&T’s expansion is a step in the right direction, but it is not perfect. The service’s speed falls below the 25Mbps/3Mbps threshold that the FCC currently defines as broadband, and usage is capped at 160GB — overage fees start at $10 for every 50GB of data past the limit, up to a maximum of $200 a month. And the Georgia site represents just a fraction of the 400,000 locations of sites AT&T plans to by the end of 2017.
That said, AT&T is making slow but steady progress. It will expand coverage to rural parts of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin this year. And it plans to expand coverage to 1.1 million locations by 2020.
“Access to the internet is an important tool for advancing opportunities in communities. It creates economic growth, helps increase community engagement, and makes education accessible,” Eric Boyer, senior vice president of AT&T’s wireless and wired product marketing, said in a statement. “We’re committed to utilizing available technologies to connect hard-to-reach locations.”
AT&T is one of 10 carriers that accepted $1.5 billion from the FCC. The agency’s current plan calls for an expansion of broadband connectivity to the nearly 7.3 million consumers in 45 states over a six-year period, building on an earlier effort that used funding to expand broadband to over 637,000 homes and businesses.
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