The two public private partnerships that AT&T has announced in Indiana, including one expected with the City of Boonville, could be the first of many, said Jeff Luong, AT&T president for broadband access and adoption initiatives, in an interview with Telecompetitor.
“We’re having discussions with communities across the country,” said Luong.
Today’s announced agreement with Boonville, contingent on funding approval by the city and a final contract, comes just a few months after AT&T inked a private partnership with neighboring Vanderburgh County. The plan is for AT&T to make fiber broadband available to 4,000 locations in Boonville.
Luong confirmed that the $4.4 million Boonville project will be funded, in part, by the city and in part by AT&T but declined to specify the percentage of the project cost that will be covered by either party.
He did say, though, that the city will not need to issue bonds or tax residents to obtain its portion of the funding. He noted that communities nationwide now have funding that was made available to them through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery program created in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and through other federal funding programs already established or in the planning phase.
States and local communities are allowed to use the ARPA funding allocated to them for a variety of purposes, including broadband, and some communities are choosing the broadband option.
Boonville is in a rural area where AT&T would not have been able to justify the investment to deploy fiber were it not for additional funding provided by the city, Luong said. AT&T is the incumbent telco in Boonville but has not deployed fiber broadband there.
Although some public-private broadband partnerships call for the community to recover its investment through part ownership of the network or through a revenue sharing agreement, Luong said AT&T doesn’t like to offer those options.
“What we’re trying to advocate is to keep it simple,” he said. “The more complicated it is, the harder it is to implement. It gets to the point where the cost of administering and managing” the relationship is too costly, he said.
Perhaps it’s not important for a community to recoup its portion of a project cost if the funds used came to the community through a federal program. And as Luong noted, “Every community in the country got some funding.”
He added, though, that the federal funding will only be available for a few years and represents a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.
Unsurprisingly, he said, “We want to work with partners that want to have an impact quickly.”
The network in Boonville is expected to be completed within 18 months and to support speeds up to 5 Gbps symmetrically.