During today’s company quarterly earnings call, AT&T CEO John Stankey offered subtle hints about AT&T’s potential participation in broadband infrastructure funding programs. But he wasn’t coy about presenting AT&T as a good partner with the states, who will be key in doling out billions in funding.
AT&T was proud to report its fiber broadband progress this quarter, having added 316K net new fiber subscribers in 2Q22. AT&T now has fiber to 18 million locations and reports a 37% penetration where it is available.
Since fiber technology is seen as the most favorable (although not exclusive) technology for programs like BEAD and the U.S. Treasury Capital Fund program, Stankey was quick to point out AT&T’s “street cred” if you will with regards to fiber.
“I would point out there is no company that’s building 2 million connected locations of fiber in six months like we are, we are scaling in a way that no one else is,” said Stankey on today’s call. “I think at the end of the day, states that care about somebody who is reputable, that can execute, that has a mature supply chain and the scale to, should make us very competitive for this money.”
States are playing a determining role in how broadband funding is being distributed, so AT&T will have to concentrate efforts at the state level to participate if it chooses to do so.
Unlike its cable competitor Charter, AT&T hasn’t been very aggressive in pursuing government funding for broadband expansion. But there are glimpses. The company has made a few public-private partnership announcements recently, particularly in Indiana.
But with tens of billions of additional broadband infrastructure funding becoming available over the next few years, primarily through the BEAD program, AT&T may change its stance.
“I think we should be a very qualified partner to work with government on that,” Stankey said. “I’m optimistic that we can avail ourselves to some of that money.”
If it is serious, AT&T may need to step up these lobbying efforts. There is opposition to giving large national traditional carriers like AT&T funding of this sort. Even some of the rules for these funding programs appear to give a nod to other local providers like municipals, cooperatives, and public private partnerships.
For his part, Stankey said he doesn’t see a material financial impact to AT&T coming anytime soon, should they decide to go after broadband infrastructure funding in any serious way. He doesn’t see significant money flowing until late 2023 at the earliest.