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AT&T CEO: Big tech should pay its fair share

A major U.S. communications company continues to call on Big Tech to support a federal subsidy program that keeps millions of Americans connected to the internet.

“The seven largest and most profitable companies in the world built their franchises on the internet and the infrastructure we provide,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey. “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.”

Stankey, speaking in Utah on Monday according to a report by Reuters, was referring to the Federal Communications Commission’s $8.1 billion Universal Service Fund created in 1996 to ensure access to affordable communications service nationwide.

In 2023, the USF spent $4.3 billion to subsidize broadband in high-cost rural areas, $2.4 billion to connect schools and libraries, and $869.8 million to assist 7.3 million low-income participants in the Lifeline broadband program, according to that year’s annual report by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which runs the USF for the FCC.

USF is funded by fees on legacy communications services, such as phone calls.

Stankey called on Congress to alleviate the telecom industry’s burden by giving the FCC power to collect revenue from tech companies that provide services over the internet.

Under current FCC rules, broadband ISPs have not been required to contribute revenue to the USF. Last Friday, the Affordable Broadband Campaign and WTA ‒ Advocates for Rural Broadband filed a petition urging the FCC to eliminate that exemption. AT&T ended the first quarter with 15.3 million internet subscribers.

Last Wednesday, Rhonda Johnson, AT&T executive vice president of federal regulatory relations, published a blog that specifically named Google and Facebook parent Meta as companies that benefit significantly from connectivity and should therefore be included in the USF contribution base.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has spoken out against using broadband revenue toward the USF because of a potential rise in monthly bills.

In a January letter to Congress, Rosenworcel estimated that consumer broadband bills could increase from $5.28 to $17.96 per month. Broadband Breakfast

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