The Digital Divide is Real. AT&T Commits $2 Billion To Bridge the Broadband Connectivity Gap

Over the next three years, the Dallas-headquartered company plans to help more Americans get connected through a three-pronged plan.

AT&T is building on its past $1 billion contribution by committing an additional $2 billion to support the nation’s most vulnerable communities.

The media giant is hoping to bring broadband connectivity to more Americans through its renewed commitment as millions of people continue to live without it. Through educational resources, affordable internet opportunities, and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), AT&T plans to help close the digital divide over the next three years.

“We believe that broadband connectivity is essential for all Americans,” John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, said in a statement.

Bridging the gap

The first part of AT&T’s three-pronged plan to help more Americans get connected is focused on members of the educational community.

AT&T has been offering discounted solutions to over 135,000 schools, colleges, and universities and plans to continue to do so. On top of this, AT&T has increased its efforts by addressing education inequality for the nearly 17 million students who don’t have internet connectivity, according to a statement. 

“The digital divide in America is real and the challenges are being magnified during the pandemic,” Will Townsend, senior analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said in a statement. “Many have to scramble to find Wi-Fi hotspots to support critical activities such as telemedicine sessions and distance learning.”

AT&T also plans to build on its Access from AT&T program, which offers affordable internet services for $10 or less a month for qualifying households. Hundreds of Americans already use the program, which comes with free in-home Wi-Fi and no contract or installation fees, according to a statement.

AT&T plans to expand this program by partnering with government policymakers to make sure funding is available to keep these options affordable.

“As we work to remedy existing gaps in internet access and overcome the challenges associated with connecting every single American to broadband service, we celebrate the efforts of AT&T and others working hard to help close the digital divide,” Linda Ng, National President of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, said in a statement. “This kind of sustained industry engagement will be indispensable for getting families, students, educators, and others in communities with the most urgent need online.”

The third part of AT&T’s plan stems from the Federal Emergency Broadband Benefit, which allows eligible customers to temporarily make their monthly broadband costs lower. The FCC program allows for over 30 million eligible households and those on Tribal lands to receive an additional subsidy, according to a statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the broadband challenges we have been fighting to resolve for years,” Marc Morial, President and CEO of National Urban League, said in a statement. “We applaud AT&T’s recent efforts to ensure that all people—and especially historically unserved and underserved communities—can access affordable, reliable broadband internet.”

Through the EBB, some customers’ monthly costs could go down to $0.

“The EBB is a great first step in addressing affordability in the short term. We continue to encourage Congress to work on more permanent solutions with sustainable funding so that all Americans can have access to affordable broadband,” Stankey said.

Advocating for all Americans

Along with contributing its own efforts, AT&T is also advocating for public policies that would help eliminate the digital divide. Last week, AT&T and almost 50 advocacy organizations, companies, and nonprofit groups came together to create principles for Congress and the Biden Administration as it works on American Job Plan specifics. 

AT&T states it “urged policy makers to enact sustainable, effective broadband policies that have proven to build the most resilient broadband networks, create jobs and empower opportunities for all Americans.”

Launching AT&T Connected Learning

With over 70 percent of parents and teachers thinking the traditional classroom learning environment will rely more heavily on technology after the pandemic, according to a Morning Consult survey, AT&T is creating AT&T Connected Learning to combat this. The program also plans to address learning loss, narrow the homework gap, and create educational content.

To do this, AT&T is launching 20 AT&T Connected Learning Centers this year, creating a digital learning platform with WarnerMedia, and providing a curated collection of digital literacy courses in partnership with the Public Library Association (PLA).

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