AT&T is working overtime in Florida to expand rural broadband, reported The Capitolist. As lawmakers finalize the state’s Broadband Opportunity Program, which will award millions of dollars in grants to broadband providers, critics question AT&T’s motives when it comes to the current broadband infrastructure push. Recently, AT&T had been reprimanded by administrators in Mississippi for their underperformance in building out broadband in their state.
The Capitolist reported that seven lobbying firms representing AT&T appeared before lawmakers recently, aiming to influence rules and regulations, including the wording of HB 753 that will establish a regulatory structure for the grant money. Florida’s share of federal grant money available in 2021 is $121 million.
Grant money is contingent on providers meeting certain criteria and delivering connectivity, which has put AT&T under a microscope. Inside Towers reported last October that Mississippi’s Public Service Commission filed a complaint with the FCC, alleging AT&T took over $283 million from the federal Connect America Fund II but failed to deploy the required broadband service in the state.
The complaint alleged that the provider submitted incorrect data regarding the availability of its internet service. In a statement released by Mississippi Commissioner Brandon Presley, the state’s “investigation has revealed a wide array of inconsistencies in what AT&T advertises as available and what actually exists.”
In response, an attorney for AT&T called the complaint “unfounded.” The issues were blamed on isolated instances of terrain or ground clutter that prevented AT&T’s equipment from functioning properly or preventing broadband installation altogether, reported The Capitolist.
However, earlier in 2020, AT&T admitted that it supplied false broadband coverage data to the FCC, impacting 20 states, including Florida. The data initially showed that AT&T had delivered broadband to rural areas that were impossible to reach with its technology. Additionally, the carrier had already accepted a federal subsidy payment to deploy broadband to those areas.
Regarding additional broadband legislation in the state, Florida lawmakers are also working on two utility pole attachment bills — HB 1239 and HB 1567 — which could impact rural broadband deployment and place regulations into the Florida Public Service Commission’s hands instead of the FCC.