Reversing its previous policy of trying to block municipal broadband projects, AT&T now says it is eager to work with more municipalities to support the deployment of gigabit broadband access. That would fulfill its commitment to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase its fiber footprint, which was a condition of AT&T’s buying DirecTV (see below). For residential broadband, fiber to the home (AT&Ts GigaPower) is only in selected greenfield deployments and in cities where Google Fiber has been announced and/or is commercially available as per this map.
During a Light Reading Gigabit Cities Live conference Q &A, Vanessa Harrison, president of AT&T’s North Carolina operation said the U.S. mega-carrier favors projects that build on existing company assets. According to Light Reading’s Carol Wilson, Ms. Harrison said that AT&T likes to be invited to participate as a private company in municipal fiber-to-the-premises networks, either by a city or county government that is clear on what it needs and expects from a fiber network operator.
“We look for areas that demonstrate a demand, where there is infrastructure that is in our traditional service territory — where we can expand our facilities, enhance our facilities and deploy new facilities. And we also look for adoptability — areas where it is easy to adopt,” Ms. Harrison said.
AT&T’s Fiber Build-Out Promise to FCC:
Under the FCC’s terms of approval for the DirecTV acquisition, AT&T agreed to build out fiber to 12.5 million homes nationwide and is doing that across its existing footprint. North Carolina is home to seven cities on the AT&T GigaPower roadmap, some of which pre-date the DirecTV deal, and that’s in part because the state has long had policies that encourage private investment, Harrison said.
More recently, the public-private partnership North Carolina Next-Generation Network (NCNGN) brought together six municipalities and four major universities that invited private operators to compete to provide a gigabit network, and chose AT&T as their network operator. That’s the kind of public-private partnership invitation that AT&T likes, because it clearly spells out what the local communities need. Communication between potential partners is one of the most important factors, according to Ms. Harrison.
“We look to come to the table and say, ‘Here are the facilities we have. How can we partner together to meet your need?” she said. It’s important for communities to do their own needs assessment and know what they are looking for in a fiber network, and also what resources an operator is expected to bring to the effort.
“Deploying fiber is a big job and it takes a lot of time, and a lot of resources including a number of employees,” she noted.
It’s important that the municipality’s needs be clear upfront, so expectations can be correctly set, but the city must also recognize its responsibilities. That includes the ability to issue permits in a timely fashion, for example, which can create stresses on staff municipal departments.
Note that AT&T GigaPower has been available in Huntersville, NC to residential and small business customers since October 2015.
On March 15th, North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to borrow $2 billion to pay for a laundry list of infrastructure projects, collectively known as Connect NC. Almost half of the bond money is intended for projects within the UNC System, and another $350 million is for the community college system.
In a co-authored editorial in the February 22nd News & Observer, AT&T’s Vanessa Harrison wrote:
“The bond package will support new research, technology and innovation across all of our universities and community colleges……The investments in our state from Connect NC are critical to sustained economic growth and continued success in our global economy. Connect NC investments will benefit all North Carolinians. Whether you are an alum of North Carolina’s university or community college system, have or had a child in the system, or simply want our state to have the best-skilled workforce in the country, you will benefit from Connect NC.”