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AT&T CEO calls for Big Tech contribution to subsidize telecom services

In a statement made on Monday, AT&T CEO John Stankey urged Congress to empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to mandate financial contributions from major technology firms towards the USF, a government fund that subsidizes telecom and broadband services.

Stankey’s comments were made during a telecom industry forum held in Utah, highlighting a growing debate over who should bear the costs of expanding and maintaining internet infrastructure, reported Reuters.

Under current legislation, the Universal Service Fund (USF) is sustained by fees levied on subscribers of cell phone and landline services. This fund, which collects approximately $8 billion annually through surcharges on telephone bills, is crucial for ensuring that low-income consumers, schools, libraries, and rural healthcare providers have access to essential telecommunications services. However, Stankey argues that the burden of funding these services should not fall solely on telecom customers.

“The seven largest and most profitable companies in the world built their franchises on the internet and the infrastructure we provide,” Stankey remarked. “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?”

The AT&T CEO added to a call for Big Tech to contribute to the USF which has gained new momentum following the depletion of a separate government broadband internet subsidy program in May. This program, which had benefitted 23 million households, ran out of funds after Congress declined a White House request to allocate an additional $6 billion. Since its inception in 2020, the program had received $17 billion to assist lower-income families and those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in securing affordable internet access.

Several legislative proposals are currently under consideration in Congress to address this funding challenge. These proposals aim to extend the responsibility of contributing to the USF to both technology companies and broadband providers. Advocates argue that this shift is necessary to maintain and expand access to critical digital services in an increasingly connected world. Reuters

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