Large broadband providers pass up stimulus funding

Three of the four largest broadband providers in the U.S. say they will not apply for broadband deployment stimulus funding from the U.S. government, and a fourth said it is unlikely to apply as the deadline for the first round of funding nears.

Representatives of AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable all said late this week that their companies will not apply for broadband deployment funding approved in a huge economic stimulus package passed early this year. In addition, representatives of Verizon Communications and Verizon Wireless said it was unlikely that they would apply for stimulus funding.

The US$7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funding was pushed by U.S. President Barack Obama and several consumer groups in an effort to provide universal access to broadband across the country. The first round of funding, in which the application deadline has been extended from Friday to Aug. 20, will distribute about $4 billion in deployment grants and loans, with awards scheduled for November.

Representatives of some of the companies did not respond when asked why they would not apply. But AT&T, in a statement, said the company has "closely examined the current rules and, as others have expressed, [has] concerns about the complexity and uncertainty they create for grant applicants."

"AT&T remains supportive of the federal government’s effort to fund greater broadband deployment and adoption throughout the states," the company said in the statement. "In fact, we applaud any initiatives that will ultimately result in the creation of a national broadband strategy with the goal of 100 percent broadband availability and a 100 percent broadband take-rate. AT&T is already making significant broadband investments."

In July, USTelecom, a trade group that counts AT&T and Verizon among its members, sent letters to the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS) about the requirements the two agencies will include with the grants. The letters raised particular concern about net neutrality rules, saying the NTIA's rules create "broad, new and open-ended nondiscrimination and interconnection requirements" beyond what's required by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.