AT&T wants Big Tech firms to pay into telecom and broadband subsidy fund

FILE PHOTO: An AT&T logo is pictured in Pasadena

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -AT&T CEO John Stankey said on Monday that Congress should give the Federal Communications Commission the power to require Big Tech firms to contribute to a government fund that subsidizes access to telecom and broadband services.

Under current law, fees are levied on cell phone and landline service subscribers to support the Universal Service Fund, which spends about $8 billion a year - nearly all collected from surcharges on telephone bills.

"The seven largest and most profitable companies in the world built their franchises on the internet and the infrastructure we provide," Stankey said in remarks at a telecom industry forum in Utah.

"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 issue has taken on new urgency since a government broadband internet subsidy program used by 23 million households ran out of money in May and shut down after the White House unsuccessfully urged Congress to dedicate another $6 billion.

Since 2020, Congress had allocated a total of $17 billion to help lower-income families and people impacted by COVID get free or low-cost internet.

The Universal Service Fund provides funding to help low-income consumers, schools, libraries and rural health care providers to get access to telephone or broadband internet service.

There are several proposals in Congress to require tech companies and broadband providers to contribute to the fund.

Facebook's parent, Meta, and Google did not immediately comment.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese and Kevin Liffey)