Lawmakers worry AT&T could use USF funds for LTE buildout

Congressional aides are concerned AT&T (NYSE:T) could use Universal Service Fund money to meet the LTE buildout goals the company outlined as part of its proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA.

The USF funds likely are going to be just one of many issues that come up tomorrow at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the deal, the first of several such hearings Congress is expected to conduct this year. AT&T has argued that it will not need USF funds to meet its commitment to deliver LTE coverage to more than 97 percent of the U.S. population, covering an additional 55 million more Americans than AT&T's current LTE plans.

A spokesman for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said the senator was worried that AT&T could USF funds to fulfill its LTE goals, according to The Hill. Likewise, Senate Republicans also are concerned about the issue.

AT&T brushed back the questions. "Our commitment to bring broadband to an additional 55 million Americans is not contingent on the receipt of USF money," Joan Marsh, AT&T's federal regulatory vice president, told The Hill. While not ruling out the idea that USF money could help the buildout, she said it would be "speculative" to talk about the details at this point.

The concerns come just as the FCC is in the middle of reforming the $8 billion USF program to transform a fund that was intended to help pay for the deployment of telecommunications services in rural America into one that is more focused on broadband deployment. The USF reforms are expected to hurt rural wireless carriers by reducing payments they have received from the fund. However, that might be offset by money from the Mobility Fund, which the FCC proposed last year to fund mobile broadband deployments in rural areas.

For more:
- see this The Hill article
- see this Politico article

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