AT&T, Gigapower plan to chase BEAD funding – CFO

Four months have passed since AT&T and BlackRock launched their Gigapower fiber joint venture, with projects spanning a handful of states thus far.

As for whether the JV plans to tap into Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding, AT&T CFO Pascal Desroches said it’s a safe bet but stressed the importance of targeting those funds in “areas that make sense for us.”

“I think it’s fair to say both Gigapower and us will be bidding on BEAD funding,” he said at a Bank of America investor conference Thursday. “It’s a great opportunity to really help bridge the digital divide.”

Gigapower aims to expand fiber outside of AT&T’s footprint. Its goal is to reach an initial target of 1.5 million passings, though AT&T has indicated that number could grow depending on how successful the JV is.

“The way we’re thinking about it is no different than we think about overall business. It’s about trying to make sure that we are bidding and winning bids in  the areas that make sense for us,” Desroches continued. “We are not getting dollars for the sake of getting dollars. We want to make sure we can get an appropriate return on those.”

While he didn’t provide specifics on how the Gigapower build is progressing, Desroches said AT&T so far “couldn’t be more pleased with how things are going,” even though the JV is still in its early days.

FWA a “perfectly fine catch product”

Asked where AT&T stands on fixed wireless access (FWA), Desroches said the company in the last few years has argued the long-term cost of providing bandwidth through FWA is “much higher” than with a traditional fixed line.

“I think as you’ve seen it evolve the last two years, we were right in that regard and our competitors are being much more measured than they were a couple of years ago,” he said.

Having said that, Desroches noted there are some places “where it makes a lot of sense” to deploy FWA.

“There are homes that we’re going to ultimately get to with fiber, that fixed wireless may be a perfectly fine catch product,” he said, explaining that’s the logic behind AT&T’s Internet Air 5G home internet offering, which launched a few weeks ago.

Desroched added fixed wireless is also “a fine option” for areas with low population density and where AT&T has enough power capacity.

However, he reiterated “our priority is fiber.”