Here’s who is leading AT&T’s quest for broadband grants

AT&T CEO John Stankey revealed the operator has set up a dedicated internal team to focus on chasing its fair share of the billions in government funding being allocated for broadband deployments.

An operator representative told Fierce that effort is being led by President of Broadband Access and Adoption Jeff Luong. Luong has been with AT&T for more than 15 years, assuming his current role in June 2021. Before that, he spent five years as the operator’s VP of access construction and engineering, his LinkedIn profile shows.

In a recent conversation with Fierce, AT&T EVP of Technology Operations Chris Sambar said the operator has already identified well over $1 billion in prime grant opportunities, but said its assessment remains ongoing. He added there’s no limit to the amount of funding AT&T will apply for.

A key funding pot up for grabs is the $42.45 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program which is set to be distributed through state grant programs. Speaking during an investor day event last week, Stankey said it expects more clarity will emerge in the coming months about "exactly how that gets done" as the Federal Communications Commission completes new coverage maps which will determine what areas are eligible for funding. 

But Stankey said Luong’s team is “actually already out bidding on opportunities that have come under other federal government-sponsored programs or state programs." He stated AT&T is already seeing some early payoff from its efforts. “We've had some success in the last couple of months around that, where we've been able to pick up a couple of build areas,” the CEO told investors. “In fact, our win rate is looking a little bit better than what we would have expected it to be.”

The operator representative pointed to recent contract awards from Vanderburgh County, Indiana and the Rincon Tribe in Southern California as examples of these wins. The former is a nearly $40 million public-private partnership to deliver fiber coverage to more than 20,000 locations, while the latter is a partnership designed to provide coverage to 400 locations on tribal lands.

AT&T previously laid out plans to double its fiber footprint to 30 million locations by 2025. During the investor day event, executives said it plans to pass between 3.5 million and 4 million new locations each year.

But Stankey noted its expansion guidance doesn’t include any assumptions about its success in broadband subsidy programs. “It's entirely possible as we get through this – to Pascal's point on success-based capital – that we might come back in and tell you, we've been successful and we're going to do some more.”

Analysts at Wells Fargo Securities led by Eric Luebchow picked up on this. They predicted the operator will “ultimately end up at ~40MM locations passed, as the guide does not include any builds subsidized from the infrastructure bill or other federal funds.”