Bill Eberhardt: AT&T merger with DirecTV helps close digital divide

In the State of the Union, President Barack Obama outlined his plan to unleash the power of broadband service to all Americans and the economic rewards expanded broadband service will secure. As outlined in a report released by the White House, “affordable, reliable access to high speed broadband is critical to US economic growth and competitiveness.”  The proposed merger of AT&T with DirecTV represents a huge advance towards the president’s goal.  As part of the proposed plan to acquire DirecTV, AT&T has committed to expand its broadband services to 15 million customers, particularly in underserved rural areas, using a combination of fiber and wireless technologies.

Today, residents in urban areas are three times more likely to have access to higher-speed broadband than rural residents. “As broadband needs increase, we cannot tolerate the broadband digital divide getting larger,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a recent speech to startup incubator 1776. According to report by Information Age investments in wireless broadband infrastructure have the potential to yield significant and rapid increases in employment and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These opportunities should be made available to all Americans.

Not only would this merger positively impact economic prospects for rural consumers, it could also benefit employees of DirecTV. Since AT&T allows their workers to join unions, DirecTV employees could be afforded the same opportunity should this merger proceed. That one fact alone represents a tremendous advancement in the lives of thousands of workers and should be recognized throughout the debate around this merger.

Florida’s rural residents, businesses, consumers and employees will benefit when the merger leads to billions of dollars in investments in fiber and wireless broadband networks and opportunities for workers across the country.  It is the necessary next-step to bringing true broadband service to all of Florida. It is the economic lifeline our residents and businesses need.

Bill Eberhardt is the North and Central Florida representative for the Communications Workers of America. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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