AT&T will offer cheap Internet to food-stamp recipients if the Federal Communications Commission approves the telecom company's big acquisition of DirecTV.
In a regulatory filing, AT&T says it's prepared to make two plans available to low-income consumers. The first would provide speeds of up to 5 megabits per second (or roughly half as fast as the current national average) for $10 a month. After the first 12 months, that price would rise to $20 a month.
The other plan would be offered in places where AT&T lacks the infrastructure to provide faster speeds. In those areas, poorer Americans would be able to buy a 1.5 Mbps plan starting at $5 a month for the first 12 months. At that point, the price would increase to $10 a month.
AT&T says it would commit to offering the discounts for four years, at which point the subsidies would expire. To take advantage of the deal, applicants would have to prove each year that they qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for U.S. government food stamps.
The proposal looks a lot like another discount Internet access program, run by Comcast, known as Internet Essentials — one difference being that eligibility would be tied to food stamps. Eligibility for Internet Essentials is tied to families with school-aged children who qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.
This isn't the only "condition" that AT&T would likely agree to in order to soothe any regulatory concerns that the DirecTV deal could be anti-competitive. The company is expected to abide by key parts of the FCC's net neutrality rules, and consumer advocates have been pushing for AT&T to agree to sell a standalone Internet plan for cord-cutters who don't want a traditional TV bundle. AT&T has volunteered to sell such a service, at 6 Mbps, for $34.95 a month.
Regulators are expected to approve AT&T's massive acquisition of DirecTV any day now. But as the filing suggests, negotiations with federal officials are seemingly going down to the wire.