AT&T Inc. CEO John Stankey aims to help close digital divide by expanding fiber and wireless networks, while also investing in Downtown Dallas HQ

Gloria Salinas, Vice President, Economic Development

In July 2020, during the vast digital shift created by the global pandemic, John Stankey assumed the role of CEO at AT&T Inc. The former president and chief operating officer’s experience spans 35 years across nearly every area within AT&T, the 11th largest company on the Fortune 500 list.

Stankey and his management team have made several strategic decisions recently around the structure of AT&T including securing a deal with Discovery Inc. to acquire WarnerMedia so that each company could have its own capital structure that would allow investors to pick where they wanted to be.

“We have done a lot of things in this business over the last couple of years that we felt were instrumental to positioning the company for the future,” Stankey said at a Thursday, August 26 Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) Board of Advisors virtual event, presented by Accenture.

Charlotte Jones, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer of the Dallas Cowboys Football Club, moderated the virtual discussion with Stankey, which focused on broadband connectivity including AT&T’s leading 5G and fiber infrastructure, efforts to close the digital divide, and community initiatives.

The Dallas Cowboys and AT&T partnership extends well over eight years, which is when the company placed its name on AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Two years ago, AT&T Stadium became the first venue in the country to have 5G, Jones said.

AT&T’s Future Outlook

“We want to be America’s best broadband company, plain and simple,” Stankey said. “And it doesn’t matter whether you need to connect on a mobile basis as you’re moving around, or whether you’re in your home or in your business, we want to be the company you think of when you want to be connected.”

AT&T’s focus on becoming the best in the industry includes a range of initiatives from additional investments in fiber and 5G, to repositioning their brand and the evolution of their customer service experience to ensure buying connectivity is an easy, seamless, and frictionless process.

“AT&T has a unique set of assets,” Stankey said. “We are a company that has the most fiber infrastructure in the United States. We are a company that has the largest breadth of wireless network in the United States.”

While there are companies that do well in either space, Stankey said AT&T’s advantage was that it has always operated from a mentality that connectivity and work should be on-the-go. COVID-19 exposed the need for consumers to operate at home like they did at work and that played into AT&T’s strengths.

Closing the Digital Divide

About 15 million U.S. households don’t have access to the internet. To help close the digital divide, AT&T has invested nearly $4 billion in the metroplex over the last four years alone.

Stankey said closing the digital divide is good for commerce and economic development, outcomes in healthcare, education, and social equity.

Yet, many residents still don’t have access to the internet due to lack of equipment and understanding of how to access it at discounted rates.

“We need to think about how we look at this systemically across the board,” Stankey said. “We have been leaning in as a company, working with not-for-profits and other companies to try to actually bring the entire solution in. Not just the connectivity that we provide at the low-income side of things with special offers and promotions, but also partners who can come in to make sure there is equipment in the house, like a PC or tablet.”

Additionally, Stankey said AT&T supported the federal infrastructure legislation to ensure the policy allowed taxpayer money to subsidize and build infrastructure in places where it is unviable for the free market to build.

“If this policy is enacted and rolls out to the states in the way it was envisioned, we will in fact have an opportunity to put every American on the internet,” he said.

Why Dallas

AT&T recently invested $100 million into its global headquarters campus in Downtown Dallas, known as the Discovery District, which opened during the pandemic.

“I think we came up with a pretty aggressive and bold concept,” Stankey said.

The company’s investment aimed to create a dynamic environment to recruit the best talent. AT&T’s public-private partnership with the City of Dallas allowed redistricting and rezoning in downtown for mixed-use development that would not only serve employees, but also connect the community.

“Dallas is wonderful for AT&T. It’s a great place to do business because the business community is incredibly supportive of each other in this city,” Stankey said. “The formula around it is great.”