- AT&T will work with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to model and predict how climate change will impact the company’s infrastructure and operations. It’s the first such climate projection for a telecommunications company.
- The project will use regional climate modeling data and mapping capabilities to more accurately project climate-related events that could damage infrastructure, including hurricanes, flooding and extreme heat. The project will begin with a focus on the Southeastern U.S., and AT&T will make its material available to the public.
- The analysis will help AT&T elevate certain cell sites, protect towers or move some installations based on future projections, rather than historical records.
Natural disasters have cost AT&T $847 million since 2016, with $626 million accruing in 2017 alone, according to data reported by CNBC. The damage from extreme storms doesn’t just incur costly infrastructure replacement and repair, but also means customers in disaster areas are without service. Areas of the Florida panhandle, for example, were without broadband and mobile connections for weeks after Hurricane Michael, prompting criticism from the Federal Communications Commission (Verizon did use the aftermath of the storm to announce plans to build 5G in the region).
A more advanced climate resiliency plan backed by the federal government will help AT&T make “data-driven decisions to better serve our customers,” said Scott Mair, president of AT&T operations, in a statement. The company can use projections to protect cell towers from high winds in areas that might be prone to hurricanes, or raise infrastructure where floods may occur.
The analysis will focus on the Southeast, but the company said it was "exploring the possibility" of expanding to other regions of the U.S. to incorporate other climate impacts, like wildfires or more extreme winter storms.
The research mirrors the mitigation work being done by cities across the country as the risks of climate change become more clear. The National Climate Assessment report released last fall warned that "more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.” Cities have taken steps to raise coastal infrastructure, protect buildings from wildfires and strengthen utility infrastructure against storms; companies like AT&T building climate mitigation into their future plans will further those infrastructure protections.