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Gigi Sohn on Wireless Mergers, Utah Ignite Lunch Launch, and New Global Crypto-Currencies

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Photo by Marco Verch used with permission

The political turmoil and guess-manship over the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger continues, with 10 state attorney generals filing a lawsuit in New York last week in a federal district court. Unusually, the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice did not join the lawsuit.

It’s not the first thing that’s unusual about this particular merger review. In a Tuesday piece on the Benton Foundation’s “Digital Beat,” noted telecom consumer advocate Gigi Sohn cataloged the growing elements of intrigue:

  • For the FCC to “go it alone” was unprecedented. When the FCC and the Antitrust Division are both charged with reviewing mergers in the media and telecommunications industries, the two agencies will announce a decision to grant a merger almost simultaneously. In the nearly four weeks since Pai gave his blessing to the transaction, the Antitrust Division and the Assistant Attorney General who leads it, Makan Delrahim, have made no official announcement. There have only been news reports that Delrahim is not satisfied with the Pai’s decision and instead is trying to create a new, viable, fourth national mobile wireless carrier by requiring the merging parties to divest spectrum and other assets, a task that few believe is possible.
  • Why did Chairman Pai get so far ahead of his Justice Department colleague? Many observers believe it was to put political pressure on Delrahim to approve the deal, against the reported wishes of the career staff of the Antitrust Division. In addition, Fox Business has reported that senior White House officials have also voiced their support for the merger, though it is unclear whether they have spoken directly to Delrahim.

Sohn, a critic of the merger, highlights how the complaint of the state attorneys general demonstrates that the merger will raise prices and reduce competition. She also said that the companies’ promises to roll out the next generation of 5G wireless in rural America are “promises the companies made to rapidly rollout next generation 5G wireless services and serve large swaths of rural America are speculative, unsubstantiated and unenforceable.”

Facebook announces new crypto-currency app Calibra, and Spotify joins Libra Association

Facebook’s crypto-currency foray will allow the social network giant’s users access to the Libra network, the company said in a Tuesday statement. Facebook’s first product, Calibra, will serve as a digital wallet for the open source blockchain currency. The wallet will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp and as a standalone app, and the company expects to launch it next year.

Also on Tuesday, Spotify announced its partnership with the Libra Association, the non-profit organization that manages the cypto-currency.

Spotify highlights how about 1.7 billion adults worldwide have no access to mobile money, a bank account or payment card. Libra’s reserve-backed currency will enable people to send, spend and save their money through a financial ecosystem powered by secure blockchain technology.

“One challenge for Spotify and its users around the world has been the lack of easily accessible payment systems – especially for those in financially underserved markets,” said chief premium business officer Alex Norström, “In joining the Libra Association, there is an opportunity to better reach Spotify’s total addressable market, eliminate friction and enable payments in mass scale.”

Utah hosts Smart Cities Lunch

Utah Ignite and the Point of the Mountain Chamber of Commerce in Lehi, Utah, is hosting a monthly Smart Cities Lunch on Thursday, June 20. The event will bring the tech community and city leaders together to discuss the opportunities and best practices of smart city initiatives.

Because of the existence of robust fiber-optic networks through the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency in 11 cities, and Google Fiber in Provo and Salt Lake, Utah already has one of the most-advanced fiber-optic infrastructure anywhere in the country.

Glenn Ricart, the founder and chief technology officer of US Ignite – and an instrumental force in the creation of the Utah-based Utah Ignite – will speak at the event. Ricart was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013 for implementing the first Inter-net interconnection point, the FIX in College Park, Maryland.

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FCC Permit ‘Shot Clocks’ Provides ‘Predictability’ to Wireless Infrastructure Builds: T-Mobile

Shot clocks are important to industry players, argued T-Mobile’s Tim Halinski.

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Photo of Nancy Werner, partner at Bradley Werner, LLC.

WASHINGTON, November 8, 2022 – Panelists on a Federal Communications Bar Association web panel discussed Monday whether benefits of the Federal Communications Commission’s “shot clocks,” which limit how long states and local governments can review wireless infrastructure applications, outweigh the increased pressures they place on state and local governments.

A shot clock’s deadline puts pressure on city officials’ negotiations with providers over the terms of infrastructure projects, said Nancy Werner, partner at Bradley Werner, LLC, a telecommunications legal and consulting firm. They also “put a lot of pressure on local governments…to make sure (they) have a reason to deny” a provider’s application if an agreement cannot be readily reached, Werner added.

Tim Halinski, corporate counsel for T-Mobile, argued Monday that shot clocks are important to industry players, although he acknowledged the validity of Werner’s concerns. T-Mobile and other providers benefit from expeditious permitting processes, as they look to accelerate the build out of 5G wireless technology.

“There’s no one size fits all,” Halinski said, “But it’s at least the starting point and provides that predictability in deployment that we need.”

The comments come as the FCC fields comments on new standards that would streamline the division of costs between third party attachers and pole owners. Critics say the financial and time delay burden in getting access to these poles have slowed and will slow the expansion of broadband in the country.

In 2018, the FCC instituted shortened shot clocks for small wireless infrastructure projects: “60 days for review of an application for collocation…using a preexisting structure and 90 days for review of an application for attachment…using a new structure.” The commission said the new, limited timeframes would facilitate the deployment of wireless infrastructure.

The FCC’s revised shot clocks for small wireless deployments was but one portion of the agency’s so-called “Small Cell Order” of 2018, which aimed to promote the expansion of 5G. To accomplish this goal, however, the order sought to eliminate regulatory roadblocks by limiting state and local governments’ authorities over wireless infrastructure permitting and their own rights of way. This tactic drew criticisms from many experts and local officials.

Nonetheless, in August 2020, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld the order in City of Portland v. United States.

“(The Ninth Circuit’s) decision is a massive victory for U.S. leadership in 5G, our nation’s economy and American consumers,” said then–FCC Chairman Ajit Pai shortly after the ruling. “The court rightly affirmed the FCC’s efforts to ensure that infrastructure deployment critical to 5G…is not impeded by exorbitant fees imposed by state and local governments.”

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5G Demand Needs More Fiber Infrastructure, Conference Hears

‘We’re in the early innings now of this 5G evolution and really the fourth industrial revolution,’ said a Verizon partner.

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Screenshot of Jeff Hulse, vice president of Verizon Partner Solutions, (left) and Curtis Heffelfinger, vice president of wholesale sales at Brightspeed.

DENVER, October 26, 2022 – More fiber deployment is “critical” to meet increasing demands for 5G, said a telecom executive at the 2022 INCOMPAS Show.

“[Fiber]’s where the industry is shifting and you’re going to have to shift with the industry,” Curtis Heffelfinger, vice president of wholesale sales at telecom Brightspeed, said on a Monday panel.

5G wireless builds will use fiber to many cell sites to deliver on the promise of ubiquitous connectivity in many areas. 5G technology promises faster cell speeds and lower latency – the time it takes for a communication to be sent from a device to a network and back.

“Today we’re in the early innings now of this 5G evolution and really the fourth industrial revolution,” said Jeff Hulse, vice president of Verizon Partner Solutions.

Industry incumbents are moving toward rapid expansion of fiber builds. Just last week, Bloomberg reported AT&T is in talks to initiate an eight-figure fiber-deployment project.

Hulse said his company is “thinking big about big bandwidth,” and although Verizon has “a ton of legacy products out there on copper wires,” the telecom giant is working to transition networks towards the future.  Heffelfinger said Brightspeed is modernizing as well, although it also still owns many “aged assets.”

The INCOMPAS Show is a communications industry event that facilitates networking and business deals. The 2020 show, held in Denver, featured executives from Verizon, DISH, FiberLight, and other industry players, as well as officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and state broadband offices.

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Johnny Kampis: Wireless Survey Shows 5G’s Role in Closing Digital Divide

5G has experienced a quantum leap in growth since it first began rolling out in 2018.

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The author of this Expert Opinion in Johnny Kampis of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance

There was universal consensus that 5G wireless technology would be a game changer for closing the digital divide. The question was whether or not private investment would be enough to deploy the needed infrastructure. A new report shows that capital expenditures from wireless providers reached a record high in 2021, as 5G saw tremendous growth and will continue to help connect households now unserved by broadband.

CTIA’s 2022 Annual Wireless Industry Survey shows that wireless providers invested $35 billion into growing and improving their networks, the fourth consecutive year of industry growth.

CTIA said this is “a powerful trend that emphasizes the societal importance of wireless connectivity and underlines the industry’s commitment to building a robust platform for innovation that connects all communities.”

5G has experienced a quantum leap in growth since it first began rolling out in 2018, as infrastructure reforms that eased deployment barriers have resulted in 5G growing twice as fast as 4G. Since the Federal Communications Commission and state legislatures worked to modernize key siting regulations that could have stymied the technology’s growth, wireless providers have added 70,000 active cell sites. There are now nearly 420,000 operational cell sites across the U.S.

As CTIA notes, “More cell sites enhance coverage, encouraging adoptions and helping to close the digital divide.”

Clearly consumers want faster mobile internet speeds as the number of connective 5G devices grew more than a whopping 500 percent this past year from 14 million to Accenture 85 million. About one-third of American now possess an active 5G device.

CTIA points out that the number of connections that require wireless technology is helping fuel the growth – everything from smart watches to medical sensors. Such data-only devices represent about 42 percent of all wireless connections.

Wireless providers have invested nearly $121 billion into their networks since the launch of 5G.

CTIA notes that in an age of incredible inflation, the wireless industry’s investment, combined with increased market competition, has led to lower prices, “providing a welcome contrast to an economy where consumers have faced priced increases for 94 percent of tracked goods and services nationwide.”

Since 2010, the cost of unlimited data plans has declined 43 percent while wireless speeds have increased 85-fold over the same period.

Investment and competition have also led to new innovations such as 5G for home broadband and 5G fixed wireless. The latter is particularly useful in connecting rural areas where it’s hard to make a business case for fiber due to the cost of the last-mile connections. CTIA notes that 5G home broadband is available in more than 40 million households, providing home connections via spectrum with high capacity and low latency rather than a wired connection.

The report also points out that 5G is helping mitigate the impacts of climate change by creating green jobs in key industries. Accenture has found that 5G-enabled use cases should delivers 20 percent of the U.S.’s emission reduction targets by 2025.

5G is clearly helping usher in a new age of connectivity in this country. CTIA’s statistics are encouraging signs that the latest wireless technology is helping make broadband access available to more Americans than ever before. The best part of this growth is that taxpayer dollars are not being spent.

Johnny Kampis is director of telecom policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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