June 12, 2020 – During the virtual ConnectX conference of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, panelists addressed changes in the aims and ambitions of the humble cellular tower companies.
“The future is converged,” said Alex Gellman, CEO of Vertical Bridge, on one of the webinar sessions hosted during the ConnectX event. The event launched in May, and new content has continued to go on the site in June.
In a session on the ways in which cell tower companies are branching out from their traditional mobile operations, to becoming full-service communications infrastructure providers, moderator Tim Downs said, “the business of owning sites has changed.”
Initially different infrastructure assets, such as fiber, small cells, data centers, and cell towers were all owned and operated by separate companies. Today, many companies that purely owned cell towers twenty years ago, have invested in other infrastructure resources.
“It’s hard to grow in just towers anymore,” said Gellman, explaining the trend, “particularly in the U.S. cell tower market, it’s grown so competitive.”
“I see it as an evolution,” Gellman continued, “five years ago communications infrastructure was not really a priority, there has been an immense increase of attention and capital flowing into communications infrastructure beyond just towers.”
“Tower companies are looking to see what business operations they can utilize to expand margins and maintain competitiveness,” said Gellman, “branching into other areas of communications infrastructure makes sense.”
Investing in communications infrastructure assets has not only been a trend among tower operators, but there has been growing investments from traditional infrastructure investors, who typically fund resources like highways and airports.
“Are we a drone docking station one day? Are we a place you can charge your electric car? Where can we get more tenants? I see a lot of room to advance to new opportunities, while we help wireless companies at the same time,” said Bill Hague, CEO of Tillman.
A new matter facing companies involves strategizing how to combine tower, fiber, data center, and small cell assets, in ways that beneficial to them.
According to Gellman, many tower companies, including Crown Castle, recently made moves to acquire data centers, as they prepare for bandwidth demands to surge in coming years.
Brett Lindsey, CEO of Everstream, detailed that three years ago, his company shifted the bulk of their acquisitions to fiber resources.
“Bandwidth requirements of our customers are so demanding that we have to put down fiber,” said Lindsey, “as soon as we give businesses 10 Gigabit upload and download capabilities, they start utilizing 8 Gigabits of service.”
“Everything is built off fiber. Fiber is the capillaries and arteries of all of this,” said Lindsey, hinting at the idea that one day his tower company may merge with a fiber entity.
The panelists pivoted into discussing the potential for network sharing in the United States, a practice that is more common among telecommunications providers in Europe and Latin America.
The panelists concluded that the opportunity for network sharing in the U.S. seems overstated.
“People don’t need to work together right now so they don’t,” said Lindsey, although he asserted that asset owners are going to have to come together to deliberate on the deployment of small cells.
Lindsey urged, “we cannot have all these different small cells from different companies littering the streets.”
“I think U.S. networks like to compete,” said Gellman, “with that being said, I think over time there will be more pressure on getting customers the service they need, over owning physical infrastructure, similar to what we see occurring in rural America.”
LEO Satellite Technology Should Be in All Schools, Gigabit Libraries Network Says
Satellites, at the very least, can act as backup connections, webinar heard.
October 21, 2021 – Low earth orbit satellites, which are expected to help connect a portion of people who live in remote regions of the country, should be available to all libraries – even if it’s just for redundancy, the director of Gigabit Libraries Network said Thursday.
Don Means, the director of the organization that has a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink beta service to connect a “handful” of libraries, said the technology can be used as backup in the event of a disaster.
“We think this should be in every library, even if it’s a place that has a connection – this would be very valuable as a backup because consider any kind of lights out scenario in a community,” Means said. “With this system, it bypasses the local infrastructure, and if you have a power source and you have a [satellite] dish, you’re connected.”
Earlier this month, Means said libraries will need various ways to stay connected and provide access to public Wi-Fi. While the “cheapest, most equitable, most economical way to connect every community with next generation broadband is to run fiber to all of the 17,000 libraries,” Means said previously, other solutions will need to be considered where geography doesn’t allow for a direct fiber connection.
The LEO constellation is unique compared to other kinds of satellites because it hovers closer to earth, theoretically meaning it provides better connectivity and lower latency, or the time it takes for the devices to communicate with the network.
The House is waiting to vote on an infrastructure bill that will pour billions into broadband. People have debated what kinds of technology the money should go toward, with some arguing for hard wiring and others saying wireless technologies have a space at the table.
Despite having a deal with Starlink, Means said he encourages LEO satellite technology in general and not just Starlink in particular.
“We’re not advocates or agents for Starlink,” Means said, “it’s just they’re the first ones out there with this technology. There are others coming…this is a new thing, a burgeoning thing.”
Starlink said this summer it had shipped 100,000 terminals to customers.
Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements
The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.
WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.
While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.
The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.
Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”
It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.
“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”
Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.
“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.
The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”
In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.
“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.
Harm on building owners
For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”
Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.
The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.
Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds
Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.
WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.
Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.
The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.
The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.
With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.
Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.
These decisions included:
- Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
- Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications. These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
- Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
- Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.
- Federal Trade Commission Will Likely Not Be Able to Implement Competition Rules, Panelists Say
- House Passes Ban on Chinese Equipment, 3.45 GHz Auction Reaches Reserve Price, Against a ‘Wi-Fi Tax’
- LEO Satellite Technology Should Be in All Schools, Gigabit Libraries Network Says
- Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements
- Broadband Breakfast on October 27, 2021 — When ‘Greenfield’ Fiber Meets ‘Brownfield’ Multiple Dwelling Units
- Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds
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