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Dish Reiterates Need for Full Three-Year Phase-out of Sprint Network

Supply chain issues are impacting Dish’s ability to bring on new customers, company says.

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Tom Cullen, executive vice president of corporate development for DISH

WASHINGTON, November 11, 2021 – A representative from Dish Network reiterated at the INCOMPAS show in Las Vegas late last month the company’s frustration with T-Mobile’s timeline for shutting down the Sprint 3G network on which it serves its customers, as the case drags on in front of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Tom Cullen, executive vice president of corporate development for DISH, also said at the October 26 show the company’s capacity to migrate these new customers on its network is limited by supply chain delays that have caused a shortage in connectivity devices.

Part of T-Mobile’s deal to acquire Sprint, closed last year, required that the latter sell wireless assets, including Boost Mobile, to Dish. During regulatory review of the deal, T-Mobile said it would phase-out Sprint’s 3G and LTE networks within a three-year period following the deal’s closing, enough time for Dish to fully migrate customers over to its own networks. The phase-out would occur sometime in 2023.

But T-Mobile then announced that it would shut down the 3G network in January 2022, with the LTE shutdown occurring by June 30 that year. In an update to the California Public Utilities Commission in May, T-Mobile pushed back the 3G phase-out deadline to March 31, 2022, which it said should serve as grounds to dismiss Dish’s wish for the commission to reinstate the three-year phase-out period.

“DISH submits that while additional time is welcome, three months is not nearly sufficient to protect Boost customers in California – many of whom are low income – who are expected to still be using the CDMA network beyond March 31, 2022,” the Colorado-based company said in a November 3 filing, which reiterating its needs to have the network operational for the full three-year period.

The California Public Utilities Commission ruled in August that T-Mobile had to show why it shouldn’t be penalized for providing “false, misleading, or omitted statements” related to the claim it made about the timeline to shut down the 3G network. The Department of Justice also noted it was concerned about the damage to Dish’s new customer base if the shortened timeline was upheld.

Dish announced this summer that its Boost Mobile is buying Los Angeles-based prepaid and low-cost mobile service company Gen Mobile. Last year, the company purchased Ting Mobile.

Reporter T.J. York received his degree in political science from the University of Southern California. He has experience working for elected officials and in campaign research. He is interested in the effects of politics in the tech sector.

Satellite

Critics Concerned Infrastructure Bill Money Will Go to Satellites, Harm Fiber Builds

The infrastructure bill’s tech neutrality is concerning critics who say money will go to satellite, not enough to fiber.

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WASHINGTON, December 7, 2021 – There is concern in the telecom industry that the technology neutrality provision in the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for broadband, would put a chunk of money into low-earth orbit satellites that would eventually lose its ability to uphold requirements for federal funds.

Cartesian, a consulting firm in telecom and technology, conducted a study earlier this year that was commissioned by the Fiber Broadband Association and NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association, and found that SpaceX’s Starlink LEO fleet would run out of capacity within 10 years. LEO constellations are known to require a lot of satellites for coverage and capacity, which makes it an expensive business.

As part of its obligations, SpaceX must offer 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds to 640,000 locations across the U.S. “That is quite a lot of capacity,” Cartesian Vice President Michael Dargue said in a recent interview with Broadband Breakfast. “We wanted to find out whether there was sufficient capacity within Starlink’s planned fleet.”

Cartesian estimated that Starlink could face a shortfall in capacity before the end of the decade in 2028. “Just over half of the RDOF subscribers wouldn’t get the full 100 Mbps that [Starlink committed to],” said Dargue.

The problem for critics of Starlink’s abilities is that Starlink continues to launch satellites into the sky at a blistering pace, which will mean the company will continue to seek an ever-growing share of federal funds. Before the Federal Communications Commission began scrutinizing winners of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the company had been awarded nearly $900 million from the fund for its fleet.

Now there’s concern that the technology neutrality provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in mid-November, as well as the bill’s promotion of satellite technology will mean more money going toward the nascent technology versus more proven technologies like fiber.

SpaceX did not respond to the requests for comment on these concerns. Broadband Breakfast also contacted Ligado and OneWeb to get the LEO perspective but did not hear back. When approached, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association declined to comment.

Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Gary Bolton said in an interview that federal funds coming down the pipe from the infrastructure bill represent a “once in a generation opportunity to get fiber to every American.

“The money is available,” Bolton said. “There is no longer a question of, ‘can we do this on the cheap?’”

A state-appointed task force for broadband in Alaska found that the federal money could allow the state famously known for difficult terrain for broadband builds to have a statewide fiber network.

“LEO satellites are great if I am climbing Mount Everest, or if I’m in some off the grid location and I need to be able to make a phone call or get on the internet,” said Bolton. “That’s great, but if you’re talking about building up the economic development for your community, that’s not so great.”

FCC needs to study Starlink

Dargue said the Cartesian study was explicitly from an “outside-in” perspective, and that the assessment was only able to go off data that SpaceX had made publicly available. The assessment noted, however, that because there is limited information regarding Starlink’s technical capabilities in the public domain, and Starlink’s technical and commercial plans seem to be constantly changing, it is difficult to truly assess the full extent of Starlink’s potential (or lack thereof).

“[The FCC] really needs to do this assessment themselves in detail,” Dargue said. “We did not have access to Starlink’s engineering data and really, if you’re going to make an award of this size, which is over a 10-year period, you need to make sure that the numbers are right. If you get to seven or eight years down the road and it does not work anymore, what do you do then?

“We were quite generous [to Starlink] in some ways,” added Dargue. The assessment assumed that served regions would not have any terrain features that would block reception, so all subscribers within range of a satellite can connect to that satellite. Additionally, the assessment assumed that the throughput of each satellite in the Starlink constellation was 20 Gbps with no pinch-points elsewhere in the network.

“Then, using demand modeling based on current demand and how Cisco and others expect that to grow over the coming decade, we look to see whether there will be enough capacity within the fleet to serve the geographic demand,” said Dargue.

Dargue said this did not mean that consumers would never see their service at 100/20, but that consumer use during peak demand hours would exceed the available capacity. He said that for consumers, this would spell a deterioration in the quality of service, resulting in buffering, scaled down resolutions, and other potential disruptions to internet services.

Proponents of LEOs say technology is important for redundancy

Though the study was not favorable to Starlink and SpaceX, Dargue is not arguing for satellite to be left out of the infrastructure equation. “It’s definitely part of the mix,” he said. “LEO satellites and other constellations are really good at serving very remote locations off the beaten track and in areas where you do not have a cluster of high demand.”

Similarly, proponents of LEO satellites and Starlink, including the Gigabit Libraries Network, have said the technology serves as an excellent way to get redundant connections in case of an outage. It is also crucial is some areas that can’t get a physical connection to the premises.

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Wireless

Verizon, TracFone Deal Gets FCC and California Approval

The companies agree to consumer protection measures as conditions of the transaction.

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Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2021––The Federal Communications Commission voted Monday to approve Verizon’s purchase of TracFone Wireless.

The transaction is subject to binding conditions to ensure that the deal benefits the public interest. In approving the deal, the FCC imposed requirements to protect consumers from price increases, guarantee affordable 5G services and devices for underserved customers, and ensure that TracFone continues its support as a federal subsidy Lifeline program participant. Specifically, Monday’s order requires TracFone to offer its Lifeline supported services for at least seven years and offer “a range of cost-effective 5G devices” and plans to existing and new Lifeline customers.

The FCC also adopted enforcement measures as a condition of the merger. “Given the likelihood that any violation of these conditions could harm low-income consumers,” the FCC’s press release said, “today’s Order requires regular public reporting and more than seven years of oversight.” The enforcement mechanism includes an internal and an independent compliance officer who are empowered to proactively monitor conditions, ensure that low-income consumers are not being harmed, and facilitate consumer complaints about potential violations.

On Friday, the California Public Utilities Commission also approved Verizon’s acquisition of TracFone Wireless with those similar conditions.

TracFone is the largest prepaid carrier in the U.S. And with TracFone’s 21 million customers, Monday’s merger makes Verizon the largest prepaid service operator in the country.

Kathleen Burke, policy counsel for public interest group Public Knowledge, said Monday that the organization “applaud[s] the FCC for its thorough review of this merger, and its efforts to ensure that this merger meets the necessary public interest standard.” With these commitments, Burke says a merged Verizon/TracFone “should provide better prepaid and Lifeline services to the benefit of low-income and price-conscious consumers.”

The deal was initially criticized for eliminating a strong Verizon competitor and potentially leading to an increase in the barrier to market entry for the communications sector. Policy analyst Daniel Hanley at the Open Markets Institute said in a Broadband Breakfast expert opinion that the merger allows Verizon to neutralize competitors.

“Verizon does not need to acquire TracFone to accomplish its operational goals,” he said. “The FCC should not allow Verizon to use its dominant financial position to acquire a critical competitor and market participant and forgo operational investments and other necessary market research to expand its network.”

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Wireless

University of Notre Dame Launches SpectrumX to Expand Radio Spectrum Research

The project is funded by a National Science Foundation grant and keeps diversity and inclusion in mind for its research goals.

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Nick Laneman, co-director of the Wireless Institute at the University of Notre Dame

WASHINGTON, November 11, 2021 – The University of Notre Dame has announced SpectrumX, a project aimed at promoting research on radio frequency spectra.

The initiative, established by a $25 million grant from the National Science Foundation, partners with several universities around the United States and prioritizes a focus on diversity and inclusion in the work it does on spectrum.

During a launch event in Washington on November 4, SpectrumX made clear that it plans on a strategy of community engagement through its work rather than working from an “ivory tower.”

Part of the organization’s excitement for its work stems from the fact that it currently has all the financial resources it needs for its planned endeavors. It now looks forward to putting those resources towards creative uses in radio spectrum research. Among the focuses highlighted in the launch event was the possibility of using radio in the millimeter wave band for its work.

Additional projects the organization hopes to undertake include research on 5G, cloud automation, spectrum management through flexible licenses, GPS and mobile broadband.

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