Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Flurry of Broadband Bills Only Raises the Noise Level in Congress

Money, time and even the hearing details themselves were squabbled over yesterday in a House Communications Subcommittee hearing. Up for discussion, were 25 bills to facilitate broadband deployment, especially to rural areas. Democrats like Pennsylvania’s Mike Doyle said it was too much. “We’re simply not giving these bills the time and expertise,” they deserve, he said. Doyle suggested it would be more prudent to hold a series of hearings and also add representatives of relevant government agencies.

Democrats were also concerned none of the bills specifically appropriate funding to broadband deployment. California Dem Anna Eshoo said, “There is nothing here that will address what we need. I implore the majority to get real. We have to have money.”

Oregon Republican Greg Walden, who also chairs the larger House Commerce Committee, said it was important to get the bills out so the public can see them. “We want NTIA and other organizations to help us figure out what areas are not served. The big investment here is coming from the private sector.” However he added: “There is public money that’s being spent. Our job is to make sure it’s spent wisely.” Walden summed up, “We could have a hearing every week for 25 weeks and then move forward or we can do one hearing now.”  Continue Reading

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reported Federal 5G Plan Panned

The wireless industry and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday panned the possibility of the U.S. government building its own 5G network. Axios reported a senior official on the National Security Council floated the idea of the federal government building one, secure, centralized 5G network to guard against China, “the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain,” states the document.

The concept is the government would reportedly rent access to wireless carriers. If so, it would be an unprecedented nationalization of a historically private infrastructure.

Pai said he opposes “any” such proposal, saying, “the main lesson to draw from the wireless sector’s development over the past three decades—including American leadership in 4G—is that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.” He called an effort by the government to build its own 5G network “costly” and “counter-productive.” The other four Commissioners opposed the concept. Commissioner Brendan Carr called the idea a “non-starter” while Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said: “I’ve seen lead balloons tried in D.C. before but this is like a balloon made out of a Ford Pinto.”   Continue Reading

Monday, January 29, 2018

Farmers, Ranchers Face Broadband Gap Too

Farmers need broadband connectivity to more precisely water crops and use drones to monitor fields. Just like automakers are developing autonomous vehicles, so too, are manufacturers of tractors and other farm equipment, to help farmers work more efficiently. Studies estimate that precision agriculture technologies could reduce operation costs by up to 25 dollars per acre and increase farm yields by up to 70 percent by 2050.

That’s why Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Steve Daines (R-MT) and John Tester (D-MT) and Representatives Latta (R-OH) and Loebsack (D-IA) introduced companion bills last week titled the “Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018.” S. 2343 and H.R. 4881 direct the FCC to create a task force within a year to determine why there’s a broadband gap on cropland and ranchland and develop policy recommendations to address the disparity. The FCC would work with the USDA and other federal agencies on the project.  Continue Reading

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Tension Over Permit Fees Colors BDAC Discussions

How to reduce excessive permitting fees for siting broadband infrastructure continued to be a large topic for debate on the FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) for a second day on Wednesday. Tensions are evident between municipal members and those who represent wireless companies. Those who work for companies deploying broadband want what they consider excessive siting fees reduced, but those representing local governments say language in various model codes being worked on do not specify how to compensate if those fees are lowered.

Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, at one point over the two-day meeting called them “unfunded mandates.” He said he’s willing to support a regulated rate, but one that recognizes the actual burden on cities. “It’s more than the cost of installing something on a pole.”

The BDAC acknowledges in draft form that public-private partnerships may provide solutions to bridge those divides. Charles McKee, VP Government Affairs for Sprint, said the draft language “may not do everything everyone wants it to do, but fairly frames up both sides. When we look at our network … there is no redlining. We have a limited capital budget. We can only do so much.” A cost increase, such as a high fee to deploy wireless infrastructure for small cells for example, he and other carriers explained, lowers how much cell service they can provide. “This recommendation simply asks the FCC to give us a reasonable definition of a rate.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Verizon Envisions Steady Capex Despite Tax Reform

Don’t expect Verizon to dramatically increase its capital expenditures this year based on the benefits from the tax reform legislation.
Verizon previously signaled its 2018 capex would likely be consistent with the past several years. It’s pegged at about $17 billion. Company Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam told analysts on the Q4 2017 earnings call Tuesday, “Verizon has long supported corporate tax reform. We’re very pleased to see this legislation passed.” Tax-reform legislation will have a positive impact on cash flow from operations in 2018, of approximately $3.5 billion to $4 billion.
“We’re only 30 days into the tax reform process. We’re really trying to understand the implications and what we can accelerate. 5G is influencing where we put our capital dollars. I expect to see things pick up.”  
Verizon is using available funding to beef-up its network and look to the future with its 5G trials. The company has said it intends to commercially launch 5G in three to five cities this year, beginning with Sacramento. “Verizon has the spectrum bandwidth needed to provide true services of 5G and the engineering knowledge to provide a full suite of 5G services,” said McAdam. Continue Reading

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

NATE Says Twilight Exclusion Helps Workforce Crunch

UPDATE The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) strongly supports the FCC’s plan to exclude so-called Twilight Towers from routine historic preservation review. The FCC proposed such a change in December, Inside Towers reported, to make more towers available for wireless deployment like broadband, including FirstNet and 5G.
In comments filed with the FCC late last week, NATE said: “For too long, the regulatory status of twilight towers has placed the industry in limbo and an affirmative vote by FCC Commissioners to exclude co-locations on these structures from routine historic preservation review is common sense policy.” Some 4,000 towers built between 2001 to 2005 couldn’t accept co-location because either they were built without historic preservation review or don’t have documentation that such a review occurred.

New towers will be built, but siting and planning, combined with permitting processes, are time-consuming, according to the association. Permitting more co-location will speed tower work as well as address workforce shortages. Continue Reading

Monday, January 22, 2018

T-Mobile Carries the Ball for Big Game Coverage Needs

T-Mobile has expanded coverage and increased network speeds in the Twin Cities in preparation for customers’ needs during Super Bowl LII, when over one million people are expected to pack the U.S. Bank Stadium and surrounding area. This network enhancement has been two years in the making, with the end result increasing LTE capacity up to 35x in the Twin Cities area, according to the carrier.
T-Mobile took a multi-pronged approach to the network augmentation, installing over 120 new small cells in the stadium and surrounding areas, using distributed antenna systems, and adding backhaul. The enhancement also includes doubling the LTE spectrum and the roll-out of carrier aggregation, speed-boosting C-RAN technology, 4X4 Multiple Input Multiple Output, and 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, it announced. Continue Reading

Friday, January 19, 2018

Senators Ask Trump to Include Broadband Money in Infrastructure Plan

The Trump administration is finalizing its long-awaited infrastructure plan; he may preview it in his January 30 State of the Union address but details would come later, according to sources familiar with the proposal, Reuters reported.

A group of U.S. Senators are urging the President to include funding for broadband deployment in the package. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and John Boozman (R-AR) spelled out the importance of high-speed internet access for rural areas in a letter to the White House this week.

“The administration’s infrastructure proposal should include stand-alone funding that is dedicated to advancing broadband deployment in addition to provisions that reduce regulatory barriers,” say the senators in the letter. They’re all members of the Senate Broadband Caucus. “Boosting current investments in broadband deployment will provide new economic opportunities in communities that are struggling to compete.” Continue Reading

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Congress Wants Hawaii Alerting Probe Update

UPDATE The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecom panel plans to hold a hearing with the FCC on public safety following the false emergency alert sent in Hawaii over the weekend, warning of an incoming missile. The false message was sent to cell phones as a Wireless Emergency Alert and over TV, cable and radio over the Emergency Alert System. The committee said the event will take place “sometime in the coming weeks,” according to lawmakers. Continue Reading

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Replacement Poles Can Now Skirt Historic Review

Pole attachments for small cell wireless infrastructure just got easier. The FCC’s rule change to exempt some poles from historic preservation review took effect yesterday, January 16. Federal Register publication triggered the effective date.

Specifically, the telecom provider is exempt from the review when a pole is replaced with a substantially identical pole, the original pole is not historic and the replacement does not disturb new ground. The replacement must be consistent with other size, location, and appearance restrictions. The changes also take into account when a wooden pole is replaced with metal.

“Replacement poles placed in essentially the same previously disturbed locations as the original structures will be sturdier than the preexisting poles, but will not necessarily be substantially taller or occupy appreciably more space on or in the ground than the original poles. In those circumstances, there is no likelihood that such pole replacements could affect historic properties,” states the FCC in the rule change document. Still, under the previous rules, only replacements for poles meeting the definition of a ‘‘tower’’ were excluded from Section 106 assessment while other types of pole replacements continued to require review. Continue Reading

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hawaii Can Now Quickly Retract False WEA, EAS Alerts

UPDATE Hawaii now has a way to notify the public that an alert was sent in error. There was no protocol in place to take back an alert at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) on Saturday, reported The Washington Post.
That’s when a state employee mistakenly chose the real, live “missile alert” alert option from a drop-down menu for what was supposed to be an internal test. An actual cell phone text was sent as a Wireless Emergency Alert and transmitted over TV, radio and cable over the Emergency Alert System. The message told the public a missile threat to the state was imminent and to seek shelter, causing panic.
The message told the public a missile threat to the state was imminent and to seek shelter, causing panic.  

It took 38 minutes from the initial alert to a subsequent alert telling the public the earlier warning was a mistake. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Sunday stated it appeared Hawaii didn’t have “reasonable safeguards” in place to prevent the transmission of a fake alert, Inside Towers reported. He said that was “unacceptable,” and federal, state and local officials throughout the country must work together to fix that and be able to issue a correction immediately.   Continue Reading

Monday, January 15, 2018

False Alert in Hawaii Goes Uncorrected for Forty Minutes

A false alarm from U.S. Pacific Command claiming a ballistic missile was headed to Hawaii prompted an immediate response from the FCC Saturday.  Commissioner Brendan Carr said the FCC would fully investigate why the initial message was sent and was left uncorrected for nearly forty minutes creating a panic among residents of Hawaii.

“The FCC has begun a full investigation into the FALSE missile alert in Hawaii,” Carr said. A similar tweeted message came from FCC chief of staff Matthew Berry.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted: “The @FCC is launching a full investigation into the false emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii.” Yesterday, he issued the following statement:
“The false emergency alert sent yesterday in Hawaii was absolutely unacceptable.  It caused a wave of panic across the state—worsened by the 38-minute delay before a correction alert was issued.  Moreover, false alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies.” Continue Reading

Friday, January 12, 2018

WEA, Broadband Funding Dominate FCC’s January Docket

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai continues his aggressive voting schedule into the New Year. No less than seven items have been teed up for the January 30 monthly meeting; that compares to a general number of five items per meeting for his predecessor Tom Wheeler.

Last year, the FCC adopted rules for “Connect America Fund Phase II” and authorized investment of up to $2 billion over the next decade to bring fixed broadband service to rural America. At the meeting, Commissioners will vote to finalize bidding procedures for a reverse auction to fund the effort. Also, several parties challenged the order and those must be handled before the auction can proceed. Commissioners will vote on ways to do that.

The agency will also vote to mandate carriers employ geo-targeting for Wireless Emergency Alerts, Inside Towers reported. Carriers say they need time to comply while emergency personnel involved in the California wildfires say waiting too long is risky. Continue Reading

Thursday, January 11, 2018

And, Yea, They Shall Turn Their Wind Turbines Into Cell Towers

A wind turbine at Falmouth’s wastewater treatment plant may become a cell tower, according to the Cape Cod Times.  The structure, one of two wind towers on the property, was ordered to be shut down by a superior court judge over nuisance complaints and zoning violations from area residents.
If the giant blades were removed and only the pole remained, it would no longer be classified as a wind turbine, Frank Duffy, the town’s attorney told the Times. By turning it into a cell tower, Duffy said, it could be reclassified under the provisions of the town’s cell tower bylaw.  Duffy said this would not only provide better cell service for West Falmouth but it could help aid the town’s public safety communications system.
A local resident added during Monday’s meeting that leasing space to cell providers could provide the town with some additional revenue. Continue Reading

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Crown to Tackle 25,000 Small Cell Build Backlog

Citi 2018 Global TMT West Conference

Crown Castle’s priorities for 2018 include being able to meet increasing demand for both macro and small cells; the company has to build approximately 25,000 small cells, according to company CFO Dan Schlanger.

Meeting carrier demand for more data means more infrastructure investments, he told attendees of the Citi 2018 Global TMT West Conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The company plans to increase new tower leasing this year, he said, adding that macro towers are a great business “that needs to be augmented by the densification effort.”

“Consumers are using their phones do to more,” especially “hungry data applications like video. You need macro towers; you also need small cells,” Schlanger said. Continue Reading

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trump Inks Orders to Speed Rural Broadband Infrastructure Deployment

President Donald Trump signed two president orders on Monday to streamline and expedite rural broadband deployment. In a speech before the American Farm Bureau annual convention in Nashville, the president said a task force aimed at improving rural life “heard from farmers that broadband internet is an issue.” The orders, he said, “will provide broader, faster, better internet coverage.”

The orders, Trump said, will support broadband tower facilities in rural America. “Those towers are going to go up and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” he said to the assembled crowd.
He was referring to the findings of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which counts cabinet members and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai among members. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday presented the findings in a 44 page report. In addition to expediting approval and review timelines for broadband infrastructure buildout, it recommends the government assess existing federal grants and subsidy programs devoted to or used for deploying e-connectivity. 
Continue Reading

Monday, January 8, 2018

Small Carriers Need More Time for WEA Geo-Targeting

Small wireless carriers will need extra time to deploy geo-targeting of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the Competitive Carriers Association tells the FCC. 
CCA agrees with large carrier association CTIA that integration of new WEA geo-targeting capabilities into networks and devices will take at least 36 months from the effective date of new rules. Smaller wireless carriers will need an additional 12 to 24 months because they don’t “have the same access to the latest devices on the same timeline as the largest carriers, if at all,” CCA EVP/General Counsel Rebecca Murphy Thompson recently told the agency’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

As the agency develops rules for updating WEA, CCA agrees with the FCC that refining the delivery location of the alerts will improve the quality of information that consumers receive during disasters and emergencies, limit network congestion, and reduce the potential for over-alerting. But CCA is concerned “there appears to be inconsistent evidence about the technical capability of all carriers to achieve the FCC’s enhanced WEA goals. It would defy logic for the Commission to adopt rules that are technically infeasible,” Thompson writes in a summary of the discussion viewed by Inside Towers. Continue Reading

Friday, January 5, 2018

MD Think Tank Exposes Muni Broadband ‘Hypocrisy’ Over Net Neutrality

Maryland conservative think tank Free State Foundation called out mayors this week who oppose the FCC’s recent vote to roll-back Net Neutrality rules, yet appear to restrict internet use on municipal broadband networks with service terms that prohibit certain types of content.

Free State Foundation Board member Enrique Armijo, a law professor at Elon University and also a fellow at Yale’s law school, wrote in a policy paper about the “hypocrisy” of many local and state governments that claim what the FCC recently voted on is unlawful. “The mayors of more than 50 cities, many of which own or operate their own municipal broadband networks or are exploring ways to do so, want the FCC to preserve the restrictions on private ISPs” set out in the previous 2015 order. Abandoning that order, the mayors argue, would “permit blocking, throttling and other interference with access to the internet,” states Armijo.  Continue Reading

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Court Lets FCC Off the Alpine PCS $21 Million Hook

The FCC is free of a $21 million lawsuit from a bankrupt wireless company. A federal appeals court on January 2, agreed with the agency and a prior federal claims court that Alpine PCS took its case to the wrong court.

The case began in 1996, when the FCC awarded Alpine PCS two, 10-year Personal Communications Services licenses. The wireless firm bid about $8.9 million for one license and about $17.3 million for the other. Alpine was to pay for the spectrum in installments from December 1996, through September 2006.

In 1996, the Commission regulations stated if a payment was more than 90 days late and a grace period expired or the agency denied a request for a restructured payment schedule, the FCC would automatically cancel the licenses and the licensee would be subject to debt collection. In 1998, two three-month grace periods became the norm. But if the licensee did not pay the installment, plus late fees, after the second grace period, the licensee would be declared in default, have its licenses “automatically cancel[ed],” and be subject to debt collection, states the federal appeals court in its opinion. Continue Reading

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

All States Join FirstNet at Deadline

UPDATE All 50 states chose to join the FirstNet mobile broadband communications network for first responders by the deadline day, December 28. California, Florida, New York and Mississippi announced their decision on that day. New Hampshire reversed course and said it would sign-up as well. Under the FirstNet system, if a governor did not make a decision by the deadline, the state would be treated the same as an “opt-in” state, with AT&T deploying and maintaining the Radio Access Network for the state.
Previously, New Hampshire was the only state to seek an alternative RAN with Rivada and say it intended to opt-out of FirstNet. But at deadline, Governor Chris Sununu decided it was too risky to go it alone. The Union Leader reported that by making the decision on the 28th, New Hampshire retains AT&T’s pledge to build 48 new tower sites.  Continue Reading