Thursday, October 10, 2019

AT&T to Divest Its Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands Portfolio

AT&T plans to sell its wireless and wireline operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to Liberty Latin America for $1.95 billion cash. The transaction includes network assets, including spectrum; real estate and leases; customers, including 1.1 million wireless subscribers; and contracts.

The transaction is subject to review by the FCC and the Department of Justice. The two companies expect the deal to close within six to nine months.  

AT&T CFO John Stephens said the deal is the result of the carrier’s ongoing strategic review of its balance sheet and assets to identify opportunities for monetization. “But doing so only made sense if we received a fair value from a buyer that is committed to taking this well-run business, with its skilled employees and loyal customer base, and help it thrive. Liberty Latin America has a strong reputation for quality of service, and we believe they have the experience to build on the success of these operations.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

USDA Invests $152 Million to Improve Broadband Service in 14 States

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy said the USDA is investing $152 million in 20 projects to provide or improve rural broadband service in 14 states (see list of Community Connect Grants).

“Deploying high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or ‘e-Connectivity,’ in rural America expands access to essential health, educational, social and business opportunities,” LaVoy said. “President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue are committed to fully using all resources Congress provides for building and modernizing this critical infrastructure in rural America, because we believe that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

USDA is making the investments through the Community Connect Grant Program, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program and the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. It says investing in telecommunications infrastructure connects people to each other: businesses to customers, farmers to markets, and students to a world of knowledge. Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Employer Charged With Defrauding Insurance Company Over Fatality

S&S Tower Services President, Christopher Strausbaugh, entered pleas to felony offenses allegedly after defrauding an insurance company regarding employee work safety, reported WCHS-TV. S&S claimed to Brickstreet Mutual Insurance Co., now, Encova, that employees did not work higher than 15 feet from the ground.

However, in 2016, an employee working on a tower fell 105 feet to his death, and investigations found that work was done at heights up to 400 feet above ground level. Prosecutors said the investigation determined that S&S defrauded Brickstreet of more than $186,000 in workers’ compensation insurance premiums and the state of West Virginia more than $16,000 in insurance taxes, per WCHS-TV.

Since Tyler Comer, 19, died while working on a project for Appalachian Wireless in Morgan County, KY, (see Inside Towers 5/26/16 story) the state fined S&S $3,500 for violation of worker safety laws. West Virginia prosecutors are recommending probation for Strausbaugh plus a $1,000 fine for the corporation. Sentencing is set for December 17, and will be determined by a judge.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Election “Tampering” in Afghanistan Means Blowing Up Towers

Last week’s Afghan presidential election has officials scratching their heads, four days later, regarding the historical low voting turnout and fearing cases of fraud. However, the primary challenge officials encountered stems from the destruction of cell towers by the Taliban, reported The New York Times.

The country’s expanding cellular network — including 6,000 towers serving nearly 90 percent of the population —  is moving Afghanistan towards modernization and growth.

Yet, last week’s tampering prevented voting officials from communicating with election workers. The violation of the networks also led to fear and intimidation for the people in the affected areas, according to the Times.

“The dysfunctional communication network created lots of problems, especially during polling day,” said Muhibullah Muhib, a police spokesman in Farah Province. “You are not aware of the situation, and you cannot be aware of incidents and the turnout.” Continue Reading

Friday, October 4, 2019

FCC to Revise Rural Connectivity Standards

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated an item to his colleagues requesting a vote that would revise the Commission’s testing and performance standards for carriers that receive Universal Service support.

“Deploying broadband is more than just the physical connections between customers and service providers; it is also making sure that those networks are delivering the performance customers expect,” says Pai in a new blog post.

“Rural Americans shouldn’t have to settle for second-rate service, and taxpayer support shouldn’t go toward shoddy service. Carriers that are recipients of the Connect America Fund high cost program must prove they’re using that money to deliver the promised broadband speeds,” according to the Chairman. Continue Reading

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

WIA Awards Highlight Achievements in Workforce Training

Some of the award winners last night included FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, AT&T’s Susan Johnson and Neptuno CEO Leticia Latino. WIA CEO Jonathan Adelstein and InSite Wireless CEO David Weisman assisted in the effort. 
Last night, the 2019 WIA Awards at the Conrad Hotel in Washington, D.C. honored members of Congress, the FCC, and industry leadership that support development of the workforce needed to build America’s 5G wireless networks. Hosted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association Foundation, proceeds will benefit wireless education, training, and apprenticeships.

WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein led off the evening with an aside to those in the crowd following the one-game playoff between the Washington Nationals and the Milwaukee Brewers: “One thing we don’t say at WIA events is turn off your cell phones.” Adelstein said the event raised $400,000 for workforce building efforts and will help teach over 1,300 new entrants to the wireless industry. Individual honorees included: Brendan Carr, FCC Commissioner; Susan Johnson, Executive VP, AT&T; Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY).

The two main programs benefiting from last night’s proceeds are:
  • WIA’s Telecommunications Education Center (TEC), a dynamic educational program designed to equip the wireless workforce to meet the demands of 5G build-out and deployment through technical skills training. 
  • Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), a multi-employer, nationwide apprenticeship program credentialed by the U.S. Department of Labor to train the telecommunications workforce for sustainable careers and 5G infrastructure build-out and deployment needs. Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ripon School Investigation Turns Up Carcinogens in the Soil Vapor

The Modesto Bee and CBS’ KMAX-TV (“Good Day Sacramento”) both ran stories late last week finally exonerating the cell tower industry of being the cancer-causing agent in Weston Elementary’s school children. Inside Towers reported on the flap in March as a series of “experts” were dutifully quoted by various media outlets as to the harmful effects of tower-generated microwave emissions. The stories were subsequently picked up and used throughout the U.S. and the world (the London Examiner, for one) by local groups and residents fighting tower structures on school grounds. The monopole’s owner, Sprint, under pressure, took down the tower to appease residents. 

In May, the focus shifted away from towers as the groundwater in Ripon was tested by the Regional Water Board and found to contain high elements of TCE, a residual chemical from a Nestle’s factory that had been operating near the school. Further studies released earlier in September have cited the soil vapor containing PCE, a carcinogenic solvent found in dry-cleaning as a leading contributor to local cancer-causing occurrences.

KMAX-TV said the PCE is not related to the Nestle’s plant but found near sewer pipes in the area. The report entitled the Interim Report on Soil Vapor and Groundwater Investigations Former Nestle Ripon Site by Hayley Aldrich was released by the school district on September 8.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Rural Carrier Tells Congress It Needs Funds to Replace Foreign Equipment

Instead of naming the policy to replace insecure communications network equipment “rip and replace,” it should be called “replace and then rip,” so networks are not disrupted. That’s what Pine Belt Wireless President John Nettles told lawmakers Friday during a hearing on securing the nation’s telecom supply chain.

The House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and Technology Subcommittee is considering several bills concerning 5G security. One bipartisan measure, H.R. 4459, would authorize $1 billion to help rural telecom carriers rip out and replace any equipment from foreign suppliers deemed a security threat.

Though many U.S. carriers have removed equipment from Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE from their communications networks, “It’s still a significant issue for smaller carriers,” said Subcommittee Chair Mike Doyle (D-PA). “We must help smaller carriers remove suspect equipment for the betterment of the country.” Continue Reading

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Not Much Agreement on C-Band Here

From left: Amit Nagpal, Aetna Consulting; Andrew Clegg, Google; Peter Pitsch, C-Band Alliance;
John Hunter, T-Mobile; Veena Rawat, GSMA; and Bob Weller, NAB.
Panelists discussing C-Band’s future locked horns during a panel discussion of the Americas Spectrum Management Conference this week. The issue is key, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said at the conference they hope the agency acts later this fall on the issue.

Google Spectrum Engineering Lead Andrew Clegg said his company’s plan concerns allowing shared use of the portion of the C-band spectrum that remains after a chunk is auctioned for wireless use. “You repack remaining users, and allow point-to-multipoint use,” in what remains, Clegg said. “You no longer have the luxury of these huge protection zones.” He claimed Google’s plan will work and not cause harmful interference with earth stations.

Broadcasters support the C-Band Alliance plan. CBA Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs Peter Pitsch called C-band the “goldilocks” of spectrum for 5G. The CBA plan calls for re-purposing and auctioning 200 MHz of the band, although he said the group is looking at possibly re-purposing more than that. “The problem is, it’s used to distribute broadcast programming to nearly 120 million homes. Think of all the folks getting ESPN and NPR. They still want that. This situation cries out for a market-driven, de-centralized process, which is what the CBA plan provides.” He also said the CBA plan offers the quickest path to free up the spectrum. Continue Reading

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Pai Promotes Tribal Application Window to Get Free 2.5 GHz Access

The FCC has launched several initiatives to expand broadband access on tribal lands. Chairman Ajit Pai was especially excited to tell attendees of the National Tribal Broadband Summit on Monday about one plan to give tribes priority access to spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, the largest contiguous block of spectrum below 3 GHz in the country.

Today, the 2.5 GHz band isn’t used in most of the West because technological advances have rendered the band’s original intended uses outdated, and arcane rules left it underused. This summer, the agency removed obsolete restrictions on this band, allowing greater flexibility in how the spectrum can be used.

The Commission is giving rural Indian tribes an exclusive window to obtain this spectrum to serve rural tribal lands. “Before any commercial auction of this spectrum, tribes can obtain this spectrum for free,” he said. Pai says this is the first time in the FCC’s history the agency has given tribes a “priority window” to obtain spectrum for wireless broadband. Continue Reading

Monday, September 23, 2019

Verizon Seeks Relief from Excessive Small Cell Fees

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

Some telecoms are pushing back at what they consider exorbitant fees to site small cells in a public right-of-way. Verizon recently sought relief from the FCC to settle a dispute with Clark County, Nevada.

The carrier sought a declaratory ruling from the agency, arguing the fees prohibit the provision of telecom services because they do not, “reasonably approximate the county’s actual costs,” are not limited to the county’s “reasonable costs,” and are discriminatory. Verizon asked the FCC to declare that the county may not charge recurring fees that exceed the reasonable annual rate of $270, as set forth in the agency’s Small Cell Declaratory Ruling.

Verizon told the FCC it tried, “numerous and prolonged attempts to negotiate” with Clark County, but was not able to do so. That’s why it turned to the Commission. The carrier has deployed 418 wireless facilities in the county, including 99 small cells. But it wants to deploy “hundreds” of small cells over the next three years to upgrade its 4G network and layer on 5G. Verizon said in a statement, “deploying within the county rights-of-way and on county-owned assets is key to that effort.” Continue Reading

Friday, September 20, 2019

Pennsylvania Joins State Effort to Block T-Mobile-Sprint Deal

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the latest state attorney general to oppose T-Mobile's Sprint merger. Shapiro said this week he’s joining a lawsuit to block the “anticompetitive megamerger,” making him the 18th attorney general to challenge the deal.

In July, the Department of Justice approved the transaction, on the condition that the new combined entity, to be called the “new T-Mobile,” sell some of its spectrum licenses and other businesses to Dish Network so Dish can create a viable fourth competitor. The FCC, too, approved the deal in a split vote, however the telecom transaction is not final. Continue Reading

Thursday, September 19, 2019

AT&T CEO Says Selling Towers Will Help Pay Down Debt

Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, told investors the carrier may soon divest itself of AT&T’s 5,600 tower inventory to continue to pay down debt following the acquisition of Time Warner. Stephenson made the comments at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York where he discussed the company's strategy going forward in 2019.

AT&T has paid down $9 billion in net debt in the first half of 2019, reducing its net debt by $18 billion since the acquisition was completed. The company, in a recent quarterly statement, increased its full-year free cash flow target by $2 billion to $28 billion in an effort to reduce its net debt-to-adjusted EBITDA ratio to the 2.5x range by the end of 2019.

Stephenson cited increases in demand for connectivity and bandwidth as a growing trend where the carrier would like to focus their assets. A direct path to the consumer, he said, gives AT&T a competitive advantage now that it’s a content provider. Continue Reading

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

FCC Authorizes SAS Deployments in 3.5 GHz CBRS Band

The FCC, in coordination with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Defense, on Monday certified that five Spectrum Access Systems (SAS) satisfied the Commission’s laboratory testing requirements and are approved to begin their initial commercial deployments in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band (3550-3700 MHz ). The approved SAS are operated by: Amdocs, CommScope, Federated Wireless, Google, and Sony.

The companies will conduct field tests and the Commission will assess whether each SAS can operate under actual deployment conditions. Each company must tell the agency when its deployment begins and whether it will operate with an approved Environmental Sensing Capability. The notification must include a primary point of contact for incumbent operators to report potential interference issues to the SAS. Initial commercial deployments must last at least 30 days and test several CBRS devices. The companies must report results to the government for final review. Stakeholders plan full commercial launches to begin in the fourth quarter of this year.

The promise of the CBRS band is that new entrants will use dynamic spectrum sharing to co-exist with federal U.S. Navy radar systems operating along the coasts. Using SAS to let them know when a channel is occupied will enable new entrants to operate on different CBRS channels to avoid interfering with naval operations. The news opens the door to a market opportunity for operators, enterprises and industrial players, according the CBRS Alliance, an industry organization focused on driving the development, commercialization, and adoption of OnGo™ shared spectrum solutions. AT&T, Charter Communications and Verizon have developed technology and services to support the use of OnGo. Commercial services are planned for thousands of sites. Continue Reading

Monday, September 16, 2019

FCC Acts on Industry Requests Concerning Macro Towers, Small Cells

UPDATE There’s FCC movement on two requests from the wireless industry relating to towers and small cells. The agency has invited public comment on a Petition for Rulemaking and a Petition for Declaratory Ruling, both filed by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA). The association asked the Commission to adopt new rules or explain existing ones regarding Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012. The Commission is also seeking public input on a similar request from CTIA.

WIA asked the FCC to amend its rules to reflect that collocations requiring an expansion of the current site—within 30 feet of a tower site—qualify for relief under Section 6409(a) and to require that fees associated with eligible facilities requests under Section 6409 be cost-based. WIA also asked the Commission to clarify:

  1. that Section 6409(a) and related rules apply to all state and local authorizations;
  2. when the time to decide an application begins to run;
  3. what constitutes a substantial change under Section 6409(a);
  4. that “conditional” approvals by localities violate Section 6409(a); and
  5. that localities may not establish processes or impose conditions that effectively defeat or reduce the protections afforded under Section 6409(a). Continue Reading

Friday, September 13, 2019

FCC OKs Over $112 Million in Rural Broadband Funding

The FCC Thursday authorized over $112.2 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband in nine states. The awards are the fifth round of funding from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction. Broadband providers will begin receiving the money later this month.

In total, the auction last year allocated $1.488 billion in support over the next ten years to expand broadband to more than 700,000 unserved rural homes and small businesses nationwide. The action brings the total authorized funding to over $1 billion. Additional rounds will be authorized in the coming months.

Funding applications approved by the agency Thursday include:

  • is receiving over $50.5 million over ten years to deploy service to 20,859 homes and businesses in California. Most of them will get speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream, using fixed wireless technology
  • W.A.T.C.H TV is receiving nearly $53.4 million over ten years to deploy service to 23,957 rural homes and businesses in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream are anticipated, using fixed wireless technology
  • Four rural phone companies are receiving $1.8 million to offer gigabit-speed fiber service to 536 rural homes and businesses in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Continue Reading

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Industry, Government, See a Path Forward to Fix Broadband Maps

From left: USTelecom’s Jonathan Spalter, NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield and
U.S. Cellular’s Grant Spellmeyer testify Wednesday.
The House Communications and Technology Subcommittee is considering five bills to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband location maps. Bi-partisan lawmakers heard from industry experts on Capitol Hill Wednesday about what they suggest are doable, fast and cost-effective fixes before the maps are used to direct federal subsidies to rural broadband providers.

“The lack of clear data has been a sore spot. Accurate maps of who does and who doesn’t have access to broadband [are needed] to close the digital divide, said Subcommittee Chair Mike Doyle (D-PA) during the hearing. “We can’t solve the problem if we don’t know the scope of the problem.”

The bills being considered would standardize the data submission process so all providers are submitting the same information the same way. The legislation also includes a challenge process so companies can have a chance to correct inaccuracies before funds are dispersed. Continue Reading

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

From Tragedy Comes Progress: How 9/11 Impacted Public Safety

Eighteen years ago, tragedy struck the U.S., and during the attack on 9/11, radio systems used by emergency personnel could not operate competently across agencies. In the aftermath, an investigation by the 9/11 Commission revealed gaps in emergency communications across the country, prompting the need for a nationwide network for law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel.

In 2012, Congress authorized the creation of the First Responder Network Authority (now FirstNet) and allocated 20 megahertz of spectrum, known as Band 14, to a dedicated first responder broadband network. The estimated $54 billion needed to build out the network was raised by selling television spectrum in the FCC’s broadcast incentive auction and by entering a 25-year public-private partnership with AT&T. The telecom is now building out and funding FirstNet, which went live in March 2018. The effort in the U.S has also created and inspired new public safety systems worldwide.

The ultimate vision for public safety is a converged network, a dedicated, public safety wireless broadband infrastructure capable of offering mission-critical services; these services will include voice, data, and video. LMR and LTE networks are coming together to make this vision a reality, albeit slowly. Continue Reading

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Bahamas Carrier Aliv Buys Into COWs and Survives the Storm

25 COWs purchased from Landa Mobile Systems LLC by Aliv pulled in their towers prior to the storm and says all are back in operation with no losses or damages.
When Michael Landa of Landa Mobile Systems LLC sold Bahamanian carrier Aliv on the benefits of buying COWs that can retract during a storm and redeploy afterward, he didn’t think his sales pitch would have such a dramatic demonstration. But Mother Nature brutally and relentlessly backed his claims. Other than a few standing monopoles, and those mostly non-functioning, the tower inventory across the islands were rendered inoperative by Hurricane Dorian last week.
“It’s nice to be part of the story that’s helping the island get back on its feet,” Landa, a service diabled veteran, told Inside Towers. Aliv, billing itself as “the Bahamas’ newest LTE network”, purchased 25 COWs from Landa, 15 of which were deployed in Nassau, with systems that serve the island and the Port of Nassau, supplying communications for all container and cruise ships. Landa said he had just air-freighted eight sets of guy wires to re-erect towers that were demolished by the sustained 180-mph winds. His systems will also help reconnect NASA and top-security U.S. missile defense sites.

Monday, September 9, 2019

PA PUC Moves to Resolve Broadband Install Fights

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) passed a measure that some commissioners say will make it easier for rural residents to get broadband; however one commissioner disagreed. The PUC voted 4-1 last week to take over pole attachment jurisdiction from the FCC. The vote means Pennsylvania would create a statewide forum to establish rates, terms for using utility poles, and obtaining rights-of-way, reports the Center Square.

The measure also establishes a group to advise the PUC on problems with state and federal pole attachments. The PUC Pole Attachment Working Group will consist of members of the PUC’s technical and legal staff, pole owners, pole attachers, telecommunication/broadband interest groups, consumer and small business advocates. The group will handle complaints and resolve disputes.

Giving the PUC a dispute resolution group will expedite broadband to the state’s rural areas, said Commissioner Norman Kennard. “Providing a dispute forum for pole attachments at the commission will allow for prompt resolution of fiber and wireless deployment, and result in more efficient and better priced broadband expansion for the benefit of our rural residents,” he said, according to The Center Square. Continue Reading

Friday, September 6, 2019

Senate Goes West to Hear Rural Broadband Testimony

Left: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr climbed 120’ up a 330’ Midco tower near Mitchell, SD before taking part in a rural broadband hearing yesterday afternoon in Sioux Falls, SD.  At right is VIKOR Teleconstruction CEO and NATE co-founder and formerChairman Craig Snyder. Both VIKOR and Midco are NATE members
VIKOR Teleconstruction CEO Craig Snyder, who’s also co-founder and former Chairman of the National Tower Erectors Association, asked Congress and the FCC Thursday for help in two ways to bring broadband to rural America.

Snyder commended the FCC and Commissioner Brendan Carr specifically, for the agency’s “forward-thinking” in clearing regulatory hurdles as the industry works to deploy 5G services. But more needs to be done to reduce regulatory red tape and with workforce development, Snyder said. “Whereas the electric utility industry has almost no zoning or federal hurdles involved in placing their elevated steel infrastructure across our cities and rural areas, telecommunications towers have been met with resistance at almost every turn,” he testified during a field hearing in Sioux Falls, SD on rural broadband. The hearing before members of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet was led by Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-SD).

Snyder cited bills in the House and Senate that could help alleviate the burdens on the telecom industry. “In particular we could use some help from the Senate with a companion bill to H.R. 1848 – Communications Training Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representatives Dave Loebsck (D-IA) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK). This bill would appropriate $20m per year for three fiscal years to develop classroom and field-based curriculum and certificate programs like the one being proposed by Southeast Tech,” Snyder testified. Continue Reading

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Dorian Raises Its Sights to the Carolinas

Hurricane Dorian gradually left Florida behind Wednesday, setting its sights on the coasts of Georgia and then the Carolinas. These areas face a triple threat of “destructive winds, flooding rains, and life-threatening storm surges,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

While Dorian stayed far enough off the coast to largely spare Florida from the worst of its wrath, forecast to make a much closer approach to the Carolinas coastline today. Impacts are thus expected to be more severe, reports The Washington Post.

The historic storm diminished to Category 2 but actually had grown in size following its devastating sweep through the Bahamas, reported USA Today. As of 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, the storm was 115 miles east of Jacksonville, FL, and moving north-northwest at 9 mph. The storm’s peak sustained winds were 105 mph, making it a high-end Category 2 storm. Dorian is expected to maintain its intensity through Thursday. Continue Reading

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

FCC Activates Disaster Information Reporting System in 34 Florida Counties

Communications infrastructure companies spent the weekend moving assets into position to restore service cut off by Hurricane Dorian. As of deadline, the storm had weakened to a Category 2, however the National Hurricane Center said it was growing, reported NPR
The hurricane was predicted to get “dangerously” close to Florida’s east coast late last night and into today.

Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia could feel the effects of Dorian in the coming days.
The FCC activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in 34 counties in Florida. According to carriers’ first reports Tuesday, damage so far appeared to be minimal, with 0.2 percent of cell sites not working out of the more than 9,600 cell sites in the affected areas. 

The Commission cautions that its report is a snapshot in time and the situation is constantly changing. The number of cell site outages in a specific area does not necessarily correspond to the availability of wireless service to consumers in that area. Wireless networks are often designed with numerous, overlapping cell sites that provide maximum capacity and continuity of service even when an individual site is inoperable. Continue Reading

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Bahamas Battered By Slow-Moving Dorian

Carriers, towercos and other communications infrastructure companies are watching Hurricane Dorian’s path and preparing to face the aftermath of whatever damage the storm could bring to Florida and potentially Georgia and the Carolinas.
At press time, Hurricane Dorian was still battering the Bahamas in the Atlantic Ocean, as a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph, according to ABC. Forecasters disagree on when and where where Dorian will hit next. If it keeps to Monday’s path, it looks like the closest passage to Florida will be near Cape Canaveral by Tuesday night into Wednesday morning with forecast sustained winds of 125 mph, which would make it a Category 3 hurricane. Reports yesterday afternoon said the slow one-mile-per-hour pace may help diminish the impact to the Atlantic Coast states.

If it soon starts to turn north, Florida would be spared Dorian’s full fury. But if Dorian moves a little more to the west, more serious storm effects would pummel parts of the coastline, reports The Washington Post. For this reason, the National Hurricane Center issued hurricane, storm surge, and tropical storm watches and warnings from the Atlantic coast of Florida northward into southeastern Georgia. Continue Reading

Friday, August 30, 2019

Anyone Order a Category Four Hurricane for the Holiday Weekend?

At deadline, the latest forecast on Hurricane Dorian showed the storm will strengthen over the coming days and has the potential to become a Category 4 as it moves toward the southeastern United States, reported NBC. The National Hurricane Center forecast Thursday that Hurricane Dorian could reach maximum winds of 130 mph, putting it at a Category 4 on Saturday. It’s still too soon to tell exactly where the storm will make landfall along the east coast of Florida and possibly as far north as South Georgia, but the Center added: "there is an increasing likelihood of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida east coast late this weekend or early next week."

Communications infrastructure companies are preparing for the storm. For example, NATE Chairman and President/CEO of MillerCo. Jimmy Miller tweeted that NATE members were, “having meetings/planning with wireless providers to move in after Hurricane Dorian to restore wireless service.”
All the major carriers are monitoring the storm and prepared to move anticipated restoration equipment and personnel to affected areas. Preparations include topping off generators at fixed and portable cell sites. Carriers are also preparing COWS, COLTS, SatCOLTS and other mobile cellular infrastructure for potential deployment to areas where coverage may be needed. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 29, 2019

T-Mobile Halts Construction and Extends Payment Terms

Reports from various Inside Towers sources have confirmed that T-Mobile, at least in several major markets, has put new builds on hold and has asked contractors to put off invoicing into 2020. Citing the delayed merger with Sprint as the major factor, one industry executive said small contractors working for the carrier will, “feel the pain.” T-Mobile was unavailable for comment.
The carrier late last week sent out emails to tower construction companies and contractors informing them that T-Mobile will solely concentrate on 5G-related PO’s and non-5G-related work will be paid at 120 days and not the normal payment terms which vary by contractor company.

“Additionally, these companies are being asked to supply materials (in many cases $15K to $20K per job), pay for cranes up front, and then they can only mark those up five percent,” said one contractor who wished to remain anonymous. Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

National Park Service Approves Nine-Tower Project in the Grand Tetons

High-speed internet is coming into Grand Teton National Park, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported Friday after heated opposition from wilderness groups and some residents. The National Park Service gave the green light to a proposal on August 15, to build a network of nine cell towers and 63 miles of a new fiber-optic line between Flagg Ranch, Moose and Kelly.

The accepted plan was a joint effort by multiple telecommunication companies and new signals are expected to cover portions of the adjacent Teton Wilderness. Although construction will start this fall, the majority of the system will be built in 2020, the News reported.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Honeywell Recalls Miller MightEvac, MightyLite Self-Retracting Lifelines

Late yesterday, Honeywell issued a recall of their Miller MightEvac, MightyLite Self-Retracting Lifeline. This list of model numbers can be found here.

A statement issued by Honeywell said: “All recipients of this mandatory stop use notice must read, understand and follow all instructions. Failure to do so may result in serious injury or death. At Honeywell, our mission is to be the global leader in personal protective equipment with innovative solutions that protect and save lives. In line with our commitment to our mission statement, we are writing to inform you of potentially non-conforming brake components in certain models of Miller MightEvac and MightyLite Self-Retracting Lifelines (SRLs) ranges manufactured within a specific timeframe.”

The company said there have been no reported incidents due to this “nonconformity” and issued detailed instructions on immediate actions end-users are required to take. Continue Reading

Friday, August 23, 2019

Rural Broadband Gets Nearly $5B in Funds From the FCC

The FCC Thursday authorized over $4.9 billion in support over the next decade for maintaining, improving, and expanding affordable rural broadband. The carrier support includes tribal land, too (see separate story below).

The money will go towards 455,334 homes and businesses served by 171 carriers in 39 states and American Samoa. The funds are targeted to smaller rural carriers, traditionally known as “rate-of-return” carriers. These carriers agreed this year to accept subsidies based on the FCC’s Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or A-CAM, which provides predictability, rewards efficiency, and provides more value for each taxpayer dollar.

The homes and businesses are located in sparsely populated rural areas where the per-location price of deployment and ongoing costs of providing broadband service are high. They require support from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund to facilitate network improvements and keep rates reasonably comparable to those in urban areas. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 22, 2019

USTelecom, Partners Say Broadband Mapping Concept Works

UPDATE USTelecom delivered to the FCC results from its Broadband Data Mapping Initiative. The premise involved updating the data the Commission uses to more accurately map what localities are covered and reveal those that are not. The association says a four-month pilot proves the concept works, and can be implemented quickly and efficiently nationwide, with the agency’s help.

The industry-led project includes several companies and associations. They include: ITTA, The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, TDS, Verizon, and Windstream. Key findings from pilot testing their concept in Virginia and Missouri include:

  • The pilot program was a success. Using state-of-the-art technology and datasets, it is now possible to precisely identify and geocode every structure in a geographic area that can receive broadband.
  •  Pinpointing service availability. The pilot revealed in just the two states, 38 percent of homes and businesses counted as “served” under current reporting are not receiving service from participating providers. While not every broadband provider participated in this pilot—that still leaves the potential for a substantial misrepresentation of service availability.
  • Inaccurate census block counts. Forty-eight percent of the location counts in rural Missouri and Virginia census blocks are wrong, often significantly wrong. Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Huawei Tech Ban Extended

UPDATE The Department of Commerce Monday extended its Temporary General License, which gives carriers and consumers a limited time use of goods from Huawei and affiliate companies, to essentially wean them off of Huawei networking equipment. The license, which offers “narrow exceptions,” was set to expire 90 days from yesterday. This is the second 90-day extension for Huawei gear.

“As we continue to urge consumers to transition away from Huawei’s products, we recognize that more time is necessary to prevent any disruption,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “Simultaneously, we are constantly working to ensure that any exports to Huawei and its affiliates do not violate the terms of the Entity Listing or Temporary General License.” Continue Reading

Monday, August 19, 2019

Analyst Advises Caution on Heels of Strong Towerco Quarters

Having recently spoken to several private tower companies, RF engineering firms and other companies in the wireless services space, Jennifer Fritzsche, Senior Analyst, Wells Fargo Securities, had a “slow your roll” moment.

“On the heels of very strong macro activity in 2Q,” Fritzsche said, “there was some voices of caution which highlighted some things to watch for in late 2019/early 2020. While we favor the resiliency of tower business, with the peer group’s EBITDA and AFFO multiples appreciating 6.5 turns and 6.8 turns, respectively, we struggle with valuation for the group at these levels,” she said. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Pai Calls for Approving T-Mo-Sprint Deal; Critics Want More Public Input

The FCC is on the path to formally approving the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. Chairman Ajit Pai had said he was inclined to okay the deal, and Wednesday he shared a draft order with his colleagues to approve it, subject to conditions. He asked them to vote in favor of the transaction as well.

Pai called the FCC’s review of the proposed $26B transaction “one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history.” The evidence, he said, shows the deal will bring 5G wireless service faster to more Americans, including rural areas. The draft order contains enforceable conditions, requiring coverage of at least 99 percent of Americans within six years.

Many critics have said the deal means less competition among wireless carriers, which will drive up consumer prices. In fact, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said after receiving the draft order approving, “the largest wireless merger in history,” she believes “we need more competition, not less. I am not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to a better outcome for consumers.” She called on the agency to open up the transaction to more public comment before the Commission votes on the transaction, noting: “too much here has been done behind closed doors.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Verizon Sues City of Rochester Over Small Cell Siting

Verizon sued the city of Rochester, NY, alleging the city’s Telecommunications Code violates FCC rules. At issue are fees for siting small cells, pole attachments and rights-of-way compensation, according to WHAM-TV. The company asserts Rochester’s fees for underground and aerial installations are unreasonable and “discriminatory.”

The case began after the carrier tried to upgrade its network for 5G. Verizon says it submitted plans to the city, including changes to comply with the code. However, the carrier asserts the code enacted by the city did not include Verizon’s suggestions, which the carrier alleges would make the code compliant with the FCC’s rule.

In April, Verizon says it learned “an unavoidable and actual controversy exists” with the city, according to the account. In July, the carrier alleges, Rochester told Verizon it needs to sign a master license agreement, complete permit applications and pay all fees that stacked up after the code became effective, reported WHAM. Continue Reading

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

FCC Okays $121M for Rural Broadband

The FCC on Monday authorized over $121 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband in 16 states. Providers will begin receiving the money later this month. Separately, the agency approved similar funding for upstate New York (see story below.) 

The money is the fourth wave of support from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction that allocated $1.488 billion in support to expand broadband to more than 700,000 unserved rural homes and small businesses. Monday’s action brings the total authorized funding to over $924 million. Additional rounds will be authorized in the coming months.

“This round of funding is yet another step toward closing the digital divide, providing access to digital opportunity to over 36,000 more unserved rural homes and businesses,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Providers must build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses in the areas they won in a state within three years. Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 8, 2019

NAB Pans Coalition’s C-Band Proposal as “Out of Touch”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says a proposal to re-allocate more than 200 MHz of C-Band spectrum (3.7 to 4.2 GHz) put forth by America’s Communications Association, Charter Communications and the Competitive Carriers Association will delay freeing up spectrum for wireless use and “give oxygen to ill-conceived, self-interested schemes that are out of touch with reality.”

The coalition, which calls itself, ACA Connects, says its 5G Plus plan makes available more critical 5G spectrum (at least 370 MHz) faster than other current proposals and protects and “future-proofs the delivery of pay television programming by transitioning it to fiber delivery.” It also uses auction proceeds to pay for fiber deployment and use to make satellite incumbents whole, contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury, and increases broadband deployment by building fiber, including in rural areas.

An ACA lobbyist told an advisor to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week more material will be submitted to the agency detailing how the fiber network would be designed, established, launched, maintained, and paid for, particularly the part of the network that connects programmers to data centers. Continue Reading

Friday, August 2, 2019

FCC Proposes Launching $20B+ for Rural Broadband Amid Data Concerns

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
Sparks didn’t fly among the FCC Commissioners Thursday as vigorously as they often do over an item to set the launch of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in motion. Yet there was still room to disagree over how fast the agency is working to distribute funds to broadband providers.

Chairman Ajit Pai announced the fund this spring alongside President Donald Trump. It will direct up to $20.4 billion over ten years to help providers build out broadband in unserved rural areas. The money is repurposed from existing subsidy dollars.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly lauded the effort, which he said, “takes necessary and appropriate steps to ensure unserved areas are prioritized.” He asked for extra financial incentives for providers to serve the hardest areas and is pleased those made it into the final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Continue Reading

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Today is Critical in States’ Effort to Block T-Mobile-Sprint Deal

UPDATE Lawyers for the 13 Attorneys General of 12 states and the District of Columbia are moving forward with their litigation to block T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint. Filed before the carrier’s deal with the Department of Justice was announced, the AGs originally asked a federal court for an expedited trial date. The trial is set to begin October 7.

Today, during a status hearing in New York, the states will ask the court to delay the trial. That will give the states time to revise their case to account for the DOJ’s proposal, reports The Hill.

The DOJ last Friday approved a merger that would require T-Mobile and Sprint to spin off significant assets to Dish, in order for the satellite television distributor to create a competing fourth major, nationwide mobile wireless network. While five state AGs eventually sided with the DOJ on the transaction, the 13 holdouts did not. Continue Reading

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

“Silver Buckshot” Needed to Crack Rural Digital Divide

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief “We’ve been talking about the rural digital divide for about 20 years. New technology always comes to other areas before rural,” said Michael Santorelli, Director, Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York Law School, during a panel discussion Tuesday on closing the digital divide.

Santorelli cited an FCC report that pegs the digital divide as affecting 19 million Americans, defining broadband internet speed as 25 mpbs download/3mbps upload.

Indiana State Senator Eric Koch said, “This is one of those issues where there is no silver bullet” to solve the issue. Rather, “It will take some silver buckshot” to fix. “If there were an easy answer it would have been solved years ago.”

In 2014, Indiana formed a rural broadband working group. Just defining broadband and what it means to be “served” took up several initial meetings, according to Koch. Continue Reading

Monday, July 29, 2019

DOJ OKs T-Mobile-Sprint; Requires Divestiture Package

The Department of Justice said Friday it and the Attorneys General for five states reached a settlement with T-Mobile and Sprint concerning their proposed $26B merger. The settlement requires what the DOJ characterized as a “substantial” divestiture package in order to enable a viable facilities-based competitor to enter the market.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, T-Mobile and Sprint must divest prepaid business, including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Sprint prepaid, to Dish Network. The proposed deal also calls for the divestiture of certain spectrum assets to Dish. Dish will pay T-Mobile approximately $5 billion for the assets it is acquiring: $1.4 billion for the prepaid businesses and $3.6 billion for the spectrum.  

In addition, T-Mobile and Sprint must make at least 20,000 cell sites available to Dish and hundreds of retail locations, according to the DOJ. T-Mobile must also provide Dish with what it calls “robust access” to its network for seven years while Dish builds its own 5G network. Continue Reading

Friday, July 26, 2019

Colony Capital Acquires Digital Bridge for $325 Million

Colony Capital, Inc. (NYSE: CLNY), a global investment management firm, announced that it acquired Digital Bridge Holdings LLC (“Digital Bridge”) for $325 million. The Digital Bridge acquisition follows the May 2019 final closing of Digital Colony Partners, a $4.05 billion fund sponsored by Colony and Digital Bridge. Digital Colony Partners is dedicated to global opportunities in digital infrastructure and is the largest first-time institutional fund of this type.

Following a transition period, Marc Ganzi, a founder and Chief Executive Officer of Digital Bridge, and Managing Partner and an Investment Committee Member at Digital Colony, will become the CEO of Colony, succeeding Thomas J. Barrack, Jr., who will return to the position of Executive Chairman. Ganzi will focus with Barrack, the Colony board, and executive team to continue Colony’s strategic plan of selling non-core assets, reducing G&A, growing investment management, generating liquidity and de-risking, and maintaining REIT status and a dividend. Continue Reading