Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crown, AMT: These Tactics Delay Wireless Infrastructure Siting

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

In order for wireless networks to be constructed, carriers must work with two primary stakeholders that have the power to significantly slow the progress of construction and modification: local jurisdictions and other utility pole owners.

That’s according to Crown Castle and American Tower Corporation, which told the FCC this week that clarifying Section 6409 of the agency’s rules will serve the public interest by facilitating the review process for wireless infrastructure modifications and speeding broadband deployment. The towercos were commenting on petitions for rulemaking from the Wireless Infrastructure Association and CTIA concerning wireless infrastructure deployment.

Though many states and localities have enacted federally-compliant and complementary codes to streamline the process of reviewing eligible facilities requests (EFRs), others continue to impose the same requirements on EFRs as they do for all other wireless siting approvals, according to Crown. This means EFRs must go through multiple approval processes before an applicant can proceed to construction. “For example, one township in New York first requires an applicant to obtain a planning approval before applying for and obtaining architectural board approval, prior to applying for a building permit,” says Crown. Continue Reading

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pai Proposes to Ban Carriers from Using USF Money on Huawei, ZTE

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Monday circulated to his colleagues two proposals aimed at protecting U.S. communications networks from national security threats. He hopes the agency will vote on the proposals at the November 19 meeting. 

First, a draft Report and Order would prohibit companies from using money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund (USF) to purchase equipment or services from any company that poses a national security threat. The draft R&O would initially designate Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE as companies that pose a national security risk. The Commission could add more companies over time. The ban would apply to both wireline and wireless carriers; however the agency believes Huawei gear is purchased by mostly wireless carriers.

Second, a draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and draft Information Collection Order would propose to remove and replace equipment produced by covered companies from USF-funded communications networks. The agency would conduct an assessment to find out how much Huawei and ZTE equipment is in these networks and the costs to remove and replace it. Continue Reading

Monday, October 28, 2019

Peppertree Capital Acquires the Last of AT&T’s U.S. Tower Inventory

AT&T (NYSE: T) announced Friday that it agreed to a sale-leaseback of its remaining domestic company-owned wireless towers to Peppertree Capital Management, Inc. Under the terms of the sale, valued at up to $680 million, Peppertree will purchase more than 1,000 AT&T towers, and AT&T will lease back capacity on the towers from Peppertree.

The sale is consistent with AT&T’s plans to monetize non-strategic assets as it continues to pay down debt.

 Given the company’s confidence in reaching a net debt-to-adjusted EBITDA ratio in the 2.5x range by the end of this year, shareholders should expect that share buybacks will be in the mix in the fourth quarter of 2019, along with continued de-levering. Continue Reading

Friday, October 25, 2019

Defense Department to Test 5G

The Department of Defense plans to issue a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) in November focused on “large-scale” experiments and prototyping of 5G technologies to take place at four U.S. military bases. The DoD sees this as a project that private industry can take part in as well, and says the telecom industry will have an opportunity to provide feedback before the final RFP is issued.

"The DoD wants our American industry to lead in 5G. A strong American economy is vital to our national security," said Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Lisa Porter during remarks at GSMA MWC19 Los Angeles. Porter told reporters after her remarks that, “the uses cases we’re looking at have obvious military and commercial relevance,” according to FedScoop.

“5G is really ultimately about ubiquitous connectivity,” she said. “It’s not just cell phones and cat videos. One thing we can confidently say is there’s going to be a lot of complexity. And with complexity comes much greater attack surfaces, much more vulnerability — we have to understand those, and as we work through use cases that are relevant to us and relevant to the commercial sector, what we hope we can do together is understand how we mitigate those vulnerabilities and get out ahead of that.” Continue Reading

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.