Thursday, April 30, 2020

Executives Assess COVID’s Effect on Tower Builds

The tower and wireless infrastructure industries are in a very good place, considering what’s going on nationally with the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, executives said Wednesday. However, supply chain challenges are among new problems, said experts during the virtual Wireless West “Tower Hour.”

APC Towers CEO Danny Agresta said the pandemic has changed his daily questions from: “Where’s the steel? Do we have a permit yet?” to, asking customers if they can access his company’s platforms so project milestones aren’t missed.

Agresta says his company keeps in touch with NATE about what’s going on with crews. Citing the association’s recent member survey, Agresta said: “It’s clear contractors have concerns” regarding travel, lodging, and food. “I don’t know if that will still be true in a month or three months from now.” He said: “We’ve heard rumblings there [are] supply chain problems.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Critics Call Out Rosy FCC Broadband Report

The FCC recently released its annual broadband deployment report, and said the numbers show the digital divide continues to close. Critics claim otherwise.

The FCC says the report revealed the number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continues to decline, by more than 14 percent in 2018. The number of Americans without access to 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband with a median speed of 10/3 Mbps, based on Ookla data, declined approximately 54 percent between 2017 and 2018. And the vast majority of Americans—more than 85 percent—now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25 Mbps, a 47 percent increase since 2017, concludes the report.
“From 2016 to 2018, the number of Americans without access to 25/3 Mbps fixed broadband service fell by more than 30 percent,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “And in 2018 and 2019, the United States set consecutive records for new fiber deployment, with the number of homes passed by fiber increasing by 5.9 million and 6.5 million, respectively.” 

The Commission cited the broadband industry’s approximately $80 billion investment in network infrastructure in 2018, for the improvement, noting it’s the highest annual amount in at least the last decade. In 2019, fiber broadband networks became available to roughly 6.5 million additional homes, the largest one-year increase ever, with smaller providers accounting for 25 percent of these new fiber connections, according to the agency. Continue Reading

Thursday, April 23, 2020

President Focuses on Broadband for Next Coronavirus Negotiations

President Donald Trump wants to include broadband as a priority in the next phase of coronavirus relief. The Senate Tuesday passed a $484 billion plan to replenish a small-business payroll fund and pump more money into hospitals and testing programs. The House has asked lawmakers, who have been at home with Congress all but shuttered, to return today for a roll-call vote, reported the AP.

On Tuesday, the President tweeted: “After I sign this bill, we will begin discussions on the next legislative initiative with fiscal relief…including much needed infrastructure investments for broadband,” among other things.

The Administration's big priorities include "broadband for the Middle West," Trump later told reporters during his evening news briefing. He added that "the farmers have been treated terribly when it comes to the internet," according to Politico.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

RWA, NTCA, Ask Congress Not to Give T-Mobile a “Handout” from Virus Fund

The Rural Wireless Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, Communications Workers of America, and three consumer groups called on Congress to ensure that T-Mobile does not receive COVID-19 recovery funding to meet its merger-specific build-out commitments. T-Mobile made those promises when it sought approval of its acquisition of Sprint from the FCC, Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and state public utilities commissions.

“The New T-Mobile has repeatedly and emphatically claimed that as a direct result of the merger, it would have the necessary resources to deliver 5G to millions of square miles of the U.S. and hundreds of millions of Americans, including those living in and traveling through rural America,” the groups say in a letter. “[T]o the extent there will be additional stimulus recovery measures, Congress needs to make sure T-Mobile does not receive funding as a corporate handout to meet commitments it already made based on synergies that it lauded to get its deal done.” Continue Reading

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

FCC Approves Ligado’s 5G Network Over Protests

UPDATE The FCC Monday unanimously voted to approve an order to allow satellite company Ligado to deploy a low-power nationwide 5G network. Ligado is the wireless satellite venture formerly known as LightSquared that emerged from bankruptcy in 2015. The vote came despite protests from the Defense Department, 12 other federal agencies and major U.S. airlines. The Wireless Infrastructure Association praised the decision.

Ligado will be able to use the L-Band spectrum, which is also used for GPS and other navigation systems because the signals can penetrate cloud cover. The Commission said the approval order includes strict conditions aimed at ensuring global positioning systems would not experience harmful interference.

But last week, the federal agencies and airlines said it would interfere, Inside Towers reported. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said via Twitter on Friday that the “Ligado proposal would needlessly imperil GPS-dependent national security capabilities.” Continue Reading

Monday, April 20, 2020

Last Nail in the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger Hammered Out

UPDATE The long-awaited, $23 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint received unanimous final approval on April 16, from California's Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), reported Reuters. In March, the CPUC said it would approve the merger with conditions, which T-Mobile and Sprint agreed to uphold.

In 2019, the Justice Department and FCC sanctioned the merger on the condition that the combined wireless company sell off Dish Network assets. Reuters reported the biggest obstacle for the telecoms was a legal battle with state attorneys general who argued the deal would mean higher prices for consumers. However, in February, a U.S. federal judge overruled the argument, and the merger closed on April 1, Inside Towers reported.

The combined company now operates under the T-Mobile name and will trade on the NASDAQ as "TMUS,” according to the account. The objective of the deal was to allow both companies to join their high-band and low-band spectrum, enabling a faster roll-out of 5G.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Pai Signals Approval of Ligado L-Band Use for 5G

Thursday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft to his colleagues regarding the approval of satellite provider Ligado’s application to deploy a nationwide broadband network in the L-Band. The network would primarily support 5G and Internet of Things services. The order comes with conditions to ensure existing L-band users are protected from harmful interference.

The decision comes over the objections of 13 government agencies, led by the Department of Defense, who warn it might interfere with military GPS operations. They said so in a memo co-signed by representatives of the Army, Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. It was also signed by the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice and Transportation as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and National Science Foundation, according to Inside Global Navigation Satellite Systems. 

At the center of the debate is a proposal to take frequencies allocated primarily for use by satellites and allow them to be used for broadband communications. Extensive testing has shown that the proposal, even in a lower power form, would cause interference to GPS receivers. Those receivers are used for navigation and positioning but also for accurate timing that enables the synchronization of mobile communications and internet traffic. Continue Reading

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Frontier Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

Frontier Communications filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late Tuesday evening and said it would continue to serve customers while restructuring. The move was expected due to the company’s high debt load of more than $17 billion, according to Bloomberg.

The company said it’s entered into a restructuring support agreement with bondholders representing more than 75 percent of Frontier’s $11 billion in outstanding unsecured bonds. The plan is expected to reduce the company’s debt by more than $10 billion and provide “significant financial flexibility” to support continued investment in Frontier’s long-term growth.

Frontier and its direct and indirect subsidiaries voluntarily filed petitions under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in the Southern District of New York. “We are pleased that constructive engagement with our bondholders over many months has resulted in a comprehensive recapitalization and restructuring. We do not expect to experience any interruption in providing services to our customers,” said Robert Schriesheim, Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Board of Directors. Continue Reading

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Trenton, NJ Issues Wireless Telecom Ban Citing Public Health Concerns

As rapidly as COVID-19 spread across the world, so have rumors linking the virus to 5G, causing the City of Trenton, NJ to ban new towers and antennas.

Mayor Reed Gusciora and members of the Trenton legislative body received a letter on April 6, from resident Tahirah Gurley, opposing telecom in the city and citing COVID-19. Gurley’s letter, obtained by The Trentonian, said, “We ask that you impose a moratorium on ‘small cells’ and other wireless infrastructure, permits, process, and deployment until the COVID-19 emergency is over. The wireless providers are using the COVID-19 emergency as cover to expand and cement their rapid and virtually unsupervised deployment of harmful wireless infrastructure.”

According to The Trentonian, councilman Santiago Rodriguez consulted attorney Edward Kologi about Gurley’s request for a ban. "There is clear Federal and State law governing such applications, which must be strictly adhered to by the applicant,” said Kologi. “The City's ability to take action in this process, even if it were inclined to do so, would be extremely limited, based upon the governing statutes.” Continue Reading

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

NAB Urges FCC to Include 6 GHz Interference Protections

NAB is cautioning the FCC about the agency’s draft proposal to reallocate spectrum in the 6 GHz band for WiFi. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the move would increase network capacity and “help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.” He intends to have the item ready for a vote April 23. However the broadcast trade lobby is concerned that unlicensed operations in the band (5.925-7.125 GHz) could interfere with stations’ 6 GHz use for electronic news gathering.

WiFi operations on the same channel as mobile news gathering operations can easily cause interference if the WiFi device is near a window or outdoors, notes NAB in a filing Monday describing separate calls with Commission staffers. The draft order concludes, however, that “we find the risk of harmful interference to incumbent operations to be insignificant.”

But as NAB observes, the draft order doesn’t say the agency conducted its own analysis to reach that conclusion. The FCC took issue with some of the data presented by broadcasters and states that in the Commission’s “experience,” and “engineering judgment,” it believes any harm is minimal. That leaves broadcasters with no way to evaluate the accuracy of the draft order’s conclusion, according to NAB. Continue Reading

Monday, April 13, 2020

Federal Agencies Want FCC to Revoke China Telecom Licenses

Several federal agencies told the FCC because of past offenses and potential national security threats, it should revoke China Telecom’s common carrier licenses. China is owned by the Chinese government, and does business in the U.S. in part as a reseller of mobile services to people and institutions with ties to China.

The Department of Justice led the review of China Telecom’s authorizations, which also included the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. It based the recommendation on developments since the authorizations were last transferred in 2007, including China Telecom’s failure to comply with the terms of an existing agreement with the DOJ. In its recommendation, the Executive Branch agencies identified what they said were substantial and unacceptable national security and law enforcement risks associated with China Telecom’s operations. They said those render the FCC authorizations inconsistent with the public interest.

More specifically the recommendation was based on: Continue Reading

Friday, April 10, 2020

NATE Releases Results of COVID-19 Impact Survey of Members

The opening survey question by NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association was “in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is your company still conducting routine business operations and hours of service?” Out of 224 responses, 85.27 percent said “yes.” Another question asked if the member company’s crews experienced logistical issues on the road, i.e., hotel and food accommodations, as a result of the virus (65 percent said “yes”).

The association unveiled the results of the nine-question Member COVID-19 Impact Survey yesterday.

The survey, conducted over a six day period from Friday, March 27, to Wednesday, April 1, 2020, included responses from 224 member companies with headquarters in 40 different states. NATE conducted the survey to assess how the COVID-19 public health pandemic is impacting the industry in order to help guide the association’s efforts to identify future membership needs and resources during these unprecedented times.

“Surveys are snapshots in time. The association believes the NATE Member COVID-19 Impact Survey contains valuable insight directly from the front lines of deployment that can be a resource for members of Congress, government agencies, wireless carriers, broadcasters, tower owners, construction management firms, sub-contractors and tower technicians during this very fluid pandemic situation,” stated President/CEO Todd Schlekeway.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Connect (X) Show Will Go On in Virtual Format

One of the industry’s major conferences, WIA’s Connect (X), has been least the live event in Miami has. In keeping with the theme of bringing the world together via wireless connectivity, the show will go on however, and be rebranded as “Connect (X): All Access. The date has been set for May 19, according to the WIA press release.

WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein spoke with Inside Towers yesterday about the new format. “We want to serve the role of bringing the industry together,” Adelstein said. “This is a crucial time, and we still want to bring top industry leaders together to discuss the challenges we face, workforce development, trends in capex and more.” 

WIA Board member and Treasurer, and CEO of Vertical Bridge, Alex Gellman, said “We’ll miss the socializing but the content will be as good or better. The lineup is very good and so are the training materials. All of my company has been through it.” Gellman said the new format is well worth investigating. “It will be impressive,” he said. Continue Reading

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

UK Cell Towers Torched by Coronavirus Conspiracy Anarchists

Conspiracy theories surrounding the notion that 5G technology is connected to the spread of coronavirus have peaked in the U.K. causing fiery attacks on cell towers.

Over the past 24 hours, Vodafone reported four of its cell towers were set on fire causing significant damage and outages to area customers. Vodafone U.K. CEO Nick Jeffery, said, “This is now a matter of national security. Police and counter terrorism authorities are investigating.”

EE, a British mobile network operator and internet service provider, also reported a tower fire and is working with local police to investigate the possibility of arson. “This site served thousands of people in the Birmingham area, providing vital 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity as it has done for many years,” an EE spokesperson told CNBC. “We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.” Continue Reading

Monday, April 6, 2020

State Utilities Commission Won’t Condone Merger Until April 16 Vote

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said Thursday that T-Mobile and Sprint are prohibited from merging until it says so. Although the CPUC put out a proposal to approve the deal earlier this month, they said their decision is not binding until they officially vote on it on April 16. Both companies have California subsidiaries that are public utility telephone corporations under state law, and subject to the jurisdiction of the commission.

The PUC issued the following comment: “Public Utilities Code Section 854(a) states in relevant part that “[n]o person or corporation, whether or not organized under the laws of this state, shall merge, acquire, or control … either directly or indirectly, any public utility organized and doing business in this state without first securing authorization to do so from the commission. The merger of the companies’ operations in California is therefore subject to CPUC approval. Accordingly, Joint Applicants shall not begin merger of their California operations until after the CPUC issues a final decision on the pending applications.” Continue Reading

Friday, April 3, 2020

Dems Want Broadband in Next Virus Stimulus Bill

Days after passage of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, Key House Democrats are planning efforts for the next round of emergency aid, including major investments in infrastructure.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), joined by several key committee chairs, said this week the Democrats' fourth phase of coronavirus stimulus would be largely focused on helping the front-line medical workers, homebound parents and patients afflicted by the deadly virus. Democrats are also eyeing new funding for broadband, water, schools and other infrastructure systems that have proven insufficient, they said, in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

"There are infrastructure needs that our country has that directly relate to how we are proceeding with the coronavirus," Pelosi said on a call with reporters, reported The Hill. "And we would like to see in what comes next, something that has always been nonpartisan, bipartisan, and that is an infrastructure piece that takes us into the future." Continue Reading

Thursday, April 2, 2020

New T-Mobile Brims With Optimism as Legere Steps Down as CEO

The telecom world and cellular consumers finally got closure yesterday as the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint became official. The newly formed company, New T-Mobile, said the deal will drive an investment of $40 billion into its network over the next three years and unleash at least $43 billion in value for shareholders. The company said there were no immediate plans for the Sprint brand while Sprint’s investor relations web page directed all inquiries to T-Mobile’s page. It was also announced that Mike Sievert will replace John Legere as CEO, effective immediately.

“It’s a relief to end the uncertainty and move on with business. Everyone is excited to seize this opportunity to build up our nation’s wireless networks,” said WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “It’s more important now than ever to ensure that our nation’s next-generation wireless networks are deployed quickly to serve communities, providing means for telehealth and distance learning, and restoring economic growth and jobs for America.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Forget the Date, Long-Awaited Sprint/T-Mo Merger Expected Today

At deadline yesterday, Inside Towers was seeing multiple reports on the multi-year saga also known as the Sprint/T-Mobile merger coming to a conclusion sometime today.  According to unnamed informants at Bloomberg, a group of 16 banks were formally notified Monday that they will need to make the funds available today, to complete the deal. The banks are to provide $23 billion of loans to T-Mobile US Inc. The COVID-19 outbreak, according to Bloomberg, disrupted plans to sell the debt to third-party investors.

New Street Research reported yesterday the companies are withdrawing their wireline transfer of control application which is seen as a precursor to finalizing things today, rather than waiting for a California PUC vote on April 16. The merger, should it happen, comes less than two months after a U.S. District Court approved the deal and, in the process, silenced 14 state attorneys general who opposed the transaction.