Thursday, November 30, 2017

Report Downplays 5G Demand

A new report suggests the number of cell sites needed for 5G wireless may not be as high as previously thought. According to ABI Research, nearly 20 countries have made regulatory announcements pushing for the use of 3.4-3.8 GHz bands with the 2019 launch of commercial 5G. The lower bands can transmit further than the higher frequencies previously used by companies with 5G spectrum plans, which may reduce the facility densification needed to support 5G.
In response to a request made by CTIA – The Wireless Association, the FCC is reviewing its plan for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band (3550-3700 MHz), Inside Towers reported. The Commission previously designated this spectrum for small Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to use for fixed wireless broadband, says Continue Reading

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pai Takes On Net Neutrality ‘Hysteria, Hot Air’

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday defended his Net Neutrality proposal at an event organized by the conservative think tank, R Street Institute, and technologists community, Lincoln Network. The “Restoring Internet Freedom” order would undo the 2015 change that re-classified the internet as a utility so ISPs must treat all internet traffic the same, with no fast or slow speed lanes.
The upshot of that change, Pai said, has meant more regulatory burdens for smaller ISPs that cancel, curtail or delay fiber network upgrades. Nearly two dozen small providers submitted a letter saying the FCC’s “heavy-handed rules ‘affect our ability to find financing.’” A coalition of 19 municipal internet service providers—city-owned nonprofits—told the FCC that they, “often delay or hold off from rolling out a new feature or service because [they] cannot afford to deal with a potential complaint and enforcement action,” he said. 

As he “cut through the hysteria and hot air” surrounding net neutrality, Pai said the change he wants his colleagues to vote on at the December 14 meeting will “bring back the same framework that governed the internet for most of its existence.” He called it “light touch regulation,” unlike “destroying the internet” or “ending the internet as we know it,” that he’s reading from the opposition in the media lately. Continue Reading

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Why Pole Attachment Improvements Remain Elusive

The FCC adopted an order six years ago designed to equalize the regulated rates paid by telecom providers to attach equipment to utility poles. That has not panned out. In fact, a USTelecom survey about pole attachment rates charged by Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) points out the opposite. The results show rates charged to Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) have increased even as the pole attachment rates charged by ILECs to competitive carriers and cable companies have significantly decreased. USTelecom urges the Commission to move forward with its proposal to create a presumption that ILECs are entitled to competitively neutral rates when attaching to investor-owned utility (IOU) poles.

A filing shows a “wide disparity in pole rental rates,” according to the trade association. Surveyed ILECs pay IOUs nearly nine times what ILECs charge cable providers, and almost seven times the pole attachment rates ILECs charge CLECs. The ILECs pay an average of $26.12 to IOUs today in Commission-regulated states, compared to cable and CLEC provider payments to ILECs, which average $3 and $3.75, respectively, according to the survey.  Continue Reading

Monday, November 27, 2017

Net Neutrality Likely to End Up in Court — Again

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained how rolling back so-called “Net Neutrality” rules will impact internet service providers and consumers. He plans to do that in a vote on December 14, Inside Towers reported. The details of the plan were revealed last Wednesday. Here’s the official FCC version, and this is Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s “factsheet.”
We are getting government out of the business of regulating how the internet works, and we’re going to return to the market-based approach that served us well for two decades, and we’re going to let this online platform be governed by engineers and entrepreneurs instead of bureaucrats and lawyers here in Washington,” he told Fox News.

Opponents of the plan to roll back the 2015 rules that re-classified the internet so it’s regulated like a utility rather than a communications service like Amazon and Google, are likely to fight the presumed December vote in court, reports Politico. A federal appeals court upheld the current rules in 2016, going against a challenge from AT&T, USTelecom and other industry trade groups. Continue Reading

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Twilight Towers on Tap For FCC Vote December 14

The FCC’s solution for so-called “twilight towers” has been circulated among all five Commissioners for a vote. If approved, the change could open up thousands of towers for wireless broadband deployment. The item will be on the agenda for the agency’s December 14 meeting.

The towers in question were built between 2001 and 2005 and did not necessarily go through review under the National Historic Preservation Act because back then, the FCC had not yet provided clear guidance on how to comply with that provision. Those towers cannot accept co-locations. Now, newest FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced yesterday, that if approved, the Commission’s approach means the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would adopt a “Program Comment” document to exclude co-locations on twilight towers from routine historic preservation review. Continue Reading

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Rural Telcos Ask FCC to Help Close Digital Divide

A group of 21 rural telecom providers urged the FCC to help close the digital divide by adopting light-touch regulations that provide companies confidence to invest in network upgrades and expansions that can help close the digital divide between urban and rural households.  

“As executives of broadband companies serving rural and small-town America, we are writing to express our shared concern about the economic divide in our country evident in the slower growth and progress in many of the economically distressed communities we serve,” the companies wrote in the letter, adding that they are equally “concerned by the technology divide separating the digital ‘haves’ in our nation from the ‘have-nots,’ especially in our country’s rural areas.”

Returning broadband service to the light-touch framework under Title I that provided the foundation for the growth and success of the broadband enabled internet is essential to this effort, the companies wrote. “Broadband has traditionally been considered an interstate service, which is why it is important that states and localities not impose common carrier-like regulations on broadband providers.”  Continue Reading

Monday, November 20, 2017

WIA’s Adelstein Testifies Before Congress For More Support For 5G

The nation needs more spectrum and wireless infrastructure to support the data needs of 5G, according to Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “The massive growth in the number of connected devices will strain the capabilities of the infrastructure we have today,” he told members of the House Communications Subcommittee Thursday in a hearing on 5G. 

Others who testified included David Broecker, CEO of Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, Dr. Coleman Bazelon, Principal, The Brattle Group and Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas.
“Supporting the demand for more infrastructure will require major investments. We need additional cell towers and poles and more antennas of all types and sizes that attach to structures of all sizes,” he testified.   

And that infrastructure can take many forms. In addition to antennas on towers, poles and the sides or tops of buildings, new networks will rely on “street furniture.” Bus stops, manhole covers, park benches, mailboxes, the lights at a local high school or even a gazebo in a public park are all candidates to host cellular antennas, he told lawmakers, adding that policies need to recognize that all types of infrastructure are needed. Continue Reading

Friday, November 17, 2017

FCC’s O’Rielly Cites “Commission Ineptitude” If U.S. is Late on 5G

The FCC took steps to free up more spectrum above 24 GHz for broadband; Commissioners are keenly aware the U.S. is in a worldwide race to deploy 5G first. This high-frequency spectrum will support innovative new uses enabled by fiber-fast wireless speeds and extremely low latency, according to the agency.  
“I will not let the U.S. lose the 5G race due to Commission ineptitude,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, as he voted for the changes yesterday. The FCC needs to keep working on making other spectrum bands available as well, he said, adding he hopes to follow-up with an item for a vote in the first half of next year.

Continuing with the 5G race theme, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel urged colleagues to commit to deadlines. “We are not moving fast enough,” she said, saying the agency should hold its 28 GHz band spectrum auction “before our counterparts in Asia” hold theirs.  Continue Reading

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Indoor Wireless 911 Call Location Accuracy Takes a Step

Locating where someone is when they call 911 using a wireless phone inside a building has taken a step forward. The FCC has approved a privacy and security plan for the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD) submitted by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and NEAD, LLC. The database will enable carriers to use the media access control (MAC) address and Bluetooth Public Device Addresses (BT-PDA) information of fixed indoor access points to locate wireless devices being used to call 911.
Carriers have been working on technology to support the provision of dispatchable location information (such as street address, floor level, and office or apartment number) to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) when indoor wireless customers place 911 calls. The database must be used only for 911 location and the FCC prohibited its use for commercial purposes. 

Wireless association CTIA created the non-profit NEAD which the carriers appointed to oversee development and operation of the database platform. The NEAD plan submitted in February explains when someone calls 911 from a wireless phone equipped with WiFi or Bluetooth, the carrier network automatically collects data from the handset about nearby wireless access points. The network then queries the database to determine whether the MAC address or BT-PDA information is in the database and associated with a street address. If so, the carrier provides the street address plus other in-building information to the PSAP as part of the 911 call.  Continue Reading

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

FirstNet Part of a “Perfect Storm” for Tower Workers

NATE Goes to Washington  (Part One of Four)
National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) representatives came to Washington, D.C. recently to lobby Congress, the FCC and other government agencies. Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief Leslie Stimson sat down with the six members of their lobbying team to discuss NATE’s regulatory priorities and get a sense of their 30 meetings. Sitting at the table were: NATE Board Director John Paul Jones, Board Chairman Jim Tracy, COO Paula Nurnberg, Board Director Randy Scott, Executive Director Todd Schlekeway and Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Jim Goldwater.

IT: Why did you come to Washington?
Tracy: We came here to explain our legislative and regulatory priorities, to members of Congress and their staff. At the end of the day we might do towers, we might do certifications, antenna swaps, new builds, DAS, small cell — all of the incredibly complex ecosystem that wireless has become, but we’re still the “elevate wireless safety people.” We elevate wireless and it’s safety first, safety always.

Worker Shortage
IT: Is it new to the people you’re meeting with that there aren’t enough workers to do the television repack work?
Tracy: It’s not just the repack. We talked about the perfect storm. We’re not done with 4G yet. We’ve got 5G right around the corner, FirstNet, tower marking and broadcast work. The public safety work alone that we’re looking at in terms of FirstNet, there’s 100,000 towers that are going to need to be somehow altered. Continue Reading

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

AT&T, Verizon Plot New Towers to Avoid Traditional Leases

AT&T, Verizon and Tillman Infrastructure said they’ve reached a deal to build “hundreds” of cell towers, in an arrangement the parties say is more cost-effective than traditional tower lease deals.
Tension over traditional tower lease arrangements has popped up in the past year during earnings calls and other finance discussions with both towercos and the major carriers. In Monday’s announcement, AT&T SVP Susan Johnson said, “We need more alternatives to the traditional tower leasing model with the large incumbents,” saying the current model “is not cost-effective or sustainable.” Verizon Chief Network Officer said the carrier is reviewing all of its long-term contracts as they come up for renewal “and we are excited to develop new vendor partners to diversify our infrastructure providers.”

Tillman owns and operates macro towers, small cells and smart cities infrastructure; it will build these towers to suit. AT&T and Verizon will lease the towers that will be co-located and co-anchored by the two carriers. Construction is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2018.  

The carriers confirmed to Inside Towers the deal is for macro towers only. Verizon said this is the first agreement of its kind with another large carrier and tower company in its history. AT&T told Inside Towers: “All of our desired site locations are being considered” with the Tillman agreement. Continue Reading

Monday, November 13, 2017

Advisory Committee Tells FCC to Take Down Deployment Barriers

From left: Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn and Jonathan Adelstein at the FCC’s 
Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee meeting. Photos by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers

The FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee is closer to issuing recommendations to the FCC on how to reduce several types of regulatory barriers to broadband infrastructure deployment. The advisory group approved several draft recommendations at its third meeting of the year last Thursday and they plan to approve final recommendations at the next meeting on January 22 and 23, 2018.

Several FCC Commissioners addressed the all-volunteer group. Chairman Ajit Pai told the group as they began their all-day meeting: “The internet is poles, cables and physical infrastructure. Building these networks is hard and the government shouldn’t make it harder. When you find answers” to eliminating “barriers to wired and wireless infrastructure access will grow. That’s why it’s important that we get this right.” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said even when the group handles all of the obstacles to pole attachments and access to rights-of-way, they “may be tempted to celebrate,” but that would be premature, “obscuring a simple reality that not every broadband problem is an infrastructure problem. For all Americans to be truly connected we cannot ignore … affordability.” 

WIA President Jonathan Adelstein chairs the Streamlining Federal Siting working group. Some 30 percent of the land in the U.S. is owned by the federal government and it’s often the last place infrastructure is sited due to varying and unpredictable fees and rates, lengthy application reviews and un-harmonized forms across agencies, to name a few reasons. “It’s a shame and we’re going to try to change that,” he said, noting the White House is supportive of the group’s efforts. “The administration wants to ensure implementation is consistent across all federal agencies.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Pai Sees Tower Site, “Unimaginable” Damage in Puerto Rico

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai traveled to a mountaintop tower in eastern Puerto Rico this week to get a first-hand view of recovery efforts and damage caused by Hurricane Maria. He met with government officials and communications company representatives to learn what still needs to be done to restore communications.

Pai met personnel from carriers AT&T, Open Mobile, T-Mobile and Verizon as well as fixed wireless providers Aeronet and Neptuno Networks; wired providers like Claro/PRTC and Liberty and several radio broadcasters. “They have stepped up to the plate, working overtime to connect the disconnected,” he said.

Pai called the damage “unimaginable” and said: “I saw some of it for myself, from a mountaintop tower in El Yunque National Forest, which is hard to reach due to storm damage but is precariously operational, to destroyed homes in San Juan. The path to recovery has met several challenges, most notably the lack of power and functional infrastructure. One thing is clear: overcoming these challenges won’t be easy,” the Chairman added in Tuesday’s announcement.  Continue Reading

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Sprint Stock Takes a Hit as T-Mo Calls it Quits But Tower Stocks Jump

T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS) and Sprint (NYSE: S) jointly said they ended talks to merge as the companies were unable to find mutually agreeable terms.

Sprint stock hit a new annual low of $5.81 this morning, and was last seen down 11.5 percent in its five day average as of close of business yesterday, after the telecom called off its merger with T-Mobile on Saturday. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Sprint parent Softbank, is confident Sprint can grow independently, but said the company would still consider a merger if its management rights are preserved.

Tower stocks on the other hand reached new highs as American Tower (NYSE:AMT) is up 5.6 percent over five days; SBA Communications (NASDAQ:SBAC) is up 6.4 percent over five days and Crown Castle’s (NYSE:CCI) five day average is up five percent. All three hit 52-week highs yesterday.  Continue Reading

Monday, November 6, 2017

Even Buried Fiber No Match for CA Wildfires

During the infernos that blazed through Northern California in October, large areas of the region lost cell phone coverage and internet connectivity in the first few hours of the disaster, as Verizon and Comcast networks took a big hit. As the fires continued to rage on, as many as 77 towers were taken off the grid, despite swift reaction times from the providers, reported The Healdsburg Tribune. Even though Comcast and Verizon services were back up and running by October 10 and 11, respectively, there were still safety challenges for residents and emergency workers due to loss of connectivity.

During the fires, some emergency personnel used landlines to communicate since Verizon cell coverage was lacking. The Town of Windsor, for example, has 1,600 Verizon devices, including cell phones, tablets, and computers, according to County spokesman Scott Alonso.

“When the network went down we lost all our map data,” said Fire Prevention Officer Cyndi Foreman. “And visual landmarks weren’t any help, either.” Continue Reading

Friday, November 3, 2017

DOJ Ponders Antitrust Action on Time-Warner/AT&T Merger

Time Warner shares fell Thursday after a newspaper reported that the Department of Justice is considering an antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T’s acquisition of the media giant, according to a Wall Street Journal report yesterday.

Time Warner share price was down 4.1 percent after the Journal reported the department’s antitrust division is preparing for litigation in case it decides to sue to block the deal. At the same time, the department and the two companies are discussing possible terms that would allow the deal to receive the government’s approval, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. 

AT&T representatives have met with Justice officials in recent weeks, and the department hasn’t made a final decision, but the two sides aren’t close to an agreement, the Journal’s sources said.
Continue Reading

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Opting-Out of FirstNet Means Taking the Risk and Paying the Price

FirstNet’s Mike Poth (left), NH’s John Stevens. Photos by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers.
As the December 28 deadline draws near for states to decide whether to opt-in or out of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), just under half of the states have yet to make a decision. Oklahoma became the 26th state to opt-in yesterday. The questions and options facing undecided states about the financial ramifications of building their own mobile broadband network for first responders have increased and were on full display during yesterday’s hearing of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee in Washington, D.C.   (see related story below “What Happens When a State Opts-In to FirstNet?”)
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) said, “A lot of hay has been made recently about the opt-out process” and “states seeking to opt-out seem overwhelmed” by the process. “The risks to opt-out are steep,” he said during the FirstNet oversight hearing. Continue Reading