Monday, December 23, 2019

Letter From the Editor In the Spirit of Christmas

Yep, that’s me, your not-so-humble editor, as Marley’s ghost in “A Christmas Carol” at a local theatre here in Philly. I had the privilege of rattling my chains and saying those classic lines to the gathered audiences during a 25-show run. (FYI, the acting thing is a hobby of mine. I tried bowling but I’m terrible at it.) And even though I trod those boards five years ago, Marley still haunts me to this day. Like him, we all “wear the chains we forged in life, link by link and yard by yard.”

Dickens reminds us, through his ghostly apparition, that even we “good people of business” like Marley and his partner, can get bound and burdened by the very thing to which we dedicate our lives. I know first-hand having daily responsibilities, events to attend and deadlines to meet, can shut you off from the world around you, harden you to those less fortunate. To a greater or lesser degree, we all have our “inner Scrooge.” But now we have a few glorious days ahead where we can lighten our own load by thinking of others, doing for others and getting into a spirit that I hope makes its ethereal presence known to us all through the rest of this year and the next.  -jf

Here are a few worthy causes if you feel like throwing off a chain or two:

  • NATE Tower Family Foundation: In 2019, the Foundation has awarded $295,000 in direct financial assistance to affected families and has donated $821,000 to eligible benefactors since the organization’s launch in September 2014.
  • Hubble Foundation

Friday, December 20, 2019

OSHA Notes Decline in Fatal Falls, Lowest Since 2013

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Report, released Wednesday, shows the rate of fatal work injuries remained unchanged in regard to the overall numbers in 2018.

Although unintentional overdoses at work increased by 12 percent and suicide at work increased by 11 percent, the report showed a 14 percent decline in work-related fatal falls from heights, the lowest total since 2013.

According to OSHA, “Enforcement efforts helped abate more than 7,000 fall-related hazards in the construction industry. OSHA will continue to use BLS data for enforcement targeting within its jurisdiction to help prevent tragedies,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.

“Inspections for OSHA were up, and we will work with state plans so employers and workers can find compliance assistance tools in many forms or call the agency to report unsafe working conditions. Any fatality is one too many,” said Sweatt.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Auction 103 Bids Top $3 Billion

The take in the FCC’s third auction of Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (UMFUS) licenses is topping $3 billion. After 19 rounds of bidding on Wednesday, gross proceeds were more than $3.6 billion. Round 21 bidding is slated to begin at 10 a.m. today.

Auction 103 is the agency’s third auction of UMFUS licenses. A total of 3,400 megahertz of spectrum, the most spectrum ever offered in an auction, is being offered in the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands. These bands will be licensed as 100-megahertz blocks covering Partial Economic Areas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

House Votes On Broadband Mapping, Supply Chain

The House on Monday passed bipartisan compromise measures aimed at improving broadband mapping and securing the U.S. telecommunications supply chain. The latter includes funding to help rural wireless carriers rip and replace any existing gear from providers like Huawei that the administration has labeled a security risk.

The bipartisan Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, could get a vote in the Senate as soon as this week, reports The Hill. The legislation prohibits the FCC from awarding funds to purchase telecom equipment from "any company that poses a national security risk" while requiring the government to help small communications providers rip questionable equipment out of telecom networks. The bill requires the agency to establish a $1 billion program to help small and rural communications providers remove "suspect network equipment" and replace it with products that are deemed more "secure."

The House on Monday also approved two other telecom bills to help improve the Commission's broadband maps; even the agency agrees with critics that the maps are inaccurate and is working to improve them. Because the FCC uses the maps to determine where to devote billions of dollars in broadband investment, the issue has drawn intense scrutiny from people who say they are being overlooked — particularly in rural areas. Continue Reading

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Boingo Wireless Files For Restructuring

On December 11, 2019, the Board of Directors of Boingo Wireless approved a plan to restructure the company’s business operations and will eliminate approximately 80 jobs constituting 16 percent of its workforce. In an SEC filing, Boingo expects that the workforce reduction will decrease operating costs by approximately $11 million.

“To help drive longer-term revenue and profitability, we are reorganizing the business into ‘core’ and ‘legacy’ business units,” the company said in a statement to shareholders. “Core products include Carrier Services (DAS, Offload, 5G, CBRS), Military and Multifamily. These are areas where we will continue to focus and invest. Legacy products will be managed to maximize profitability with minimal incremental investment.” Continue Reading

Friday, December 13, 2019

Tower Worker OK After Getting Launched 40 Feet in the Air By Cable

A tower worker on the job in Atmore, AL experienced the scare of a lifetime when a snapped cable launched him high in the air and left him dangling. The Bennett Communications worker was part of the crew servicing a cell tower when the incident occurred, reports the Atmore News.

Responding to the 911 call, Police Chief Chuck Brooks said, “He was actually on the ground, and the wire shot up and wrapped around his leg. He was pulled about 40 feet in the air, and the other workers got him down. Lucky for him, he was pulled up at an angle and didn’t hit the tower on the way up.” Witnesses say a worker higher up attempted to help by cutting an interfering cable, and nearly imperiled another tower worker trying to climb up.

An observer at the scene called for emergency services saying, "I called 911. I stayed on the line for a while before they finally asked me what state and city I was calling from. They kept asking questions, so I finally texted them a picture to show what was happening. It was a scary situation.” The caller further described the suspended worker as “hanging upside-down, screaming his head off.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

FCC’S Next 5G Spectrum Auction Is Underway

The FCC began its next 5G spectrum auction Tuesday. Bidding began on licenses in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands. The FCC is making 3,400 MHz of millimeter-wave spectrum available through Auction 103

“These airwaves will be critical in deploying 5G services and applications,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Combined, the 39 GHz and upper 37 GHz bands represent the largest amount of contiguous spectrum available in the millimeter-wave bands.

The agency is setting up the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz auction to be the FCC’s second-ever incentive auction. This one will be different from the broadcast incentive auction but it’ll have the same goal: clearing or repacking existing licensees to make spectrum as useful as possible.

Earlier this year, the Commission concluded its first high-band 5G auctions of the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands. Next year, it plans to hold two mid-band spectrum auctions—the 3.5 GHz auction on June 25, 2020, and an auction in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band in the latter part of next year.

Friday, December 6, 2019

House Heaps Criticism on Pai for Rural 5G Plans

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief House Commerce Committee members had pointed questions for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Thursday during an oversight hearing. Pai’s news Wednesday of the agency’s plans to create a $9 billion 5G rural fund generated a lot of questions about where that money would come from. Ranking member Greg Walden (R-OR) admonished the Chairman to give lawmakers, “a little more notice and communication” on future announcements.

Several lawmakers also questioned the agency’s decision not to prosecute carriers (such as Verizon, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular) for apparently giving false broadband coverage data to the FCC. Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) said the Commission’s “bungled” process means rural residents will wait even longer to get broadband.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) said: “Many people buy their phones based on those [coverage] maps. Why in the world would they not be held accountable?”

Pai replied, “The maps we had were simply inaccurate. That’s why we chose to close down the process.” Earlier this week, agency officials told reporters the staff felt the carriers didn’t deliberately provide bad 4G data. Continue Reading

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pai to Create Rural $9B 5G Fund

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief FCC Chairman Ajit Pai intends to establish a 5G Fund for rural America. It would make up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile wireless services in rural areas. The money would be allocated through a reverse auction and target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and/or rugged terrain. At least $1 billion would be set aside specifically for precision agriculture deployments.

In order for rural areas to see the same benefits from 5G as urban areas, “the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow,” said Pai in announcing the fund Wednesday. Pai has seen that farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, which is why he intends to move forward as quickly as possible to establish the fund.

Agency staffers told reporters Wednesday the proposal would likely be ready in the New Year. Exactly where the money should be targeted is one of the questions the FCC will ask in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Continue Reading

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

“Broadband Identity Crisis” Hampers Telecom Hiring, Says FCC Advisory Group

The wireless industry needs to better promote itself and its job opportunities. That’s one of the conclusions so far from the Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Job Skills and Training Opportunities Working Group, a subset of the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Group. During a meeting on Tuesday at the FCC, working group Vice-Chair Rikin Thakker, said forecasts predict 120 million workers in the country will need to be re-skilled in the next 10 years. Thakker is vice president of telecommunications and spectrum for the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council. He also teaches several courses in the Master’s in Telecommunications program at the University of Maryland.

The group found in discussions with educators, government agencies, students and wireless and wireline employers, the telecom industry needs to overcome bad perceptions. A big one is the industry is considered by some to have, “unattractive compensation, salary and benefits for a tough job,” said Thakker. “There’s also a lack of awareness of opportunity in this field,” he said.

Demand is so great for skilled wireless infrastructure workers right now that some are willing to job hop for one dollar more an hour in pay, said Leticia Latino, CEO of Neptuno/SmartTecPort and chair of the working group. Continue Reading
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Huawei Reportedly Prepared to Sue FCC Over Ban

The FCC in November voted to prohibit carriers that receive Universal Service Fund money from purchasing network equipment from Huawei. Now, the Chinese telecom is reportedly ready to challenge the action in court, according to the Wall Street Journal.

WSJ sources said Huawei is preparing a lawsuit to challenge the decision and is prepared to file documents this week in federal appeals court. The company has also increased its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., according to the account.

The Commission identified Huawei and ZTE as risks to this country’s national security. U.S. security agencies say the companies are obligated to use their gear to spy for the Chinese government, a charge they’ve repeatedly denied. The agency also asked for public input on establishing a fund to reimburse small carriers that now need to rip out and replace that equipment, Inside Towers reported.

Huawei said at the time, the agency’s action was based on “selective information, innuendo, and mistaken assumptions.” The company cautioned what it characterized as “unwarranted actions” would have “profound negative effects” on connectivity in the U.S., especially for rural areas.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Senate Panel to Tackle 5G Spectrum This Week

Representatives for CTIA, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Cisco, and New America's Open Technology Institute will testify at a December 5 Senate Commerce telecom subcommittee hearing on the implementation of MOBILE NOW, the spectrum law that Chairman John Thune (R-SD) ushered through last Congress. The hearing will examine the implementation of several mandates required by the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act (MOBILE NOW). 

Representing WIA will be President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein and testifying for CTIA will be Scott Bergmann, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs. Sioux Falls, SD Mayor Paul TenHaken is also slated to speak.

The measure bundled several proposals aimed at speeding 5G deployment, including opening up more wireless spectrum for commercial use and accelerating government sign-off for infrastructure. The panel says witnesses are expected to discuss the law's mandates as well as its "spectrum provisions and the streamlining of broadband infrastructure on federal lands."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Texas Drops Challenge to T-Mo-Sprint Deal

Texas is leaving a lawsuit challenging T-Mobile’s planned merger with Sprint. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday he’s reached a settlement with T-Mobile, under which the combined company will not raise Texans’ prices for wireless service for five years after the deal closes, reported the American-Statesman.

The Justice Department approved the merger in July, after the companies agreed to create a new wireless carrier by selling some assets to Dish Network. Paxton stated the settlement he reached with the carrier also, “commits the new T-Mobile to build out a 5G [wireless] network throughout Texas, including rural areas of our state, during the next six years.” But that may have happened anyway, because the earlier approval from the Justice Department includes provisions aimed at fostering a 5G build-out. Continue Reading

Monday, November 25, 2019

FCC Vote on Vertical 911 Caller Location Gets Testy

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief FCC Commissioners on Friday fiercely debated the merits of requiring carriers to supply vertical or “Z-Axis” information with 911 calls; the object is to help first responders locate those who call 911 from wireless phones in multi-story buildings.

They voted for an Order to adopt a Z-Axis location accuracy metric of plus or minus three meters relative to the handset for 80 percent of indoor wireless 911 calls. This metric—within three meters above or below the phone—will more accurately identify the floor level for most 911 calls. It’s achievable now and keeps the deployment of vertical location information to public safety officials on schedule, according to supporters.

Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the challenges of locating emergency callers is significant. During the meeting, he used the 10-story FCC building as an example. “If I were to call 911 now and unable to give my location in the building, firefighters would need to conduct a floor-by-floor search. In practical terms, that search could take 15 minutes,” he said. “For someone having a stroke, this could take even longer and would likely be fatal,” Schaitberger emphasized. Continue Reading

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Pai Puts Forth 5.9 GHz Proposal

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has chosen a path forward for the beleaguered 5.9 GHz band. In 1999, the agency allocated 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), which is a form of automotive safety and communications. But DSRC is not widely deployed, and looks to be overshadowed by the newer Cellular Vehicle to Everything, or C-V2X technology. 

Pai shared with his colleagues Wednesday a proposal to make available the lower 45 MHz of the band for unlicensed uses like WiFi and allocate the upper 20 MHz for a new automotive communications technology. C-V2X uses cellular protocols to provide direct communications between vehicles, and, as the name suggests, everything—including other vehicles on the road, infrastructure (like light poles), cyclists, pedestrians, and road workers. 

C-V2X is also expected to support new, advanced applications as the nation transitions to faster, more responsive 5G networks. Automakers like Ford, Audi, BMW, Daimler, and Tesla support C-V2X. “Our hope is that this move will unlock new vehicle safety services, using less spectrum and on a much faster timeline than we have seen or realistically could see with a DSRC-focused policy,” said Pai in a speech on Wednesday.  Continue Reading

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sprint Recruits Crews With Same Day Payments to Network Suppliers

Sprint (NYSE: S) implemented a new “Same Day Pay” program, providing day-of compensation to its 5G network builders and suppliers by shortening administrative overhead and collapsing the overpayment process. The program is part of the end-to-end digitalization of field services started in 2018, with the Scopeworker platform.

Sprint suppliers can now submit their close-out packages directly from the cell site through Scopeworker, a B2B platform that digitizes complex field services and automates procurement, management, and payment of supplier services. Once Sprint accepts the package in real-time, administrative documents and invoices are reconciled, allowing suppliers to invoice and select “Same Day Pay” financing from working capital finance provider Greensill.

“Sprint is digitizing field services from start to finish and democratizing the supply chain,” said Chas Peterson, head of procurement & supply chain for Sprint. “We bring it full circle by working with small, minority- and veteran-owned businesses, ensuring that their high-quality work is met with same day compensation so they can continue building their businesses without worry of being paid.” Continue Reading

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Border Wars: Mexican Carrier’s Signal Interferes with Verizon’s Spectrum

Verizon customers from California to Texas are experiencing interference from a carrier across the border in Mexico that’s tapping into the same 700 MHz band, reported the San Diego Union-Tribune. Since August, Verizon customers filed complaints regarding dropped calls and lost, or weak broadband connections after Altán Redes turned on its wholesale wireless network in northern Mexico.

The issue has caught the attention of the FCC, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and other government officials on both sides of the border, per the Union-Tribune. Working with the Commission, Verizon is trying to minimize the impact to customers close to the border.

According to Altán, it’s operating in strict compliance with the wireless communications protocols in force between Mexico and the United States. Per Altán, the interference “is caused by the activity of the United States’ mobile carriers with service in the 700 megahertz band spectrum interfering on the Mexican side,” not the other way around. Continue Reading

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans of the Tower Industry Randy Strieff, Owner, Foothill Engineering: Army

Randy Strieff joined the Army in 1998 and was a member of 3rd battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, then he was stationed in Germany and finally on to Iraq for the invasion with Eco 51st Long Range Surveillance (ABN). In late 2004 he returned home and started a trucking company.

“That grew into a lot of other things along the way,” Strieff said, “I was kind of inadvertently introduced to the tower industry by a contractor I met while I was running dozers on a wildland fire in Northern California. He was doing decoms, a new build or two, and maintenance for SBA. Well, after about six months of him asking me to come help him he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I did.” Continue Reading

Thursday, November 7, 2019

FCC to Kill Rule That Bans Exclusive Use of Unique Tower Sites

At its October 25 open meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to revise or eliminate its rules concerning access to common FM and TV tower sites. The rules prohibit the grant, or renewal of a license for an FM or TV station if that applicant or licensee controls an antenna site that is “peculiarly suitable” for broadcasting in the area and does not make the site available for use by potential competitors. The rules have been used sparingly because of modern tower site use and now the Commission wants to know if they should be revised or wiped from the books.

The rules stem from 1945 when FM and television broadcasting were still in their infancy, the infrastructure available to broadcast a signal over the air was sparse, and there were broadcast material and equipment shortages. At that time, the FCC was concerned that exclusive use of an antenna site could restrict the number of FM and TV stations in a particular area or otherwise impede station competition.

In 1945, there were 46 licensed FM broadcast stations; today, there are 6,726 FM commercial stations and 4,179 educational FMs. The terrestrial radio broadcast market today also includes 4,610 AMs, 2,178 LPFMs, and over 8,000 FM translators and boosters. In 1945, there were nine television stations; today, there are 1,757 commercial and noncommercial educational full-power TV stations, 387 Class As, almost 1,900 LPTVs, and more than 3,600 TV translators. Continue Reading

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.

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