There’s a lot going on in broadband these days, so I’ll skip the intro and launch right into the top broadband news of 2022. In no particular order, the big stories include:
Telcos’ Broadband Turnaround Now that telcos are more aggressive about deploying fiber, some of them are finally seeing net growth in broadband subscribers after numerous quarters of copper-driven losses to faster cable company offerings. Two key examples: Frontier and Consolidated.
Multi-Gig Deployments Galore A key driver of telco fiber upgrades is telcos’ realization that they can gain back some of the market share lost to cable companies by offering symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds that the cable companies can’t match. Examples include: AT&T, Consolidated, Frontier, Lumen, TDS, Windstream and Ziply.
Not to be outdone, gigabit fiber pioneer Google Fiber plans to launch 5 Gbps and 8 Gbps service in 2023 and another gigabit fiber pioneer, EPB, has launched 25 Gbps symmetrical service in Chattanooga.
Fixed Wireless Makes Serious Gains Fixed wireless access (FWA) got a big boost when T-Mobile and Verizon deployed the service in numerous markets by leveraging their 5G networks. A big milestone occurred in the third quarter, when those two companies combined garnered the majority of all net new broadband subscribers.
FCC Gets Off the Dime on RDOF Decisions The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction concluded over two years ago. But it wasn’t until this year that the FCC decided whether to authorize funding for some winning bidders, including most of the top 10. That was a big deal because the top 10 winning bidders, collectively, accounted for three quarters of the $9.2 billion tentatively awarded in the rural broadband funding auction.
Top 10 bidders planning to rely on fiber – including Charter, Frontier, Lumen/CenturyLink and Windstream received at least some authorizations in the first half of 2022. Others waited longer.
Three of the companies that waited until the second half of the year to learn their fate plan to use a combination of FWA and fiber to provide gigabit speeds. After examining whether FWA could support those speeds, the FCC gave two of those companies – Nextlink and Starry — the go-ahead in August, although Starry subsequently defaulted on its bid, allegedly due to financing problems. The third – Resound Networks – got its go-ahead on Friday.
Two of the top 10 winning bidders — SpaceX and LTD Broadband – weren’t so fortunate and were rejected by the FCC in August.
NTIA Sets the Bar High for $42.5B BEAD Fund The $9.2 billion tentatively won in the RDOF program pales in comparison with the $42.5 billion that Congress made available for the NTIA Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) rural broadband funding program. Some stakeholders were surprised when NTIA said it would prioritize fiber broadband in the program, a decision that will cost more upfront but will be more future-proof, according to NTIA.
The National Broadband Map Update is Still a Work in Progress Determining the exact rural locations that don’t already have broadband will be critical in properly allocating BEAD and other rural broadband funds. But when the FCC rushed to collect availability data from service providers, concerns arose about the accuracy of the location fabric underlying the map – no surprise, considering that there was no challenge process for that fabric ahead of the data collection process.
The day of reckoning may be coming soon, as NTIA has encouraged anyone wanting to dispute the accuracy of the fabric to do so by January 13, and if the FCC expects carriers to meet the March 31 deadline for filing revised availability data, the new fabric would need to be ready for them by around January 31.
States Get More Involved in Broadband Traditionally, most broadband funding decisions were made at the federal level, but that’s changing dramatically. Although NTIA set broad guidelines for the BEAD program, individual states will make award decisions.
Some of the states already have some experience with that, as some already have undertaken broadband funding programs, often funded – at least in part – through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Telecompetitor covered numerous state broadband funding programs this year, including:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
ARPA Fuels Public Private Partnership Boom This year saw a big boom in public-private broadband partnerships, driven in part by ARPA funding that was directed to individual counties and cities. The funding could be used for a range of infrastructure projects, including broadband, and many localities chose the broadband option. When a locality gives this money to a broadband provider to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband in the community, it’s typically referred to as a public-private broadband partnership.
Major providers that have been involved in public-private broadband partnerships this year (ARPA funded or otherwise) include AT&T, Breezeline, Consolidated, Cox, North State, Windstream and Verizon. Some smaller entities that got in on the opportunity include Arvig, Texas providers Eastex Telephone Cooperative and LivCom and several Michigan providers.
Private Wireless is Hot Perhaps the hottest technology development this year (aside from fixed wireless and multi-gig) is private wireless—the deployment of the same type of equipment used in commercial wireless networks but for the use of a single entity, typically a corporation, university or government agency. Providers making news in this area this year include AT&T, Comcast and Dish.
Dish’s involvement is particularly intriguing as private wireless might enable the company to minimize the investment it must make to build its 5G network. Private wireless also is likely to play an important role in supporting smart agriculture.
Another Big Year for M&A Broadband opportunities continue to drive broadband mergers and acquisitions. This year, as in other recent years, there was so much activity in this area that it merits its own post, which we will publish in early 2023.
Telecompetitor looks forward to continuing to cover these trends and other big developments on the broadband front in 2023.