If you believe every cloud has a silver lining, then the silver lining of the COVID-19 cloud was a sweeping change in attitudes toward broadband and the recognition that it’s something all Americans truly need today. This attitude change drove some of the big telecom and broadband news this year. Here, in no particular order, are the biggest telecom broadband news stories we covered in 2021.
Historic Broadband Funding
There is so much new funding available for broadband that it’s easy to lose track.
The biggest boost will come from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the infrastructure bill), signed into law in November with $65 billion for broadband, including $42.5 billion for deployments. Some of the funding in the American Rescue Plan Act adopted in June can be used for broadband as well.
All this comes on top of the CARES Act signed into law shortly after the pandemic began last year and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 signed into law in late December 2020, both of which included some funding for broadband.
Public Private Partnerships
As the nation gets serious about getting broadband to everyone, residents are realizing that they may need to make some concessions or even contribute monetarily to get high-speed broadband in their community.
Consolidated Communications has been especially active on this front. Other public private partnerships we covered in 2021 involved Maple Broadband in Vermont, AT&T in Indiana, Cincinnati Bell in Kentucky, and Windstream in Georgia.
The latter deal also involved an electric cooperative. (Partnerships between telcos and electric companies were a hot trend that we noted last year and it’s still going strong.)
Fixed Wireless–and the Gigabit Question Mark
Another important broadband news story of 2021 is fixed wireless. Verizon, T-Mobile and a variety of new upstarts like Starry are all bullish on it. And some fixed wireless providers are touting gigabit speeds, even as naysayers continue to question the technology’s ability to support those speeds. Concerns focus on the distances that can be covered using the high-frequency spectrum required to support gigabit connectivity.
Some of the gigabit wireless providers – including WeLink, South Valley Internet and Jade Communications – are targeting areas where customers are in relatively close proximity and may be able to act as repeaters for one another using a mesh approach.
But at least one company, Resound Networks, says gigabit wireless works fine in rural areas. It’s an issue about which the FCC will have to make a determination soon, as Resound and some other companies tentatively won a lot of funding for gigabit wireless deployments in last year’s RDOF auction.
Telcos Relinquish Some Operational Control Through Partnerships
There was a time when the major telcos wanted total control of their business operations. That’s been slowly changing as the telecom business has become more complex, and this year saw several important examples of major partnerships through which a major telco put key operations in someone else’s hands.
Verizon inked a deal with Amazon to use Kuiper satellite connectivity in rural areas. And AT&T reached an important partnership with Frontier that calls for Frontier to bring fiber to large enterprise customers outside AT&T’s current footprint and to support AT&T’s 5G mobility network.
Another AT&T deal was born more out of necessity than strategy. Pursued by activist investors and needing cash for spectrum licenses and other investments, the company sold 30% of DIRECTV and related AT&T linear video businesses to TPG Capital. The telco kept full ownership of its subscription video on demand (SVOD) offering known as HBO Max, however, and TPG has expertise in video and in uncovering value in assets such as DIRECTV, which could enhance operations moving forward.
AT&T also picked up an important partnership when it reached an MVNO deal with Dish that will put Dish traffic on the AT&T wireless network.
25G PON is Coming
The last few weeks of 2021 saw a flurry of 25G PON activity. Bell Canada and Frontier have trialed or are trialing the next-generation fiber broadband technology, and competitive carrier Hotwire is deploying it.
Another Big Year for Mergers and Acquisitions
The last few years have seen a large volume of mergers and acquisitions and 2021 was no exception. There was so much activity on this front that it deserves its own post, which we will publish soon.
Thank you for reading our top telecom and broadband news of 2021 and thank you to all our Telecompetitor readers for your support this year. We look forward to covering these and other developments for you in 2022.