For years, cable companies have been raising broadband prices annually. While price increases don’t hit every customer immediately because of customers on term contracts, every price increase reaches every customer eventually. The industry has changed, and it doesn’t seem as obvious as in the past that cable companies can raise rates and that customers will just begrudgingly go along with it. The cable companies have stopped growing. This seems to be for a variety of reasons.
Broadband deserts beget population deserts as many in rural areas seek greener, high-speed broadband pastures. Counties with poor broadband are seeing people move away to get better jobs or to get broadband for their kids. Real estate agents are reporting that it’s extremely difficult to sell a home that has no broadband option. Several studies have shown that students that grow up without home broadband don’t perform nearly as well as students with broadband. There are hundreds of rural counties working hard to get fiber broadband with the hope of stemming the population loss.
You’re going to hear a lot in the next few months about the Federal Communications Commission's broadband mapping fabric. This blog describes what that is and describes the challenges of getting a good mapping fabric. The first set of broadband map challenges will be about the fabric, and I’m not sure the FCC is ready for the deluge of complaints they are likely to get from every corner of the country. I also have no idea how the FCC will determine if a suggestion to change the fabric is correct because I also don’t think communities can count passings perfectly.
A big piece of what the Federal Communications Commission does is to weigh competing claims to use spectrum. One of the latest fights, which is the continuation of a fight going on since 2018, is for the use of the 12 GHz spectrum. The big wrestling match is between Starlink’s desire to use the spectrum to communicate with its low-orbit satellites and cellular carriers and wireless internet service providers (WISPs) who want to use the spectrum for rural broadband. Starlink uses this spectrum to connect its ground-based terminals to satellites.
One of the biggest questions associated with the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program is if that is enough money to solve the national rural digital divide. The funding works out to be around $850 million per state, but will vary significantly by state.
Alan Davidson, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), stated that the agency is canceling plans to use the first iteration of the new Federal Communications Commission maps that the agency says will be available by early November 2022.
T-Mobile and Starlink made a joint announcement recently about an arrangement where Starlink will enable voice and texting capabilities to T-Mobile cellphones by the end of 2023. Elon Musk touted this as being able to reach people lost in the wilderness, but the much bigger use will be to fill in cellular coverage in rural areas for T-Mobile. While the two companies made a big splashy announcement about the arrangement, they are late to the game as other industry players already have similar plans underway.
There is more Wi-Fi spectrum on the way due to a US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision which rejected a legal challenge from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. They asked the court to vacate the Federal Communications Commission's 2020 order to repurpose some of the spectrum that had been reserved for smart cars. The FCC had originally given the auto industry a year to vacate the lower 45 MHz of spectrum. This spectrum will be available for home Wi-Fi.
Given the excess of $11 billion that the Federal Communications Commission currently has in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), interested parties--particularly major broadband providers--have inquired whether the FCC will offer another round of award funding. However, for this to be feasible, the FCC would have to engage in a lot of internal review and restructuring of its reverse auction mechanism if it seeks to revitalize the RDOF.
One of the hurdles faced by communities pursuing broadband grants is that many grant programs allow incumbent broadband providers to challenge the validity of a grant. The most common challenge is for an incumbent provider to claim that a grant incorrectly includes homes and businesses that already have access to fast broadband. It appears that the purpose of many challenges is to delay the process, with the ultimate hope to derail or cancel grant requests.