From an internet service provider perspective, the BEAD grant program has progressed at a glacial scale. The BEAD grants were signed into law on November 15, 2021, as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Folks in the industry assumed that BEAD would follow a timeline similar to the earlier grants that were awarded using federal CARES and ARPA funding, and vendors certainly thought that grant awards would start in 2023 with construction underway by 2024. And then nothing happened. The BEAD process got bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy.
T-Mobile recently announced that it was able to aggregate six channels of spectrum into one bandwidth signal to a customer. The ability to wed channels together was one of the promises of the original 5G specification. The test combined two channels of 2.5 GHz, two channels of PCS spectrum, and two channels of AWS spectrum, creating an effective 245 MHz of aggregated channels. T-Mobile worked with Ericsson and Qualcomm to make this work and was able to create a single 3.6 Gbps connection from a cell tower.
The US Department of Agriculture just announced a new round of ReConnect grants. These are grants that can only be used to serve the most rural places in the country, and one of the qualifications is the distance between the grant market and the nearest towns. The homes served by the grants must not have any broadband available at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. A grantee must serve every home in a grant area. It’s not going to be easy to find a grant area that is rural and that has no homes where internet service providers claim the capability to deliver speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.
It’s easy to understand the growth in download bandwidth due to people streaming higher quality video and similar uses. Why do you think upload broadband usage is growing even faster? According to OpenVault, average upload usage has increased 290% since 2019, while average download usage has increased by 270%. There are some obvious reasons why upload bandwidth usage has been growing. There is now a substantial percentage of people who work from home.
State broadband offices are asking internet service providers interested in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding to self-fund a $30 discount for low-income customers after the end of Affordable Connectivity Program. Since this request came from multiple states, I have to imagine the idea came from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. I can’t think of any better proof that policymakers are out of touch with the reality of rural business plans. Even providers that are successful in rural markets are going to have small margins.
Cities have been petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to ask it to revisit the issue of the ‘mixed-use’ rule that blocks municipalities from assessing franchise fees on broadband revenues. Cities argue that franchise fees are not taxes, and instead are fees that help cities to manage their rights-of-way. The municipal (or state) franchise fee is capped at 5% of retail cable TV revenue, and cable companies typically tack this fee onto every cable bill. The biggest complaint from cities involves what they call cable company arbitrage.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration made a monstrous mess of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program maps when they decided to allow licensed fixed wireless to be counted as reliable broadband. This has a huge ramification for the BEAD grants. It has made maps into hodgepodges of served and unserved homes.
My biggest pet peeve about the Federal Communications Commission's mapping is that the agency made the decision to give power over the mapping and map challenge process to CostQuest, an outside commercial vendor. The FCC originally awarded CostQuest $44.9 million to create the broadband maps. Many people think that was an exorbitant amount, but if this was the end of the mapping story, fine.
Comcast and Charter broadband customer growth has stagnated, and all of the cable companies are now slowly losing customers. There are a lot of reasons for the stagnation and customer losses. One of the factors that put cable companies at such a competitive disadvantage is broadband prices. The cable companies have been regularly raising rates annually for years to levels that are far higher than all of their competitors.
Patricia Pereira, an 80-year old woman living in Camp Seco, California, is cut off from 911 and other essential services. At the beginning of 2023, Pereira asked AT&T if landline service could be transferred from a neighboring home to hers. Instead of transferring the service, AT&T cut the copper lines dead on both properties. Pereira lives in a dead zone and barely receives cellular signals. This is happening in rural AT&T areas across the country.