CCG Consulting

FCC Getting Serious About Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Defaults

In December 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued fines for two internet service providers that the FCC says defaulted on Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) obligations. RDOF was the FCC subsidy program where broadband subsidies were awarded by a reverse auction that ended in December 2020. The first fine was to Etheric Communications for $732,000 for 244 locations. Etheric was one of the largest RDOF winners, having won $248.6 million to cover 64,463 locations.

The Licensed Wireless Dilemma

One of the stickiest issues that State broadband offices are going to be wrestling with is how to recognize the service areas for ISPs that use licensed spectrum to deliver rural broadband. This issue comes from a ruling from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that, for purposes of Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program grants, fixed wireless networks using unlicensed spectrum are deemed to be unreliable.

Cable Companies Fight an End to Junk Fees

All of the big cable companies, and many of the smaller ones, routinely use hidden fees to disguise the true cost of buying cable TV. The Federal Communications Commission has been moving to tackle hidden fees, and at its December 2023 meeting it released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to eliminate a service fee and early termination fees on customer who want to break the contracts that are required to get promotional pricing. Not surprisingly, the cable industry is fighting vehemently against the elimination of such fees.

Update on Smart-Farm Technology

Agriculture ventures across the spectrum are adopting smart technologies to be more productive—all of which require decent broadband. 

Is Lumen in Trouble?

In a recurring theme, Lumen finds itself facing financial challenges. At the end of the third quarter of 2023, Lumen CEO Kate Johnson announced some restructuring with current debt holders to extend the due dates of some debt to ‘reduce the noise” around the company’s debt. The company is also eliminating staff to reduce expenses by $300 million annually. Lumen’s revenues dropped over 17 percent compared to 2022, but a large part of that drop comes from its spin-off of copper networks to Brightspeed for $7.5 billion and the sale of its Latin American business to Stonepeak for $2.7 billion.

Are There Superior Technologies?

It’s easy to say that fiber is better than cable technology or fixed wireless when in real life, broadband customers make this decision. My firm does a lot of broadband surveys every year, and we find customers who are happy with most broadband technologies. The bottom line is that any broadband technology or provider that a customer likes is good for them. For a customer to remain happy for a long time requires technology that works, customer service that is responsive, and a price that customers are happy with. Are there superior technologies?

Impact of the Fiber Slowdown

While there was a huge amount of fiber built in the US in 2023, the largest providers almost universally cut back their plans during the year. There are a lot of reasons for the fiber construction slowdown. The high cost of borrowing put a crimp in a lot of service provider plans, and slowed new home startups, which are part of any plans for fiber expansion. Inflation played a role in the slowdown, too: it cost at least 20% more to build a fiber network by the end of 2023 than just a few years earlier. What are the consequences of a fiber construction slowdown?

Internet Service Provider Upgrades in Front of BEAD

I’m working with several small cities that were recently notified that the existing cable company plans to upgrade its network. In these cities, the cable company still operates a DOCSIS 3.0 network. The networks have download speeds a little faster than 100 Megabits per second (Mbps), and upload speeds are under 10 Mbps. These cities are currently considered to be underserved and are eligible for BEAD grants. I talked to the State Broadband Offices in several states about the issue of announced upgrades coming just in front of the final BEAD map challenges.

Lobbying Against Municipal Broadband

Every few years since municipal broadband was new, a lobbying group comes out against the concept of municipal competition. The lobbying effort has taken many different tactics over the years, but generally the attacks against municipal broadband haven’t been very public and were aimed at generating lobbying materials to give to politicians. An anti-municipal lobbying effort using a new tactic recently surfaced. There is a huge lobbying effort underway against Utopia, a municipally-owned network in Utah.

Where is FWA Finding Customers?

Where are cellular carriers finding the millions of customers they are adding to fixed-wireless access (FWA) cellular broadband? In urban areas, the customers would have to be coming from cable companies, telephone company DSL, or fiber. In rural areas, customers would be coming from DSL, satellite, or cellular hot spots. I’ve been doing some digging, but my research is far from scientific.