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Wall Street’s Sprint/T-Mobile Merger Drum Circle

Wall Street wants a deal between T-Mobile and Sprint rich with fees and “synergies,” but nobody counting the money cares whether consumers will actually get better service or lower prices as a result of another wireless industry merger.

Recently, more players have entered the T-Mo/Sprint Drum Circle, seeming in favor of the merger of America’s third and fourth largest wireless carriers. Moody’s Investor Service wouldn’t go as far as Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure in playing up the deal’s “synergy savings” won from cutting duplicate costs (especially jobs) after the merger, but was willing to say the combination of the two companies could cut their combined costs by $3 billion or more annually. Based on earlier mergers, most savings would come from eliminating redundant cell sites, winning better volume pricing on handsets, dramatic cuts in employees and back office operations, and spectrum sharing.

“Imagine if you had a supercharged maverick now going after AT&T and Verizon to stop this duopoly,” Claure told an audience in Miami.

Wells Fargo called Sprint’s large spectrum holdings in the 2.5GHz band undervalued, and could be an important part of any transaction.

Sprint has more high-band spectrum than any other carrier in the U.S. Much maligned for its inability to penetrate well indoors and for its reduced coverage area, most carriers have not prioritized use of these frequencies. But forthcoming 5G networks, likely to offer a wireless alternative to wired home broadband, will dominate high frequency spectrum, leaving Sprint in excellent condition to participate in the 5G splash yet to come.

Wall Street banks can expect a small fortune in fees advising both companies on a merger deal and to assist in arranging its financing. Any deal will likely be worth more than the $39 billion AT&T was willing to pay for T-Mobile back in 2011. With that kind of money at stake, any merger announcement will likely be followed by millions in spending to lobby for its approval. Washington regulators ultimately rejected AT&T’s 2011 buyout, arguing it was anti-competitive. Reducing the U.S. marketplace to three national cellular networks is likely to again raise concerns that reduced competition will lead to higher prices.

A merger is also likely to be disruptive to customers, particularly because Sprint and T-Mobile run very different operations and systems. Moody’s predicted it could take up to five years for any merger to fully consummate, giving AT&T and Verizon considerable lead time to bolster their networks and offerings. Moody’s notes Sprint also has a history with bad merger deals, notably its acquisition of Nextel, which proved to be a distracting nightmare.

“If [another merger] stalls or is derailed by operational missteps, the downside is catastrophic,” Moody’s noted.

Communities and States Tell FCC to Back Off Proposed Wireless Infrastructure Reform

States and communities across the country are warning the Federal Communications Commission its proposal to limit local authority over wireless infrastructure siting will create chaos and open the door to public safety and aesthetics nightmares.

The FCC’s proposal would allegedly accelerate wireless infrastructure deployment by removing or pre-empting what some on the Commission feel are improper zoning barriers, unjustified fees meant to deter providers from adding new towers, and various other bureaucratic impediments. It would modify current “shot clock” rules that set time limits on applications and deem them automatically granted if a local or state authority failed to reach a decision in as little as 60 days.

Pai

While the wireless industry has expressed strong support for the proposed changes introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in March during the FCC’s “Infrastructure Month,” many states and localities are fiercely opposed to what some are calling a federal government takeover of local zoning and permitting. States as diverse as Illinois, Utah, and Maine have submitted comments objecting to the proposal, noting it will turn the FCC into a national zoning agency that could allow the installation of new cell towers and monopole antennas just about anywhere if the clock for consideration has run out.

Several communities have also submitted comments to the FCC reminding the agency its existing rules have allowed some providers to abuse the system, with further easing of regulatory oversight on the local level only increasing the potential for more abuse.

Communities have complained some providers have intentionally overwhelmed local authorities by submitting “bulk applications” that attempt to win approval for dozens of new sites with incomplete or missing paperwork. Others report providers using the public rights-of-way have placed large pieces of infrastructure in direct line with residents’ front doors, have created public safety problems with equipment that blocks drivers’ views at intersections, and had to contend with requests to place 120-200 foot monopole antennas on the edge of public highways and abandoned retired infrastructure providers fail to maintain or remove.

Can you find the hidden monopole tower?

The Utah Department of Transportation, among others, calls the FCC’s proposal “detrimental to public safety” and warns the FCC could end up creating a new loophole allowing providers to submit defective applications and then stalling required corrections until the shot clock runs out.

“No decisions are made on incomplete applications because the requested information is necessary for a decision to be issued,” Utah’s DOT writes. “This information may include, but is not limited to, when and where the work will be performed, type of installation, impacts to the traffic of the state highway. All safety issues must be addressed. Any shot clock start considerations by the Federal Communications Commission must be based upon completed applications. Otherwise the telecommunications company may fail to submit a completed application and continue to not submit all the requested information until the shot clock time period has run out. Such an approach would have detrimental impacts to safety of the traveling public on state highways because the Federal Communications Commission seeks to remove any authority from the states and local governments to address safety and placement after the shot clock has run out.”

Utah also fears the FCC’s decision to set uniform fees for applications could end up subsidizing large telecom companies with taxpayer dollars.

“Any requirement mandating lower fees than the actual costs will require the states to subsidize the telecommunications industry,” Utah’s DOT warned.

Maine’s Department of Transportation worries the FCC is putting the interests of multi-billion dollar telecom corporations ahead of the citizens of the state and their own needs. By allowing telecommunications companies to win irrevocable rights to place wireless towers where they want by running out the clock, the interests of those companies overshadow the public interest.

“The only ‘right’ that any entity receives to locate within Maine’s highway corridors is a revocable permit,” the DOT wrote. “To minimize overall expense and downtime, it is essential that facilities are appropriately located the first time around and there should not be any rules stating that it is in any way appropriate for an entity to construct facilities in a location that has not been explicitly approved by the applicable licensing authority, property owner or facility owner.”

Because the FCC’s proposal is so wide-ranging and skewed in favor of telecom companies, several state and local agencies are asking the FCC to clearly affirm that a company’s business interests should never come before public safety, future transportation needs, or at the public’s expense.

“Any new or revised rules should clearly affirm a state or local highway agencies’ authority to properly manage the highway corridor in the interest of highway safety, operations, and right of way preservation for future highway purposes,” offers Maine’s DOT, adding that after the state’s experience with financially troubled telecom companies abandoning outdated or damaged infrastructure, the public should not have to pay to clean it up.

“Accommodation of wireless towers or other monopole structures within the highway corridor also present hidden public expense when relocation of those facilities cause construction delays or when such facilities are abandoned by a [company] that declares bankruptcy,” the agency noted.

The Illinois Department of Transportation echoed Utah and Maine, noting the telecom industry needed to work with local and state officials to ensure timely permitting.

Instead, the telecom industry has spent millions lobbying state and federal legislators to curtail or eliminate local oversight and control. While many telecom companies are honest and accommodating, especially when they are considering major infrastructure expansion, some are not and work to game the system.

IDOT notes it is willing to manage the burden of processing applications on a timely basis, but utilities should not be rewarded with a right to run out the clock with an incomplete application.

“The burden of timely issuance of permits is shared by both the state and the industry,” IDOT wrote. “It is important that the utility fulfill its duties and meet their obligations.”

Benjamin

In one instance, a large telecom company submitted a very large number of permit applications across Illinois for a network upgrade it had no plans to commence in the near future, overwhelming permit offices. If the FCC’s reforms were in place, many of those applications would have been automatically approved after the deadline for consideration ran out, even though the provider was in no hurry to start work.

“The concept behind this is […] if a government authority doesn’t respond in a timely manner, the permit is automatically granted,” the filing said. “The [proposal] is attempting to shift the burden of court appeal to the [local permitting authority] as opposed to the permit applicant.”

Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin believes the FCC is trying to solve a non-existent problem.

“Simply put, local rights-of-way management does not discourage wireless deployment,” Mayor Benjamin said in March. “Instead, it serves numerous public policy goals and ensures that rights-of-ways are managed in a manner that allows for all users to safely and efficiently use public rights-of-way. The city is deeply concerned […] the Commission is simply seeking to preempt local authority and to dictate how local governments should manage public property, all in an effort to marginally increase the profits of an already profitable industry at the expense of important and legitimate public interest goals.”

Kenya Has Faster Mobile Broadband Than U.S.A.

Phillip Dampier June 14, 2017 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

Despite claims from America’s wireless companies that they deliver world-class wireless speeds, a new report from Akamai shows the United States only ranked 28th fastest in the world, beaten by the African nation of Kenya that ranked 14th.

Kenya’s 13.7Mbps average mobile broadband speed is almost twice as fast as the global average and consistently better than the U.S., where 10.7Mbps is the average. Nearly 90% of Kenya relies on mobile phones to reach the internet, primarily because its fixed line network never developed adequately to support faster broadband speeds. Kenyans have cell phones with cheap data plans, supported by a growing optical fiber backhaul network.

The United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, France, Norway and Denmark all scored the highest, with UK customers now getting an average speed of 26Mbps over 4G connections.

What two North American countries are not on this list?

Communities Prepare for Onslaught of New Wireless Networks in Public Rights-of-Way

Phillip Dampier June 12, 2017 Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

AT&T’s idea of a small cell deployment on an existing utility pole in Oakland, Calif. (Image courtesy: Omar Masry, a city planner living in the area, who warns other city planners: “Don’t let this happen to you.”)

Some of America’s biggest wireless telecom companies are spending millions lobbying Washington and state legislatures for the right to place a myriad of new wireless transmitters and small cells in the public rights-of-way without local communities having much say about where they go and what they look like.

Utility Traffic Jam

Over the next five years, tens of thousands of new “small cell” devices are expected to be placed on utility poles to manage forthcoming wireless services, and that represents a conservative estimate. Every major wireless carrier is contemplating new line-of-sight 5G communications networks that will require a massive deployment of new wireless antennas that will serve a smaller audience of devices than traditional cell towers have. But wireless companies will not be alone. Cable operators are also expected to enter the wireless business, not only to resell other providers’ cellular services but also to deploy new low power, line of sight networks to manage the Internet of Things (IoT), which will wirelessly connect devices ranging from home appliances and heating/cooling systems to vehicles on the road, utility meters, shopping carts, for sale and street vendor signs, traffic signals, and much, much more.

It’s an entirely new world for local governments tasked with approving permit requests to place cellular and wireless infrastructure on private and public lands. With billions to be made managing machine-to-machine communications, smart cars, and expanded wireless internet, every player has a vested interest in making sure local governments don’t impede their potential profits.

That is why companies like AT&T are pushing hard for new limitations on local government objections to their sprouting wireless infrastructure. Their idea is to override local control and shift to their proposed statewide or federal guidelines conveniently favoring them by putting time limits on communities to contemplate an application, eliminating certain rights for local governments to object to those applications, and making certain wireless companies don’t have to pay what they consider excessive fees or taxes to local authorities for the right to use the public space.

For local governments, responsiveness to citizens who have to live next to wireless infrastructure is important, and not only because of pseudo-scientific fears of the health impacts of wireless signal radiation. Aesthetic issues alone often make or break current wireless antenna applications.

The POTs and PANs Blog notes that time is short for local communities to get their wireless infrastructure policies in place for the incoming boom of mini-cell sites and IoT networks.

Pole Refrigerators and 100-Foot Fake Pine Trees

Traditional cell towers are easy to spot because they are tall and very visible with wireless antennas often serving multiple carriers fixed up and down across the tower. The next generation of wireless networks will be powered by much smaller antennas attached to utility and light poles. In some cases where nearby trees can block signals, providers propose new 100-foot tall monopoles, sometimes disguised to resemble a tree — albeit a very, very tall one.

Some early generation “small cells” resemble a compact refrigerator and weigh several hundred pounds. These are usually mounted approximately half to two-thirds up a utility pole and are very visible. Some have loud cooling fans, others need additional infrastructure like external power that will busy-up the utility pole with more cables and supports. In a storm strong enough to take out a utility pole, you would not want to be underneath a falling “small cell.”

The Tree Trimming Flat-Top Haircut is Back

Arborists warn that some early 5G installations have taken a serious toll on nearby trees also in the right-of-way because the technology requires a direct line-of-sight to the antenna. This has resulted in aggressive tree-trimming to keep foliage far away from the small cell, and that trimming sometimes includes reducing the height of nearby trees.

A University of Surrey study found that small cells mounted 10 meters up a pole faced at least a 30% chance of having their signals blocked by trees. At 15 meters, that chance of signal blockage is reduced to 10%. At 25 meters, it is less than 1%. But that would require an 82-foot high utility pole in the neighborhood. The standard utility pole in the United States is about 40 ft (12 m) long. Either aggressive tree trimming or tall utility pole placement to avoid trimming is likely to create controversy in suburban residential neighborhoods.

City planners are being urged to contemplate what kind of enforceable policies they want to permit in the public space set aside for infrastructure, because as author Doug Dawson noted, it’s going to get busy up there:

I doubt that any city is prepared for the possible proliferation of wireless devices. Not only are there four major cellular companies, but these devices are going to be deployed by the cable companies that are now entering the cellular market along with a host of ISPs that want to deliver wireless broadband. There will also be significant demand for placement for connecting private networks as well as for the uses by the cities themselves. I remember towns fifty years ago that had unsightly masses of telephone wires. Over the next decade or two it’s likely that we will see wireless devices everywhere.

AT&T Uses Tax Dollars to Subsidize Expensive, Capped, and Slow Wireless Rural Broadband Solution

AT&T Fiber isn’t coming to rural communities and farms in the phone company’s service area anytime soon. Instead, AT&T grudgingly accepted $428 million in ratepayer-subsidized Connect America funds to build fixed wireless networks that do not meet the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband, come usage-capped, and will offer a price break only to customers who sign up for AT&T’s other services.

AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet service begins this week in Georgia, offering up to 10/1Mbps service with a monthly data cap of 160GB (additional 50GB increments cost $10 each). The monthly price is $70, or $60 with a one-year contract, or $50 if a customer has AT&T wireless phone service or DirecTV. The installation fee is $99, waived if you bundle with DirecTV. The fee covers the installation of an outdoor antenna and indoor residential gateway, which remains the property of AT&T. The service works over AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Credit approval is required, and those not approved may have to pay a refundable deposit to start service. These prices do not include taxes, federal and state universal service charges, regulatory cost recovery charges (up to $1.25), gross receipts surcharge, administrative fees and other assessments which are not government-required charges. See att.com/additionalcharges for details on fees & restrictions.

AT&T is using ratepayer funds to construct a sub-standard fixed wireless network that it will use to cross-sell its own products and services by offering customers a discount. The minimum speed to be considered “broadband” according to the FCC is not less than 25Mbps. But AT&T would have to spend considerably more to equip its wireless solution to work at those speeds, and the company has already admitted fixed wireless will be available in areas where it is “uneconomical to build wireline” networks, according to AT&T president of technology operations Bill Smith.

The new wireless network will be in service for 400,000 locations in Georgia by the end of this year, with 1.1 million locations up and running across 17 other states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin) by 2020.

The buildout is required to meet the terms of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which AT&T committed to in 2015.

Fixed wireless fits nicely with AT&T’s long-term strategy of mothballing its wireline networks in rural service areas, in favor of wireless alternatives. The company has been behind bills in more than a dozen state legislatures where it offers landline service to permanently disconnect rural customers from wired landline and broadband services.

“We’re committed to utilizing available technologies to connect hard-to-reach locations,” said Eric Boyer, senior vice president, wireless and wired product marketing at AT&T. Just as long as that technology isn’t fiber optics.

Questions and Answers About AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet

What is AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provides qualified households and small businesses with high-speed internet service via an outdoor antenna and indoor Wi-Fi Gateway router. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet includes:

  • High-speed internet with download speeds of at least 10Mbps.
  • 160GB of internet usage per month. If you exceed the amount of data in your plan, additional data will automatically be provided in increments of 50GB for $10, up to a maximum of 20 such increments or $200
  • Wi-Fi connections for multiple devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles, etc.).
  • Wired Ethernet connections for up to 4 devices.

What speed does AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provide?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet will provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloading and at least 1Mbps for uploading. However, data speeds can vary depending upon various factors:

  • Wi-Fi isn’t as fast as a wired connection. You get the best Wi-Fi signal closest to your gateway without obstructions. Use a wired (Ethernet) connection for the best results.
  • Devices have a maximum internet speed they can reach, and might not be as fast as your possible internet service level (especially older devices).
  • Multiple devices sharing your internet connection at the same time, whether wired or Wi-Fi, can reduce your internet speed.
  • Learn more at att.com/speed101 and att.com/broadbandinfo.

Can I add AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet to my AT&T Mobile Share Plan and is Rollover Data included?

No, AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet cannot be added to a Mobile Share plan, and Rollover Data is not included in the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet data plan.

Is Wi-Fi included with AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

Yes, you can connect multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets to the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi Gateway, and up to 4 Ethernet-connected devices. When you access your AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet over your Wi-Fi home network using any type of device (including smartphones and some home automation equipment), that counts as AT&T internet data usage. However, if you access the internet via a public or commercial Wi-Fi hotspot, that access does not count as usage.

How far does the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi signal reach?

The AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Wi-Fi Gateway router enables wireless networking capabilities throughout your home or business and helps to minimize wireless dead spots. This smart technology allows you to:

  • Provide high-speed internet connections to multiple devices
  • Create safe and secure wireless networking

Does weather affect service?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet relies on a LTE signal from a cell tower. Many things can affect the availability and quality of your service, including network capacity, terrain, buildings, foliage, and weather. A professional installer will confirm sufficient signal strength at your location before installation.

What type of support is available for AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service?

For AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet Customer Care, call 1-855-483-3063, available 6AM to midnight Central Time 7-days a week.

How long does it take to get AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service?

AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet service is available for installation within 10 business days of ordering. Professional installation (required) usually takes about 3 hours.

If I move, can I take AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet with me?

If you are moving, please contact AT&T to find out if AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet or other AT&T services are available at your new address. Please do not attempt to move the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet outdoor antenna.

Can I take AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet to my cottage or second home?

No, AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is not movable or mobile. Please do not attempt to move the AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet outdoor antenna.  Please contact AT&T to find out if AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet or other AT&T services are available at your cottage or second home.

How is AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet different from AT&T Wireless Home Phone & Internet?

Both AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet and AT&T Wireless Home Phone & Internet provide internet access. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet includes an outdoor antenna that is professionally mounted on or near the exterior of your home or business to provide a strong signal for better connectivity, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet uses a small desktop device that you can install yourself since there is no outdoor antenna. Stated another way, Wireless Home Phone & Internet is a mobile service, whereas AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is not. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet is only available in select (typically rural) areas, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet is available throughout the AT&T wireless footprint.  AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet provides internet download speeds of 10Mbps or over, while Wireless Home Phone & Internet provides the highest speed available to it, typically in the range of 5-12Mbps.

What service limitations apply to AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet?

Services like web hosting or hosted services such as camera, gaming server, peer-to-peer, etc., that require static IP address are not supported by AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet. AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet may not be compatible with DVR/Satellite systems; please check with your provider.

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