Tag Archives: mobile broadband

California cities meet wave of mobile carrier land grabs


I’ve been involved in several meetings between mobile infrastructure companies and staff from various California cities over the past couple of months. There’s a new gold rush going on now. And mobile carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – are running around trying to do deals with cities ahead of 5G and pre-5G network upgrades. They want to put “small cells” on street lights and other city-owned vertical assets. Deals which might be preempted in their favor by SB 649 anyway.

What they want is to lock up real estate years ahead of actual construction. The networks won’t be fully built for 10 to 20 years, but if they can claim vertical assets, right of way and other prime locations now, they’ll be in a controlling position in any given city for a couple of decades.

5G networks rely on lots of small, short-range cell sites. Short range means you can have a lot more cells in a given area, which means the radio frequency bandwidth (also known as spectrum) can be re-used over and over.

For example, suppose you had one big cell tower that covered an entire city, which used all the spectrum a carrier has, and that amount of spectrum had a total capacity of 300 Mbps (e.g. you might have 300 people each watching their own 1 Mbps video stream at the same time). Then you replace it with 100 small cells, each with a 100 Mbps capacity and arranged so that the particular frequencies each uses doesn’t interfere or overlap with its neighbor.

All of a sudden you’ve gone from 300 Mbps total city capacity to 10,000 Mbps. That’s a too-simple example, but the principle applies.

There is no 5G technology standard currently, although there might be by the end of the year. Even so, it’ll be three to five years before the equipment is developed and proven, and then put into mass production and deployed on a large scale. In the meantime, these companies are trying to lay a claim to lots of sites for later, while using a few now that rely on current 4G technology (although they play egregious word games with that).

It’s a good idea for cities to work with mobile carriers and infrastructure companies, but it’s essential to do it in a way that creates a level playing field for everyone – incumbent mobile carriers and their vendors as well as the new ventures and technologies that are on the way – and doesn’t allow one player to lock up street lights, right of way and other real estate they won’t use for years. Given the level of local preemption activity going on in Sacramento and Washington, it makes sense for local governments to use the leverage they have while they have it.

California assembly considers preemption of local pole ownership, cell site permits


A bill to largely end local government control of municipally-owned light poles and other vertical infrastructure and eliminate discretion over where cell sites can be located has landed in the California assembly. The perks are limited to "small cells", but the way the definition is written, it’ll allow pretty big installations anywhere in the public right of way or in commercial or industrially zoned areas, as well as setting rental rates for publicly-owned poles at below market rates. Senate bill 649 was approved by the senate on a bipartisan 32 to 1 vote last week, with seven abstentions. The no vote came from senator Steven Glazer (D – Contra Costa); all those abstaining were democrats as well.

Its next stop will be in an assembly committee. The big question is which one? SB 649 began in the senate energy, utilities and communications committee – it’s being carried by the chair, senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) at the behest of AT&T, Verizon and mobile industry lobbyists – but was then considered and approved by the governance and finance committee, which deals with local government issues. In the assembly, the equivalents would be the communications and conveyance committee and the local government committee.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) chairs communications and conveyances. It’s a new committee, split off from the utilities and commerce committee at the beginning of the legislative year. There’s not much of a track record yet, but on at least one issue that involves local government and telecoms interests – a bill to require cities and to reimburse cable companies for relocating lines underground – it accomodated telecoms interests.

The local government committee is led by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo County), the former mayor of Winters and a community broadband advocate. If nothing else, she should understand the dynamic between the responsibility cities (and counties) have to manage the assets they own and set community standards, and the need to expand broadband availability.

It’s possible – likely, I’d guess – that SB 649 will take the same double review path in the assembly as it did in the senate. Either way, there’s plenty of time to get it done – the deadline for committee action is mid-July.

Bill ending local control of cell site permits, light pole rentals advances in California senate


Open access to city-owned street light poles at below market rates and a fast track for cell site approvals has landed on the floor of the California senate. Last week, the appropriations committee gave the go ahead to senate bill 649, which, if passed, would slash city and county control of municipally owned vertical infrastructure and require automatic approval of any "small cell" proposed for installation in the public right of way or in commercial and industrial zones.

The bill had been put into the "suspense file" by the senate appropriations committee, which is a legislative limbo where many bills go to die. Not this one, though. Committee members voted 6-zip in favor of passing it. Senate minority leader Pat Bates (R – Orange County) is listed as no vote recorded, which could have been a low key way of registering an objection or she just might have been out of the room at the time. Either way, it doesn’t make much difference.

Not surprisingly, SB 649 is vociferously opposed by cities and counties. On the other side is AT&T, Verizon and the mobile industry’s lobbying front, CTIA (originally known as the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association). They’ve found a willing partner in senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), who is carrying the bill on their behalf.

Lobbyists for local government have been predicting the demise of SB 649, either by progressively watering it down with amendments or killing it by other means. So far, that strategy hasn’t accomplished much. Although it can still be amended, the language that’s up for a senate vote now is the same as it was when it was unanimously approved by the governance and finance committee more than a month ago. It’s better than what Hueso originally put on the table, but all that means is that it’s gone from insanely one-sided to seriously awful – an improvement of sorts, but still a major win for mobile interests.

The senate’s deadline for passing SB 649 and handing it over to the assembly for its consideration is Friday.

Mobile voice migration hits the halfway mark, but don’t confuse it with broadband


Voice telephone service has finally tipped to predominantly mobile, according to statistics compiled by the federal department of health and human services. The latest survey shows that a bit more than half the homes in the U.S. no longer use landline telephones to make or receive calls…

In the second 6 months of 2016, more than one-half of all households (50.8%) did not have a landline telephone but did have at least one wireless telephone. More than 123 million adults (50.5% of all adults) lived in households with only wireless telephones; over 44 million children (60.7% of all children) lived in households with only wireless telephones. The percentage of households that are wireless-only and the percentages of adults and children living in wireless-only households have been steadily increasing. The observed 2.5-percentage-point increase in the percentage of households that are wireless-only from the second 6 months of 2015 through the second 6 months of 2016 was statistically significant. The 2.8-percentage-point increase for adults and the 3.0-percentage-point increase for children across the same 12-month time period were also significant.

It’s a significant milestone, but it should be read for what it is – a measure of how people make voice calls. It doesn’t say anything in particular about how people access the Internet.

The distinction is important because telephone companies, and AT&T in particular, continue to push lawmakers and regulators to allow them to rip out copper wireline networks and replace them with wireless service. When they make those arguments, they wave statistics like these and claim that people don’t need wired connections anymore, while deliberately distracting them from the facts that 1. many mobile voice-only homes connect to the Internet via wired connections and 2. mobile data is very expensive and slow compared to even legacy DSL technology, particularly in rural and inner city communities.

Voice is migrating to mobile, although there will be demand for landline service, too, for many decades to come. Don’t confuse it with broadband service, which continues to see increasing in-home demand for speed, capacity and reliability that only wired networks can deliver.

Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the
National Health Interview Survey, July–December 2016

Money lost on pole rentals is your problem, senators tell California cities


Cities and counties will have to figure out how for themselves how to make up any losses they suffer if senate bill 649 becomes law. That’s the conclusion of a state senate appropriations committee analysis, ahead of a hearing on the measure last week. SB 649 would effectively give mobile carriers open access to city-owned property, such as light poles, at pre-determined, cut rate prices. As it currently reads, instead of charging wireless companies up to $4,000 or more a month in rent, cities could only charge rates set by legislature

Cities and counties currently negotiate lease rates for small cell attachments on publicly owned vertical infrastructure that is market based, and many local governments may use excess lease revenues to pay for other public services or to subsidize the extension of wireless service in underserved areas. This bill limits the fees that a city or county may charge for the installation of a small cell telecommunications facility on publicly owned vertical infrastructure to a range of $100 to $850 per small cell per year. Since these rates are much lower than what some current agreements provide, many local governments will lose significant discretionary revenues. Staff notes that loss of local revenues does not, on its own, constitute a reimbursable mandate.

If potentially chopping thousands of dollars per pole per year in revenue were a reimbursable mandate, then the California legislature would be required to make up the difference for cities and counties. But eliminating revenue isn’t the same as forcing cities to spend money on something, so tough luck.

In the end, the committee put SB 649 into the “suspense file”, where it will sit along with hundreds of other bills until the state budget has been passed, probably sometime in early June. Then, legislative leaders will decide which of those bills will move forward to a full floor vote. The remainder will be dead, by the rules of the senate.

Cheap and easy access to California streetlights queued up in Sacramento


It’s not the complete takeover of municipal property that mobile carriers originally wanted, but the latest published version of senate bill 649 would still require California cities and counties to allow on-demand access to street lights and other “vertical infrastructure” they own, often at a steep discount on the going market rate for leases…

A city or county shall not preclude the leasing or licensing of its vertical infrastructure located in public right-of-way or public utility easements…Vertical infrastructure shall be made available for the placement of small cells under fair and reasonable fees, terms, and conditions, which may include feasible design and collocation standards…Fees shall be tiered or flat and within a range of $100 to $850 per small cell per year, indexed for inflation…

A city or county shall not discriminate against the deployment of a small cell on property owned by the city or county and shall make space available on property not located in the public right-of-way under terms and conditions that are no less favorable than the terms and conditions under which the space is made available for comparable commercial projects or uses. These installations shall be subject to reasonable and nondiscriminatory rates, terms, and conditions, which may include feasible design and collocation standards.

Under current federal and state law, cities have more or less complete control over how they lease out poles, towers and other vertical assets they own and how much they charge. AT&T, Verizon and mobile industry lobbyists wrote SB 649 and recruited senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) to carry it for them.

It sailed through the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee, which Hueso chairs, but ran into headwinds in the governance and finance committee, which deals more closely with local governments. Industry demands were trimmed back during closed door negotiations just before that committee voted, but even as amended SB 649 still faces heavy opposition from local governments.

Next stop is the senate appropriation committee, which is scheduled to hear the bill on Monday.

Bill to end local control of cell sites gets new start in Sacramento


The California senate’s governance and finance committee did indeed shred senate bill 649 but it sent the pieces on toward a full floor vote anyway. It still severely restricts, if not completely eliminates, the ability of cities and counties to control where cell sites are placed, and requires them to lease street lights and other vertical assets to mobile carriers on demand for a nominal price.

Amendments were negotiated behind closed doors but not publicly released prior to the hearing on Wednesday. As one opponent, speaking for the League of California cities noted, it’s hard to “know what we’re against” when no one except some committee members and lobbyists have seen the amended bill. Which might have been why he fell back on nonsense and tried to make the argument that wireless service “has no public benefit”.

It’s true that, at least as originally conceived, SB 649 would result in a massive transfer of public assets into the private pockets of mobile carriers. But mobile broadband clearly has public benefits, even within the narrow definition that agencies and non-profit organisations often use: give me the money. (Although they’re not alone in that).

It was a much more civilised affair than the chaotic hearing in the senate’s energy, utilities and communications committee a couple of weeks ago. Senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) led a fire team of lobbyists from AT&T, Verizon and the mobile industry’s lobbying front, CTIA and argued for the bill. He’s the author, although that’s not to be confused with whoever actually wrote the original language – that came from the bill’s sponsors. The companies represented by those lobbyists, in other words.

Representatives from cities and counties argued against it, as did a lobbyist for California cable companies who wanted to safeguard the special privileges her industry has extracted over the years.

The next stop for the bill is the senate appropriations committee.

California cell site free-for-all bill shredded in senate analysis

By wdwd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Deconstructing the text.

A much different assessment of senate bill 649 has been posted as it heads toward a hearing tomorrow in the senate’s governance and finance committee. That’s the bill that would largely eliminate local control in California over cell sites in the public right of way and commercial and industrial zones, and give mobile carriers the right to attach their gear to publicly owned light poles and other vertical assets at will for $20 a year.

SB 649 is being carried by senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), who chairs the energy, utilities and communications committee. The legislative analysis offered by his staff read like it was written by AT&T and Verizon, whose lobbyists flanked Hueso when he presented it to his colleagues a couple of weeks ago.

A new analysis done for the governance and finance committee takes a much different tack, among other things noting that SB 649 amounts to a gift of taxpayer money to mobile carriers…

Local officials’ first duty is to protect the interests of their constituents. They have broad authority to regulate activities to preserve the public welfare, and they have developed processes in accordance with that duty for permitting wireless telecommunications facilities. Some jurisdictions impose more conditions than others due to specific local circumstances, and the FCC has recognized this need. SB 649 goes well beyond federal law to strip local governments of this authority. By making small cells permitted uses, SB 649 extends by-right development to small cells, and it stops local governments from establishing discretionary permitting processes—even in historic districts if they allow any kind of commercial or industrial uses…And SB 649 goes even further than other by-right proposals because it require local governments to offer up their vertical infrastructure for use by other entities and removes their ability to charge fair rent by capping lease fees for vertical infrastructure to an amount that is a small fraction of the rates in current agreements between carriers and local governments. SB 649 sets a concerning precedent that reappropriates taxpayer funded infrastructure for private benefit.

Hueso got a unanimous yes vote in his own committee, but that was clearly on the basis of the customary courtesy afforded chairmen and not on the merits of the bill. Committee members, including the governance and finance chair, senator Mike McGuire (D – Healdsburg), made it clear that they would eventually vote against it if the language remained as is.

He’ll have a chance to make good on that promise tomorrow.

T-Mobile leads 600 MHz auction, DISH slips easily in behind


T-Mobile is the big winner, or at least the big spender, in the Federal Communication Commission’s $20 billion incentive auction, walking away with more than half the 600 MHz band licenses up for grabs – 1,525 licenses, 55% of the total. Second place went to DISH, which paid $6.2 billion for 486 licenses, 18% of the total.

Who came in third depends on how you’re figuring it. Comcast bid the third most money – $1.7 billion – but ended up with only 73 licenses, a mere 3%. U.S. Cellular – the distant number five mobile carrier in the U.S. – was number three in the license race, paying $329 million for 188 licenses (7% of the total, but not prime real estate).

AT&T plunked down nearly a gigabuck – $910 million – for 23 licenses, a 1% share. Verizon, on the other hand, was shut out, winning zero licenses but, on the other hand, paying zero dollars.

Sprint didn’t participate, or at least not under its own flag. There will certainly be further wheeling and dealing. Many of the winning bidders appear to be have transaction motives rather than action plans.

DISH is top of that list. Chairman Charlie Ergen made the leap from millionaire to billionaire after placing a low cost, high return bet on direct broadband satellite slots back in the 80s, and has been playing the spectrum sweepstakes ever since. He’ll light up frequencies himself when there’s an open field – as there was with DBS once it got going in 90s – but otherwise manages his licenses as an investment portfolio.

Don’t expect anything revolutionary from anyone in the near term. It’ll take a few years to move TV stations off of the frequencies they’re giving up in exchange for $10 billion. And which they, or at least the original license holders, paid exactly zilch to acquire.

Cell site free-for-all approved in raucous California senate hearing


Cities and counties will be forced to hand over control of light poles they own to wireless companies for a nominal fee, under a bill unanimously approved yesterday by a California senate committee during a hearing that descended at times into chaos and low comedy. Drafted by mobile carriers and pushed by the chairman of the committee, senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), senate bill 649 would also allow wireless companies to install “small” cells (which, as defined, could be sizeable) pretty much at will, anywhere in the public right of way in California, including residential areas.

Flanked by lobbyists from AT&T, Verizon and CTIA, the mobile industry’s lobbying front, and occasionally wagging his pen at colleagues who questioned the wisdom of his approach, Hueso defended the bill and offered a rainbows and unicorns vision of a world where wireless carriers selflessly work with cities for the greater good of all. Which is the only reason they would: Hueso had difficulty articulating what actual authority would be left to local governments if SB 649 is approved as is.

There was opposition, of a sort. The initial time allotted for opponents was hijacked by a couple of storm troopers from the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, but a representative from a city planners’ association was granted a couple of extra minutes by an exasperated acting chair to make a coherent argument against the bill.

The committee members had problems with the bill as written too. At the top of the list was language that would have forced cities and counties to lease light poles to cell companies on demand, for the flat fee of $20 a year. When asked if he would accept amendments, Hueso dug in his heels, saying “it looks like I have my votes”. And he did. After threatening to vote against the bill if it makes it to the senate floor in its current form, every committee member voted aye, and sent it on to its next stop, the senate’s governance and finance committee.

It’ll face a tougher audience there.