Editor's Corner—Policy questions, FirstNet to be primary topics at CCA next week

Policy issues and the buildout of FirstNet will be among the primary topics at CCA's annual conference in Las Vegas next week.
Colin Gibbs Editor's Corner

The Competitive Carriers Association’s annual conference will be held next week in Las Vegas, and one of the hottest topics of discussion is sure to be Donald Trump’s administration.

Just like everywhere else across the nation.

The three-day 2017 Mobile Carriers Show claims to host “more senior decision makers from more carrier organizations” than any other trade show in the U.S. Those executives are hoping the Trump White House will pursue policies and strategies that will help them compete against the nation’s two largest carriers—yes, Verizon and AT&T—in a U.S. market where smartphone growth has nearly stalled.

“We haven’t seen an infrastructure package from this administration,” CCA CEO Steven Berry told FierceWireless last week, “but our carriers are mustering on, and it’s very useful to have a Mobility Fund II that was very favorable to our guys.”

Just like their massive counterparts, CCA members are focusing on the emergence of 5G technologies and the blossoming IoT, among other topics. But they’re also very interested in policies and regulatory concerns unique to smaller operators.

Other major issues will be addressed in the coming months and years under Trump, Berry continued: How quickly will carriers be able to deploy the 600 MHz airwaves they acquire in the incentive auction, which will wrap up in the next few weeks? When will the next auction occur, and which bands will be up for grabs? How might carriers be able to get their hands on the pile of millimeter wave spectrum that’s currently under control of the FCC, and how can they best leverage it?

The impact of FirstNet

And then there’s the question of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of FirstNet earlier this month, allowing the first broadband network in the U.S. devoted to public safety to proceed without a contract award. FirstNet had wanted to award the contract before the end of last year, but one of the bidders, Rivada, said it was wrongly removed from the list of potential contractors. Rivada contested its exclusion from the contract and filed a legal protest, which the federal claims court rejected.

The 25-year contract is expected to bring additional business to infrastructure vendors and tower operators. And if it’s awarded to AT&T as widely expected, AT&T will get access to FirstNet’s 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system.

But Rivada has indicated it will appeal the ruling and is moving forward with plans to work with states individually to build dedicated networks for public safety. So it still isn’t clear exactly when work on FirstNet can start, or how big the network will be.

FirstNet CEO Michael Poth will deliver a keynote address Thursday morning at the show.

“We think we’re going to hear from FirstNet on how they envision utilizing CCA members and their network partners to very quickly build out FirstNet capability nationwide,” Berry said. “That’s going to be a big issue for a lot of our members, and I think it will be very timely.”

Is there going to be a referee on the field?

And while operators big and small are hoping Trump’s administration demonstrates a far lighter regulatory touch than Barack Obama’s administration did, CCA’s constituents also depend on policies that enable them to compete with the two dominant mobile carriers in the market, Berry continued. Smaller carriers need to be able to secure roaming agreements and deals for access to backhaul, and they need policies that prevent Verizon and AT&T from dominating spectrum auctions, shutting out smaller service providers.

“I think they are optimistic there are going to be fewer regulations—I think they share that. But the concern many of our carriers have is, ‘Is there going to be a referee on the field?’” he said. “Yes, we want fewer regulations, we want investment opportunities, but are we going to have somebody on the field who says, ‘You guys have committed a foul.’” —Colin | @colin_gibbs