It's a wrap: CCA show attendance picking back up despite MWC conflict

PORTLAND, Oregon—The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) held its annual convention here this week and despite some challenges, the organization deemed it a success.

Earlier this month, CCA President and CEO Steve Berry announced his retirement at the end of this year. He wasn’t able to attend the conference in person, explaining via a video feed during Wednesday morning’s kick-off that he had experienced some recent health challenges and was staying home due to doctor’s orders.

However, he was certainly here in mind and spirit, virtually leading the Board of Directors’ meeting on Thursday and keeping in close contact with staff via email and text.

Tim Donovan, currently SVP of legislative affairs at CCA, was the designated host for the week’s sessions. He starts his new job as president and CEO of the organization in January.

CCA doesn’t give out exact attendance numbers, but this week’s tally was about what they expected it to be and slightly ahead registration-wise compared to where they were last year in Phoenix at this time of year, said Lucy Hodas, SVP of media and communication at CCA.

That’s despite the event occurring at the same time as GSMA’s MWC in Las Vegas, which turned out to be an accidental and unfortunate occurrence.  

“We do our best to schedule our shows away from other industry events,” she told Fierce, and CCA contracts several years in in advance to prevent that because it’s not in anyone’s interest when attendees want to attend both events.

Between CCA booking its dates and GSMA switching from Las Angeles to Las Vegas, the dates ended up coinciding. Some attendees at CCA were here for the first day and split for Las Vegas to catch meetings at the MWC show on Thursday and/or Friday.

A “handful of folks” from Florida didn’t make it and had to cancel at the last minute due to Hurricane Ian, but others, like Fort Meyers-based Interop, did make the trek from Florida. Their booth was next to CCA’s.

Attendance wasn’t quite back to a pre-pandemic level. “We’re getting back there,” she said. “We’re not there yet but certainly, trends are moving that way, which is great.”  

Where’s the money?

One overarching theme going into the conference was the government’s lack of broadband funding for wireless and abundance of money for fiber.

But “I think a theme that really picked up throughout the week is it’s not only fiber,” Donovan said. “Wireless is important,” not only for fixed wireless access (FWA), which was a popular topic at the show, but also for mobile and other more innovative 5G wireless services that are yet to be fully identified.

Indeed, during a panel session on Thursday, Doug Kinkoph, an associate administrator at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), delivered the message that funds are available for wireless through various funding mechanisms.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for fixed wireless to engage,” he said, urging attendees to get involved at their state levels.   

What’s up with Rip & Replace?

Speaking of funding, the government mandated that carriers remove telecom equipment from Chinese vendors for national security reasons, and many smaller operators relied on Huawei for many years. The government is reimbursing them for the removal, but there’s a $3 billion shortfall right now, Donovan said.

Several bills have proposed ways to help fund it and 34 senators recently sent a bipartisan letter to Senate leaders Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) urging Congress to address the shortfall.

CCA continues its conversations on it but it’s an election year and a lot of attention is on the campaign trail and away from Washington, D.C., so those efforts will have to wait until after the elections.

“We hear every day from the affected carriers that this is a national security emergency and we can’t wait,” Donovan said, so that'll be something topping the to-do list this fall.