Verizon’s Facebook boycott is not what it seems

Censorship advocates are celebrating the addition of US telco Verizon to their campaign against Facebook, but they’re mistaken.

At the start of this week we reported on a campaign by a coalition of political activist groups designed to coerce Facebook into censoring any content it disapproves of. To date its seems to have attracted the support of companies whose brand has a strong element of social activism, who recognised an easy PR win when they saw one, but now we’re led to believe that mainstream corporate America has joined the purge, as represented by Verizon.

There is no mention of the move on Verizon’s press site, but the story Greenblatt links to features the following statement from Verizon’s Chief Media Officer John Nitti: “We have strict content policies in place and have zero tolerance when they are breached, we take action. We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners.”

That’s pretty far from a direct endorsement of the campaign. Amid all the nebulous talk of feeling uncomfortable and acceptable solutions, the only substantial clue to Verizon’s thinking on this matter is the reference to YouTube. The most likely reason for that is Verizon’s participation in a YouTube adpocalypse three years ago, in protest at its ads being placed against controversial subject matter.

This theory is given further weight by a piece published by the ADL this week entitled Hate, Conspiracy Theories and Advertising on Facebook. The piece highlights the placing of a Verizon ad against a YouTube video published on Facebook that contains material the ADL found guilty of ‘drawing on hateful and antisemitic rhetoric’. In the absence of an explicit statement from Verizon, this seems by far the most likely explanation for its action against Facebook, rather than any direct alignment with the broader campaign.

The ADL attempted to further clarify the purpose of the campaign is seems to be the main driver of this week too, in the form of An Open Letter to the Companies that Advertise on Facebook. Tellingly, it started by trying to explain why Facebook had been singled out for such public censure. “Every day, we see ads from companies placed adjacent to hateful content, occupying the same space as extremist recruitment groups and harmful disinformation campaigns.”

It appears that, having only attracted the most inevitable corporate supporters, the campaign has adapted its strategy to pressuring individual advertisers, which is why it’s claiming Verizon as an ally. The truth is far less exciting, however, as the Verizon statement seems to say that as soon as Facebook changes its advertising algorithms such that Verizon is protected from these kinds of guilt-by-association campaigns, then it’s back to business as usual.

YouTube resolved its own similar crisis by doing just that, so the reputation management playbook has already been written. And talking of YouTube, since the offending content originated from there and was merely shared on Facebook, why isn’t the SDL going after YouTube too? The answer, once more, seems to be that this campaign is, at its core, designed to extort Facebook into getting into line regarding political censorship.

US path to mid-band spectrum not as simple as some make it seem

Despite many proclamations and posturing during the development years of 5G, mmWave is not living up to expectations, but securing valuable mid-band assets is becoming an increasingly complex project.

As it stands in the US market, T-Mobile US has access to 2.1 GHz spectrum to deliver 5G services. These assets were accessible due to the recently approved merger with Sprint and offers a significant advantage over Verizon and AT&T, both of whom are still operating in the high-frequency airwaves, the mmWave, which delivers high-speed and low coverage for an overall substandard experience.

Over the next 12-18 months, theoretically, more mid-band spectrum should be made available to the likes of Verizon and AT&T, as well as Dish as it expands its offering, through three separate spectrum auctions. However, there is still plenty which can go wrong in the meantime according to Chris Pearson, President of 5G Americas.

“If history shows us anything it is that we have not been very successful at co-operation,” Pearson said during a call with Telecoms.com.

What Pearson is referring to here is collaboration between private industry and public organisations to either harmonise spectrum usage or clearing the bands to offer more power to the mobile service providers. There are success stories, clearing the 1700-2100 MHz airwaves is one, but these outcomes are seemingly more the exception rather than the rule.

The issue with spectrum is simple. High frequencies offer exceptional download speeds but very poor coverage, while at the other end with low-frequency bands a telco can offer excellent coverage, but the download speeds and latency will be woeful. This is why mid-band assets are so important, it is a more palatable compromise between speed and coverage, a mobile experience which can be sold as an upgrade to customers.

When we asked Telecoms.com readers about how important the mid-band airwaves are 68% said without these assets it is impossible to deliver an attractive 5G service. Only 3% said the industry should be paying more attention to mmWave, and 8% believed mid-band spectrum is critical for the moment but its importance would fade behind mmWave eventually.

“Can we move along without it,” Pearson said. “Absolutely. But for the long-term we will need more spectrum.”

As Pearson highlights, there are three spectrum auctions on the horizon which are worth paying attention to. At the end of July, the ‘CBRS’ band at 3.5 GHz will make 150 MHz of spectrum available to the industry. In December, the C-Band airwaves (3.7-4.2 GHz) should be cleared up to make an additional 280 MHz of spectrum available. And the NCIA (NATO Communications and Information Agency) is currently producing a report to free up more assets in the 3.1-3.55 GHz range.

Theoretically, there should be plenty of spectrum available for the mobile network operators to deliver a comprehensive 5G solution, though this is under the assumption that everything runs smoothly.

Firstly, the ‘CBRS’ auction has already been delayed once. It should go ahead of course, but there is always a risk.

Secondly, the C-Band auction, scheduled to take place in December, is currently under threat from legal action. Several smaller satellite broadcasting companies who are being asked to vacate and/or move operations in these airwaves are kicking up a fuss. The aim is to shift the satellite operators in the 3.7-4.2 GHz range into a consolidated 200 MHz block, which would offer plenty of room for the telcos to play around it, but there are dissenters.

PSSI Global Services has filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia arguing the FCC is crippling the entire industry by forcing through the changes in this spectrum band. Should this legal challenge gather momentum or spin-off into different directions, it could impact the availability of assets in the C-Band range, and subsequently delay the auction.

The final area is another very difficult issue to manage. The report which is being produced for the 3.1-3.55 GHz range has only completed one of six sections. This report is supposed to shed light on what the spectrum is being used for, by whom and ways which it can be rationalised to add more available spectrum for mobile operators. But Pearson highlighted that progress has been sluggish.

The issue seems to be that it is difficult to understand what the spectrum is currently being used for, the incumbents are not being the most helpful as there are confidentiality hurdles to negotiate. No-one officially knows what this spectrum is actually being used for which usually means it is something to do with the military or intelligence services.

Without co-operation from the incumbents, it becomes very difficult to audit these airwaves and create a logical strategy to move forward.

To understand the importance of mid-band spectrum, it is worth looking at the experience being delivered without access.

According to OpenSignal’s most recent analysis of the US market, Verizon is delivering speeds few other international telcos can compete with over mmWave, but this digital dream is only accessible to 0.5% of its 5G subscribers. Elsewhere, for example in the UK where mid-band spectrum is being utilised, there is a speed upgrade (albeit nowhere near as much) but 12X more users are able to access the 5G airwaves.

What is critical about 5G right now is not delivering gigabit speed over the air, there are no applications which require this today, but demonstrating 5G is an upgraded service. Speed and latency improvements are a must, but if the users cannot access them the money spent on 5G networks are a complete and utter waste of time.

The US does of course recognise this situation, Pearson highlighted there is momentum gathering in support of the telcos in Washington, however it is far from an ideal situation. This is a pain point, though there is plenty of risk on the horizon to acting as a blocker for the solution.

Making Sense of the Telco Cloud

In recent years the cloudification of communication networks, or “telco cloud” has become a byword for telecom modernisation. This Telecoms.com Intelligence Monthly Briefing aims to analyse what telcos’ transition to cloud means to the stakeholders in the telecom and cloud ecosystems. Before exploring the nooks and crannies of telco cloud, however, it is worthwhile first taking an elevated view of cloud native in general. On one hand, telco cloud is a subset of the overall cloud native landscape, on the other, telco cloud almost sounds an oxymoron. Telecom operator’s monolithic networks and cloud architecture are often seen as two different species, but such impressions are wrong.

(Here we are sharing the opening section of this Telecoms.com Intelligence special briefing to look into how telco cloud has changing both the industry landscape and operator strategies.

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.)

What cloud native is, and why we need it

“Cloud native” have been buzz words for a couple of years though often, like with many other buzz words, different people mean many different things when they use the same term. As the authors of a recently published Microsoft ebook quipped, ask ten colleagues to define cloud native, and there’s good chance you’ll get eight different answers. (Rob Vettor, Steve “ardalis” Smith: Architecting Cloud Native .NET Applications for Azure, preview edition, April 2020)

Here are a couple of “cloud native” definitions that more or less agree with each other, though with different stresses.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), an industry organisation with over 500 member organisations from different sectors of the industry, defines cloud native as “computing (that) uses an open source software stack to deploy applications as microservices, packaging each part into its own container, and dynamically orchestrating those containers to optimize resource utilization.”

Gabriel Brown, an analyst from Heavy Reading, has a largely similar definition for cloud native, though he puts it more succinctly. For him, cloud native means “containerized micro-services deployed on bare metal and managed by Kubernetes”, the de facto standard of container management.

Although cloud native has a strong inclination towards containers, or containerised services, it is not just about containers. An important element of cloud native computing is in its deployment mode using DevOps. This is duly stressed by Omdia, a research firm, which prescribes cloud native as “the first foundation is to use agile methodologies in development, building on this with DevOps adoption across IT and, ideally, in the organization as well, and using microservices software architecture, with deployment on the cloud (wherever it is, on-premises or public).”

Some would argue the continuous nature of DevOps is as important to cloud native as the infrastructure and containerised services. Red Hat, an IBM subsidiary and one of the leading cloud native vendors and champions for DevOps practices, sees cloud native in a number of common themes including “heavily virtualized, software-defined, highly resilient infrastructure, allowing telcos to add services more quickly and centrally manage their resources.”

These themes are aligned with the understanding of cloud native by Telecoms.com Intelligence, and this report will discuss cloud native and telco cloud along this line. (A full Q&A with Azhar Sayeed, Chief Architect, Service Provider at Red Hat can be found at the end of this report).

The main benefits of cloud native computing are speed, agility, and scalability. As CNCF spells it out, “cloud native technologies empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private, and hybrid clouds. Containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative APIs exemplify this approach. These techniques enable loosely coupled systems that are resilient, manageable, and observable. Combined with robust automation, they allow engineers to make high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil.”

To adapt such thinking to the telecom industry, the gains from migrating to cloud native are primarily a reflection of, and driven by, the increasing convergence between network and IT domains. The first candidate domain that cloud technology can vastly improve on, and to a certain degree replace the heavy infrastructure, is the support for the telcos’ own IT systems, including the network facing Operational Support Systems and customer facing Business Support System (OSS and BSS).

But IT cloud alone is far from what telcos can benefit from the migration to cloud native. The rest of this report will discuss how telcos can and do embark on the journey to cloud native, as a means to deliver true business benefits through improved speed, agility, and scalability to their own networks and their customers.

The rest of the report include these sections:

  • The many stratifications of telco cloud
  • Clouds gathering on telcos
  • What we can expect to see on the telco cloud skyline
  • Telco cloud openness leads to agility and savings — Q&A with Azhar Sayeed, Chief Architect, Service Provider, Red Hat
  • Additional Resources

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.

What’s the point of super-fast 5G when it’s hardly ever available?

New findings from network performance tracker Opensignal reveals that Verizon had by far the fastest 5G speed, but it’s only available to 0.5% of users.

Opensignal took a look at the 5G situation with operators in the US, UK, Australia and South Korea. It found that Verizon is knocking it out of the park, with average 5G download speed of over 500 Megabits per second. The next best was LG U+ in Korea, which only manage around half that rate. The rest of the US operators were miles behind, but all ten of the operators assessed were at least doubling their 4G data rate.

The reason for Verizon’s exceptional numbers is that it’s 5G is all about millimetre wave, so it’s using acres of spectrum, to create a much fatter pipe. Its US competitors, in contrast, are currently using far more limited amounts of low frequency spectrum for their 5G, hence the much lower speeds. Seems like a no-brainer then, to switch to mmWave sharpish, doesn’t it? But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

One of the reasons the mobile industry didn’t move to higher frequencies before 5G is because, frankly, it’s rubbish. Specifically the range and propagation characteristics deteriorate significantly once you get much above 2-3 GHz and the trend continues as you keep going. That’s why, when Opensignal had a look what proportion of subscribers at each operator were able to get hold of 5G, the table was more or less inverted.

“Speed is far from the only important measure of the 5G experience,” said Opensignal’s Ian Fogg, in his accompanying blog. “How much time users are able to enjoy that experience is equally important. There is little point in having the potential to enjoy 5G, if that 5G experience is not often available.” Well, quite.

Verizon starts toying around with mid-band spectrum

With 5G falling flat in the US, it appears Verizon is taking matters into its own hands with an application to the FCC to experiment with mid-band spectrum, specifically, 3.7-3.8 GHz.

In fairness to the US telcos, there hasn’t been much opportunity to deliver 5G over the airwaves which are proving critical to the rest of the world. The ‘C-band’ spectrum is congested, though the FCC is currently in the process of clearing it and creating a dynamic spectrum sharing initiative which could be the envy of the world. Better late than never.

According to the application made to the FCC, Verizon is planning on running trials over the 3.7-3.8 GHz spectrum in several locations in three states, namely:

  • Basking Ridge, New Jersey
  • Westlake, Texas
  • Williamston, Michigan
  • Okemos, Michigan
  • Jenison, Michigan
  • Hudsonville, Michigan
  • Ada, Michigan
  • Lowell, Michigan
  • Sunnyvale, California

Many telcos around the world have been bragging of the benefits of mid-band spectrum, benefiting from a more palatable compromise between increased download speeds and coverage, the US telcos have been struggling with mmWave or low-band airwaves, neither of which can deliver on the much-hyped 5G promise.

The status quo of disappointment was fine as long as all the telcos are underwhelming, but there has been a recent development which should worry the likes of Verizon and AT&T.

As part of the merger agreement between T-Mobile US and Sprint, the new company will have access to all three tiers of spectrum. T-Mobile had been offering 5G over 600 MHz and mmWave already, which was not satisfactory, however it now has access to Sprint’s 2.5 GHz assets. A blend of low-, mid- and high-band spectrum licences should see a very effective delivery of 5G. This is already being delivered in Philadelphia, though it won’t be long until it is scaled by the ambitious challenger.

Looking at the 5G subscriber forecasts by analyst firm Omdia, this could have a very material impact on the balance of power in the US telco industry.

Forecast of 5G subscriptions in US (2020-2022)
Telco 2020 2021 2022
AT&T 5,581,572 14,416,872 29,301,757
Verizon 2,520,867 16,560,150 35,020,621
T-Mobile and Sprint 5,560,802 18,560,447 36,266,014

Source: Omdia World Information Series

Alone, T-Mobile would erode the subscription lead AT&T and Verizon hold over it today, but it would still be in third place. When you combine the T-Mobile and Sprint figures, you have a market leading firm.

Some might suggest the figures are incorrect as the merger would mean Sprint disappears, but this will not happen overnight. Legacy deals might well be kept in play for the short-term under the Sprint brand as integration projects and campaigns run, but they will be delivered over the same network. The very network which will have the most comprehensive and attractive blend of spectrum.

“Mid-band spectrum provides the sweet spot combination of capacity and coverage for modern 5G networks that the rest of the world is coalescing behind,” Chris Pearson, President of 5G Americas, recently wrote on a blog post championing 5G as a catalyst for recovery from the current global pandemic.

“The international standards forum 3GPP identified the spectrum range 3.3-4.2 GHz as the core 5G band for countries around the world. But the US has yet to auction any exclusive use licensed spectrum in that global mid-band range for 5G.”

Pearson has pointed to regulatory restrictions slowing progress in accessing mid-band spectrum, a critical component in ensuring 5G meets the promises being made by the telecoms industry. A lack of mid-band spectrum is problematic for numerous reasons.

Firstly, coverage can only be delivered only low-band airwaves, but this does not deliver speed upgrades as T-Mobile customers are finding out. Over mmWave means coverage is very limited, which AT&T and Verizon customers are discovering, while it means network deployment is also a lot more expensive as densification projects are very costly and time consuming. Latency is also falling short of all standards by all telcos.

Pearson is of course a champion for the telecoms industry, but the necessity of mid-band spectrum is also replicated at regulatory level.

“For America to be a global leader and win the race to 5G technologies, which we must do for both economic and national security reasons, we must actively identify and make available a key ingredient necessary for 5G networks and systems: mid-band spectrum,” FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly said in a letter to President Donald Trump in April.

“Yet, the pipeline is nearly empty, and our wireless providers lack sufficient mid-band spectrum to meet the exponential growth enabled by 5G networks and expected by users. I believe that only you personally, with your unique ability to cut through the bureaucratic stonewalling, can free the necessary spectrum bands to provide our wireless providers the means to succeed.”

If the US is to deliver the 5G promise it needs access to mid-band spectrum. Not only will this benefit consumers, but it will allow enterprise customers to deliver on the newly emerging 5G-powered business models. Without it, US corporations might fall behind international rivals who exist in countries where the mid-band airwaves are available. This is a mid- to long-term consequence, but one which would be much more damaging to the US economy on the whole.

As it stands, only T-Mobile is in an adequate position. This should be a concern for AT&T and Verizon.

T-Mobile is a company which has been very successful in recent years, growing from a position of irrelevance to a genuine threat. The comfortable spectrum position could act as another catalyst for growth, potentially creating a new leader in the US telecoms industry.


Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

How critical is mid-band spectrum in delivering 5G services?

Loading ... Loading ...

Verizon gets wrist slap for misleading 5G claims

The National Advertising Division (NAD) has condemned Verizon for misleading consumers over the quality of its 5G network across the country.

And guess who the complaint was filed by… AT&T.

“The National Advertising Division determined that, in the context of two challenged television commercials touting Verizon’s rollout of 5G service in sports venues, the claim that ‘Verizon is building the most powerful 5G experience for America’ reasonably communicates a message about the consumer experience of using 5G mobile service that was not supported by the evidence in the record,” the NAD statement declares.

While these organisations seemingly specialise in inaccessible language, the message is that Verizon was not fairly representing its network in adverts broadcast at sporting venues.

Verizon is building 5G networks in sporting venues across the US, though the NAD believes the way the adverts have been created suggests a similar experience would be offered outside the venues themselves. This is not supported by any evidence.

Although this would be deemed a win for AT&T, let’s not offer too much praise; 5G networks in the US are pretty poor as it stands.

The telcos are of course facing a difficult challenge in delivering the desired 5G experience, the US is a monstrously large country after all, but the available spectrum is also not helping matters. Despite the telcos preaching about the benefits of mmWave spectrum to underpin 5G networks, the telcos are performing woefully.

T-Mobile has been blasted for the speeds which have been delivered over the 600 MHz spectrum it has been offering, while AT&T and Verizon has been failing at coverage. In a recent Rootmetrics gaming study in Los Angeles, none met the minimum requirements for latency.

The US might be the champion when it comes to numerous segments of the digital economy, but it is failing to live up to its own proclamations in the delivery of 5G. If this is a temperature test of how the US is getting on in the 5G race, it is the equivalent of Britney Spears in the 100 metres.

Verizon jumps on the video conferencing bandwagon with BlueJeans acquisition

Unperturbed by its rubbish M&A track record, US operator Verizon thinks this is a good time to be in the video conferencing game.

BlueJeans Network focuses on B2B video conferencing, but is a relatively small player compared to the likes of Zoom. This is reflected in a reported selling price of around $400 million, which is a hundredth of Zoom’s current market cap. Having said that, with all the fresh challenges its sudden surge in popularity have created, that valuation is proving volatile.

The plan is to merge the BlueJeans cloud platform with Verizon’s unified communications as-a-service offering as soon as the deal is complete. This would appear to represent a pivot towards B2B by Verizon, following its disastrous acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo. It also seems to mark the end of Verizon’s bizarre fetish for antiquated internet companies.

“As the way we work continues to change, it is absolutely critical for businesses and public sector customers to have access to a comprehensive suite of offerings that are enterprise ready, secure, frictionless and that integrate with existing tools,” said Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business. “Collaboration and communications have become top of the agenda for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors in recent months. We are excited to combine the power of BlueJeans’ video platform with Verizon Business’ connectivity networks, platforms and solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”

“The combination of BlueJeans’ world class enterprise video collaboration platform and trusted brand with Verizon Business’ next generation edge computing innovation will deliver highly differentiated and compelling solutions to our joint customers,” said Quentin Gallivan, CEO of BlueJeans Network. “We are very excited about joining the Verizon team and we truly believe the future of business communications starts today!”

Not everyone is quite as excited about the move however, as the following selection of commentator tweets shows.

It’s hard to be too down on Verizon for buying into an ultra-hot sector at a relatively low price. The chances of the move succeeding are significantly improved by the fact that it will be absorbed into a larger package rather than maintained as a standalone service. There is a strong chance that the move towards remote working forced by the coronavirus pandemic will become permanent, which should make unified comms a more valuable resource. If so, Verizon seems to have put itself in a stronger position to exploit that trend with this move.

Verizon adds Google’s Stadia to Fios bundling options

The Verizon Fios bundling initiative is starting to look like an attractive proposition, and now it has added Google’s cloud gaming offer for an additional twist.

Launched in January, the mix and match offer looked like a sound attempt to boost broadband sales through bundling. There were several interesting elements, including the ability to pick-up and drop certain elements on a month-by-month basis, though adding a gaming segment will make the offer attractive to a small niche of US society.

The mix and match proposition is not a silver bullet for profitability, but more an incremental gain approach to building a comprehensive bundling offer. Each additional element will make the offer attractive to an additional sliver of the population. It’s a gradual and sustainable approach to take the company forward.

As part of the partnership with Google, new customers will receive a free Stadia Controller and Google Chromecast Ultra, as well as a Stadia Pro subscription for first 3 months, which will then cost $9.99 a month. Bundling in with a Fios Gigabit broadband service, Verizon is promising download and upload speeds up to 940 and 880 Mbps respectively, it could be attractive to the growing community of gaming enthusiasts.

According to analyst firm Newzoo, North America is second-largest region for gaming in terms of revenues, accounting for $39.6 billion, while the US is forecast to overtake China as the world’s number one individual market. And while mobile gaming is the largest segment currently, cloud gaming platforms are forecast for a surge in growth over the next few years.

The cloud gaming trends are driven by two elements. Firstly, the availability of platforms and the aggressive nature the providers, such as Google and Microsoft, expanding services. Secondly, the rollout of full-fibre networks and imminent adoption of 5G connectivity will ensure providers are able to deliver the promised experience to consumers.

The days of pure play telcos are drawing to a close very quickly. The attitudes commoditising data and the continuing decline in data prices will erode profitability of connectivity, meaning additional revenues will have to be sought elsewhere to increase (or maintain) ARPU. Another element to consider is the attractiveness of offers.

Numerous telcos are attempting to create convergence connectivity products as well as building on additional added value services such as security, gaming or entertainment options. Consumers are seemingly open to bundled contracts, meaning pure play telcos might become less competitive in comparison to some.

What Verizon is currently building might not revolutionise the financial spreadsheets overnight, but it is slowly developing a very attractive bundling service. Orange has validated the convergence business model in Europe, though this took years to create, and it now seems Verizon is getting a run on the market in the US.

Verizon the biggest winner of the latest US millimeter-wave auction

An investment of $1.6 billion got Verizon almost five million licenses in the US auction of the Upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands that will be used for 5G.

You can see who got the most below. Apparently T-Mobile had been expected, at least by some analysts, to be the big winner, but it ended up a distant third. It’s also worth noting by how much Verizon won the auction, dropping almost half a billion bucks more than second placed AT&T. We’d be lying if we said we knew why there was so much variation in the price per license, but Columbia Capital must have really fancied those 52 it won.

Winner Payment Licenses
Verizon $1,624,101,808 4,940
AT&T $1,185,734,976 3,267
T-Mobile $872,791,192 2,384
Columbia Capital $306,711,619 52
Dish $202,532,574 2,651
U.S. Cellular $146,342,281 237
Sprint $113,948,318 127

“The successful conclusion of Auction 103—the largest amount of spectrum offered in an auction in U.S. history—is one more significant step the FCC has taken toward maintaining American leadership in 5G,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “A critical part of our 5G FAST plan is pushing more spectrum into the commercial marketplace. Last year, the FCC auctioned the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands.

“All told, those two auctions and this one have made available almost five gigahertz of high-band spectrum for commercial use. To put that in perspective, that is more spectrum than is currently used for terrestrial mobile broadband by all wireless service providers in the United States combined. Auction 103 was a tremendous success, and we look forward to building on this positive result with the 3.5 GHz auction, which is scheduled to begin on June 25, and the C-band auction, which is scheduled to begin on December 8.”

Have you noticed how much Americans like the word ‘tremendous’ these days? One definition of it is ‘being such as may excite trembling or arouse dread, awe, or terror’. Fair enough. The mid bands on offer later this year are also for 5G. Those frequencies have better propagation characteristics than millimeter wave but there will be less of them, as is so often the way with radio spectra.

FCC proposes $200 million fine for location snooping telcos

The four major MNOs each face the threat of a weighty fine, collectively totalling more than $200 million, for helping third parties stalk customers.

Thanks to all four of the national US telcos selling customer location data to third parties over a sustained period of time, the FCC has proposed fines supposedly proportionate to the impact. While there are justified and responsible means for third party companies to use telco location data, this was certainly not one of them and the telcos have been found guilty of not protecting the data privacy rights of customers.

“American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “And information about a wireless customer’s location is highly personal and sensitive.

“The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers’ personal information. And since 2007, these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don’t. Today, we do just that.”

The proposed fines are as follows: AT&T is potentially liable for $57,265,625, Verizon $48,318,750, T-Mobile US $91,630,000 and Sprint $12,240,000. What is worth noting is that it appears the investment community has been buoyed by the figures presented by Pai.

Telco Price at close Friday 28 February Price at time or writing (pre-market trading)
AT&T 35.22 (-1.43%) 35.66 (1.25%)
Verizon 54.16 (-1.63%) 54.52 (0.66%)
T-Mobile US 90.16 (-1.18%) 91.05 (0.99%)
Sprint 9.19 (-1.08%) 9.35 (1.74%)

The final hours of trading for the telcos were hardly the most profitable for the industry, though as the proposed fines emerged over the weekend there has been recovery. There may well of course be other factors, but it does appear the investment community believed these fines could have been larger.

Privacy red flags were raised here following an article in the New York Times which claimed a Missouri Sheriff named Cory Hutcheson was making use of location finding services from Securus without the appropriate legal authority. Instead of uploading documents such as a search warrant, irrelevant documents were uploaded such as health insurance policies and pages from Sheriff training manuals. What soon emerged from the eventual investigation was a slurry of abuse and the development of a nefarious industry.

“This investigation is a day late and a dollar short,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

“Our real-time location information is some of the most sensitive data there is about us, and it deserves the highest level of privacy protection. It did not get that here – not from our nationwide wireless carriers and not from the Federal Communications Commission. For this reason, I dissent.”

While it is hardly unusual for Democrat Rosenworcel to oppose the actions of a Republican controlled FCC, there is a valid point being made, despite it being somewhat lost in the immaturity of US politics. Firstly, the fines probably do not match the profits made or negligence from the telcos. Secondly, Pai elected to ignore action for far too long. And finally, the amount of redacted information in the documents blur the picture, protecting the reputations of the guilty telcos.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, another Democrat, has painted another very similar gloomy picture, also choosing to dissent to large swathes of the FCC process. The condemning tone is hardly surprising, but the FCC does not look the most competent coming out of this saga.

When the initial suspicions were raised, nothing was done. When it appeared the practice was still largely continuing, actions were meek. The investigation took too long and the fine does not necessarily look proportionate. Not only did these telcos mislead the regulator, they broke the law, lied to customers and profited for at least five years from the practice.

Under the leadership of Ajit Pai, the FCC has taken a much more hands-off approach to regulation of the telco industry, allowing business to be business. But there are more and more examples of private industry, not just the telcos, demonstrating they are not responsible enough to act independently within the parameters of responsibility.