The FCC Will Tackle Broadband Regulation and Net Neutrality. I have no idea why it took a year for the administration to tee up a new Chairman and recommend a fifth FCC Commissioner. But once a new Commissioner is seated, the new FCC will tackle reinstating some version of Title II regulation, accompanied by net neutrality regulations. For yet another year, this won’t come from Congress, which is the only permanent solution.
The Rural Wireless vs. Fiber Debate Will Heat Up Again. Vendors are starting to make a lot of noise that layering on 6 GHz spectrum will revolutionize rural fixed wireless broadband. Everything I’m hearing says that the spectrum can bring fast broadband for a few miles from towers, but the outdoor operating characteristics of 6 GHz are sketchy. It won’t stop the wireless industry from declaring yet again that gigabit rural wireless is here.
Many States Will be Overwhelmed by BEAD Grant Process. The $42.5 billion BEAD grants are going to be awarded through the states on the tail of large amounts of State ARPA funding. About half of the states already have a broadband grant program, but most have awarded only a few tens of millions of grant funding. States without an existing grant program are facing the daunting task of being ready to process this funding. States collectively must hire hundreds of qualified grant reviewers in a hurry – which won’t be easy when those same people can make a lot more writing grant requests.
Supply Chain will Get Uglier. The wait time for fiber is not going to get any better during the year as demand for fiber is growing at a hockey-stick rate. Much of the rest of the supply chain will ease during the year as the roadblocks from factors like the lack of raw materials and backed-up ports will begin clearing.
The FCC Maps Aren’t Going to Improve Much. Congress finally awarded a contract for $45 million to CostQuest Associates to start the process of fixing the broadband maps. The contract award was immediately challenged by LightBox, which put the contract on hold. In a prediction that breaks my heart, I predict the revised maps are still going to have major problems. The new maps will better pin down broadband coverage areas, but ISPs will still be able to report marketing speeds instead of actual speeds.
The FCC Will Not Kill all of the Bad RDOF Winners. I hope this is my worst prediction and never happens, but I think the FCC will award RDOF funding to a few companies that shouldn’t be funded. If the FCC doesn’t clear out the RDOF long-form backlog in the next three or four months, the still pending RDOF awards will really gum up those wanting to file BEAD grants.
Starlink is Going to be Unspectacular. 2022 is supposed to be the year when Starlink goes live and starts serving millions of rural customers. My prediction is that the company will stay in beta mode for most or even all of 2022 and not make the promised big splash. However, customers who get Starlink working (around the trees and mountains) are going to rave about having broadband that is light years ahead of DSL.
Cities and Counties Will Quietly use ARPA Money for Broadband. Many local governments are still hesitant to use this funding for broadband. But as localities see other bolder local governments move ahead, I predict many will quietly follow suit. Most ARPA projects won’t get much press outside the local community.
Technician Shortage Becomes Noticeable. The technician/engineer shortage is already becoming evident and will get worse as 2022 progresses. Small construction firms and small ISPs are already seeing staff lured away by larger firms. Salaries will have to increase everywhere, and the cost of building fiber will increase accordingly.
Broadband Inflation Will be Higher than General Inflation. A lot of the issues causing general inflation will ease, and inflation will slow. However, material and labor shortages will mean more inflation for the broadband industry than for the rest of the economy.
Buy American. Applying strict buy American rules for the use of federal grant funding is going to stir and disrupt an already messy broadband supply chain.
I Will Bring Home a Boxful of Kittens. I’m just seeing if my wife is still reading my blog!