I’m looking to hire an Associate Consultant. This is a starting consulting position that will work directly with me. I spend interesting days on a wide variety of projects. My primary work is helping communities and ISPs look at opening new broadband markets. I also help ISPs find funding. I work with states and foundations in developing broadband policies. And I work on a number of interesting projects each year that are hard to categorize – I help clients solve problems. I also spend a lot of time responding to RFPs or writing proposals to provide consulting services.
This is a position with big growth potential in both knowledge and earnings. I’m looking for somebody who is willing to learn the intricacies of the broadband industry – you’ll be working with an industry insider and pro who knows a lot about almost all aspects of the industry.
The two traits I value the most are the ability to write clearly and the ability to tackle complex spreadsheets. I realize that’s an uncommon pair of talents for one person, but I run an uncommon business. I promise the right individual an interesting workday.
I’m taking a short pause from broadband issues because today is blog number 2,000. I look at that number and I have no idea how it happened. I’ve published almost every business day since March 2013 – only missing a few days when I was sick and a few times due to technical snafus. If you told me in 2013 that I’d still be doing this every day in 2021 I would have laughed at such a crazy idea.
I started writing the blog at the urging of my wife Julie. Back in 2013, I told her that I was having trouble keeping up with everything that was going on in the industry. That’s something most people can sympathize with – there are multiple headlines in our industry every day. Julie knew I was an okay writer and suggested the blog as a way to force myself to keep up with industry events.
In the beginning, I was writing only to myself, and the blog was a resource for me to store my interpretation of industry news as a resource for later use. But somehow, I started to pick up readers. I’ve never advertised the blog other than to refer to it at the end of my emails, but month after month and year after year the daily readers have grown.
Once in a while, a blog goes viral. The most readers I got was over 40,000 in a day when I wrote an article wondering how well Starlink would perform. The blog ended up on Reddit and I got a huge number of comments from Elon Musk fans who made rude references about my lineage. The silly thing about the reader reactions was that most comments were based strictly on the headline and it was clear that few commenters had actually read the blog – I agreed with most of the comments except the parts about my lineage. I pulled that blog down to cut off the nonsense, but it gave me an appreciation of what it must be like to be an actual journalist. My second most popular blog talked about how squirrels and gophers chew through fiber – the comments were a lot nicer!
I still write the blog as a way to force myself to keep up. It’s a busy time to be a broadband consultant and I could easily get lost in work and ignore the industry around me. To some extent I’m still writing to myself, which is why you’ll sometimes see blogs full of statistics – these blogs help me store facts I know I’m going to want to use later.
I think my favorite aspect of the blog is that it has led to meeting some of the most interesting people in the industry. I seem to meet somebody new through the blog almost weekly.
Readers often make my life easier because they often send me links to interesting things that I would never see otherwise. I get links to small-town newspaper articles or whitepapers published overseas that would never otherwise come to my attention.
Another interesting aspect of the blog is that I have readers worldwide. Just yesterday I had readers in India, Canada, the UAE, the UK, South Africa, Oman, Australia, Kenya, the Philippines, South Korea, Germany, Ukraine, Portugal, Turkey, and Mauritius. My blogs on the nuances of US regulations or FCC actions are probably baffling to these readers, but a lot of my blogs talk about the problems suffered by lack of good broadband – a problem all around the globe.
I’m also read by few college students who want to know more about the broadband industry. They often send me great questions, which I try to answer when I can.
Probably the biggest change in the blog is that over time I’ve found a voice. As interesting as the industry is, we have a lot of problems. The pandemic made it clear that there are still far too many people without good broadband. The biggest ISPs could do a lot better and often do more harm than good. Regulators often do puzzling things. I no longer shy away from giving my opinion on such topics. I don’t think for a second that I am moving the meter on any topic, but I hope that it’s valuable for readers to hear a perspective that’s not published in many other places. The things I say in the blog mirror the conversations I have with clients and peers. Mostly I hope that I am helping to inform people who live in places that need better broadband and encouraging them that there are solutions if they keep plugging away.
I don’t know how much longer I will keep writing every day. But I still enjoy the daily break to write a blog, and starting tomorrow I’m aiming at blog number 3,000!
It’s Thanksgiving again and I pause every year to look at the positive events and trends for the small ISP industry. I found a number of things to be thankful for at the end of 2019.
FCC Finally Admits Its Maps Suck. The FCC has begrudgingly admitted that its broadband mapping sucks and is considering several proposals for improving the mapping. It looks like the proposals will fix the ‘edge’ problem, where today rural customers that live close to cities and towns are lumped in with the broadband available in those places. Sadly, I don’t believe there will ever be a good way to measure and map rural DSL and fixed wireless. But fixing the edge problem will be a great improvement.
FCC Released the CBRS Spectrum. The 3.65 GHz, (Citizens Band Radio Spectrum) should provide a boost to rural fixed broadband. There are some restrictions where there is existing government use and there will be frequency sharing rules, so the frequency is not fully unrestricted. The 80 MHz of free spectrum should prove to be powerful in many parts of the country. The FCC is considering other frequencies like white space, C Band, and 6 GHz that also will be a benefit to rural broadband.
States Are Reversing a Few Draconian Laws. Several states have removed barriers for electric cooperatives to get into the broadband business. Arkansas softened a prohibition against municipal broadband. Local politicians are now telling state legislators that broadband is the top priority in communities that don’t have access to good broadband. It’s been obvious for a long time that the best solutions to fix rural broadband are local – it makes no sense to restrict any entity that wants to invest in rural broadband.
The FCC Has Made it Easier for Indian Tribes to Provide Broadband. Various rule changes have streamlined the process of building and owning broadband infrastructure on tribal lands. Many tribes are exploring their options.
Local Broadband Activists Make a Difference. It seems like every community I visit now has a local broadband committee or group that is pushing local politicians to find a solution for poor broadband coverage. These folks make a difference and are prodding local governments to get serious about finding broadband solutions.
The FCC Announces a Monstrous Grant Program. I hope the RDOF grants that will award over $16 billion next year will make a real dent in the rural digital divide. Ideally, a lot of the grants will fund rural fiber, since any community with fiber has achieved a long-term broadband solution. However, I worry that much of the funding could go to slower technologies, or even to the satellite companies – so we’ll have to wait and see what happens in a massive reverse auction.
States Take the Lead on Net Neutrality. When the US Appeals Court ruled that the FCC had the authority to undo net neutrality, the court also rules that states have the authority to step into that regulatory void. Numerous states have enacted some version of net neutrality, but California and Washington have enacted laws as comprehensive as the old FCC rules. My guess at some point is that the big ISPs will decide that they would rather have one set of federal net neutrality rules than a host of different state ones.
The Proliferation of Online Programming. The riches of programming available online is amazing. I’m a Maryland sports fan and there are only three basketball or football games that I can’t watch this season even though I don’t live in the Maryland market. I don’t understand why there aren’t more cord cutters because there is far more entertainment available online than anybody can possibly watch. A decade ago, I didn’t even own a TV because there was nothing worth watching – today I keep a wish list of programming to watch later.
NC Broadband Matters. Finally, I’m thankful for NC Broadband Matters. This is a non-profit in North Carolina that is working to bring broadband to communities that don’t have it today. The group invited me to join their Board this year and I look forward to working with this talented group of dedicated folks to help find rural broadband solutions in the state.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of CCG Consulting. It’s been an interesting ride and I’m glad to still be here. I started the company on this date in 1997, soon to be joined by my partners Bill Tucker and Mike Fox. Those two have gone on to other ventures – Bill to real estate investing and Mike is now teaching college economics and still doing some consulting.
Our firm hit it’s first big challenge a few years after our start when the large CLEC industry imploded in 1999 and 2000. Most of the large CLECs went under at that time and their demise brought down most of the consulting industry with them. But we always had a different philosophy of mostly working with small companies, and that choice made us one of the handful of consultants that made it through those rough years. Over the years we’ve worked with over 800 clients, most of them relatively small.
This past week also marked my 1,000th blog here on PotsandPansbyCCG. It’s hard to believe that I’ve written that much. I continue to add subscribers weekly and will continue to write as long as there is something interesting to say – and it’s hard to picture an industry facing as many concurrent changes as telecommunications right now.
I’d also like to note that I will be speaking twice next Tuesday at the NTCA convention in St. Louis. I will speaking solo on the topic of how new wireless technologies will likely affect rural markets. I’ll also be chairing a panel on the Internet of Things.
Today is the three year anniversary of this blog. I started writing this blog as a way to force myself to keep up with industry news. During the first month of writing the blog I worried that I would quickly run out of topics. But I underestimated then how dynamic our industry has become. The changes from just three years ago are amazing. Instead of running out of topics I often have to toss away topics because I can’t get to them fast enough.
I mostly write about the topics in the industry that I find most interesting, but I must be striking a chord because I pick up new readers to the blog daily. I now know that I am the only one writing daily about broadband and related topics and it makes me happy to see that others find these topics to also be of interest. Just since I’ve started this blog we’ve seen the following changes in the industry (and this is a short list):
An Activist FCC. The current FCC has waded into more new topics than any other FCC in my memory. The most significant one is the net neutrality decision that reclassifies broadband as a regulated service. But there have been many other rulings from this FCC. There was a time a few years ago when industry pundits predicted that regulation was dying, but it has done just the opposite.
Exploding Demand for Broadband. The penetration rates for broadband have continued to grow and in urban areas it seems like we are getting close to the time when everybody that can afford broadband has it. But there are still huge numbers of rural homes and businesses without broadband and they are starting to stridently demand it.
Growth of the OTT Industry. While Netflix has been streaming content a little longer than I have been writing this blog, the whole OTT phenomenon has really taken off in the last few years. Netflix now claims over 75 million customers and there is now a growing host of other OTT providers. Online video has completely transformed the Internet and video is by far the majority of online traffic.
New Products from the IoT. There are new products available to carriers for the first time in many years. I have a number of clients who are now successfully selling security and a number of them are getting into home automation and the many other related services associated with the Internet of Things.
Use of WiFi instead of Wires. It’s become recently obvious that the large ISPs have abandoned home wiring for delivering data. They now bring bandwidth into the home to a central WiFi router and don’t install wires to anything else. But a single WiFi router is already not sufficient for high-bandwidth homes and the next trend in this area is going to be the networking of multiple WiFi routers.
Services in the Cloud. More and more services are moving to the cloud. Carriers can buy voice and cable TV programming from the cloud today, something that was unimaginable just a few years ago. It was always assumed that expansive bandwidth made cloud cable TV impractical, but as bandwidth prices continue to tumble it makes more sense to buy programming from the cloud instead of building or maintaining a cable headend.
Public Private Partnerships. There were very few Public Private Partnerships a few years ago and now it’s something that everybody talks about. This is particularly relevant in rural America where communities are willing to kick in money to find a broadband solution. But we are even seeing this in urban areas, such as the deal just announced between Google Fiber and Huntsville.
Erosion of Landline and Cable Customers. Landline penetration rates are now under 50% nationwide and we are starting to see the erosion of traditional cable customers. The challenge for the next few years will be for triple play providers to find ways to replace these shrinking revenues and margins.
Massive Realignment of Rural Subsidies. We’ve seen subsidies shrink for small telcos. Access charges are being phased lower and the Universal Service Fund is being redirected from telephone to broadband. This has put a lot of pressure on some small carriers, but anybody who survives the end of this shift will probably be ready to succeed in the long run.
at the NTCA Convention at Lake Buena Vista here in Florida. I’ll be part of a panel with two sessions on Sunday talking about Public Private Partnerships. If you’ll be there give me a yell. I’m open to chat on Monday and you can reach me on my cell phone at 202 255-7689.
Thanksgiving is upon us yet again and I’ve given some thought to those things in the industry and beyond that I am thankful for this year.
Net Neutrality: I am thankful for the net neutrality ruling, more as a consumer than as someone in the industry. From what I can see the largest ISPs and cellular companies had a big bag of nasty tricks waiting for all of us had it not passed. I feel like this ruling took back some of the power in the industry from the ISPs with the FCC as our watchdog. Now we need to wait a while more to see if the courts uphold the FCC. On the other hand, I am not so glad that net neutrality seems to have taken the Federal Trade Commission out of the picture for telecom. They were starting to take a hard look at monopoly abuses and one can hope the FCC will take up where they left off. There is some reassurance that the FTC says they will still play a role, but that role is clearly diminished.
Municipal Competition: I was glad to see the FCC tackle the prohibitions against municipal telecom. As somebody who works mostly with rural broadband issues, we need to encourage anybody, including cities and counties that are willing to tackle bringing broadband to rural places. I can understand why the large ISPs don’t want competition from municipal entities in big cities, but that still has not happened anywhere larger than Chattanooga and probably won’t. I have a harder time seeing why the large ISPs fight so vigorously against competition in rural areas where they don’t spend any capital to maintain their networks. These smaller communities are waking up to the fact that if they don’t take care of the broadband gap themselves that nobody else is likely to do so.
Inching Towards More Privacy: In this last year it became apparent to everybody that the NSA and a ton of commercial companies are spying on all of us. I love the parts of the industry that are taking the side of privacy. There’s Apple that is encrypting everything in a way that even they can’t decrypt. There’s a number of companies working on block chains and other forms of peer-to-peer communication that ought to be immune from snooping. And there are a number of web sites that now promise they aren’t tracking you. We have a long way to go, but it looks like people are starting to care about their privacy.
DOCSIS 3.1: I am thankful for technologies that are making broadband faster. The DOCSIS 3.1 technology that the cable companies are starting to implement will probably help the largest number of Americans get faster broadband. Several of the big cable companies are promising that they will offer faster speeds across the board. I think cable companies have finally awakened to the fact that it doesn’t cost them that much to give out more speed and it shelters them from the competition. And there s a slow but steady growth of fiber with companies like Google and CenturyLink leading the way. You will hear me whoopin’ and hollerin’ in this blog if somebody brings an affordable gigabit to my neighborhood.
Technology is Getting Better: The speed at which technology in and near the industry is improving is mind boggling. It seems like I hear about something new almost every day. This year saw 10 gigabit fiber terminals that are cheap enough for home and small business use. We’ve seen a plethora of improvements in OTT boxes like Roku and the gaming systems. 4K video has made it into the mainstream conversation in the last year. The speed and processing power of cellphones has literally doubled in the last year.
And My Readers: This marks my third Thanksgiving with this blog and I don’t seem to be running out of topics. I am truly thankful that people read this from time to time. I started writing this blog as a way to force myself to stay up with current events in the industry and it has done that in spades. I seem to learn something new every day, and for that I am most thankful.
Today I’m taking a little break from telecom. Earlier this week we buried my father. This has put me into a contemplative frame of mind, as I am sure happens to everybody who goes through this.
I have been thinking a lot about the things my father taught me. My father was never a great communicator, instead he taught me mostly by example. Probably the biggest lessons he taught me were the value of hard work and of showing up and being there. I don’t think my father ever missed a day of work until he was into his 50s and had a leg injury. He got up and went to work, come rain or shine or illness.
And I learned that lesson well from him. I work from home, a setting that might make it easy for many people to find excuses not to work. But I get up and start work early every day and stay busy until quitting time. Over the years it is probably this discipline that has been one of the major factors in my success. If you put in the work and the effort good things happen.
He taught me other lessons in life. My father was big on pithy sayings. I think the one that I remember the most was, “it doesn’t cost anything to be polite.” It turns out the rest of the family doesn’t remember this one, so perhaps I was the youngster in the most need of this advice. But throughout life I have been polite. I say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” almost universally, and I think I often surprise young people when I say this to them.
One of his lessons that I try to practice daily is to be pleasant to everybody you meet. I always said that my father could have been the mayor of his town had he wanted because he always greeted everybody he met with a big grin, a big hug, and a good joke to get them laughing. It’s hard to think that there was anybody who didn’t like my father. I have met very few people in this life who had such a genuine affinity for people. I certainly will never be as natural about this as he was, but I genuinely like talking and working with people, which is a major part of the day for a consultant.
It’s interesting how all of us carry forward things from our parents. I guess it’s human nature to emulate those who had the biggest influences on you when you were young. But I carry traits from both of my parents into my daily life and these traits have served me well.
In case you are wondering, my dad died of a decade-long fight with Alzheimer’s. In the last few years a lot of what he had been was gone or diminished, but I guess some of what he was lives on in me and my siblings. And in my dad’s case, he hopefully lives on in all of the people that he hugged every time he saw them.
Since Thanksgiving is here I made my list of the telecom things I am thankful for this year. Here are my good thoughts for this season:
An FCC Chairman that Talks the Talk. We have a new FCC Chairman in Tom Wheeler who seems to talk the talk. He has said the right things about a whole range of topics. He wants to increase the definition of broadband to 10 Mbps. He wants to allow municipalities and anybody else to build fiber networks. He wants to make net neutrality apply to wireless as well as landline data connections. He has speculated that Comcast and Time Warner are too large to merge. He has even talked about allowing competitors to use unbundled fiber networks.
There was a big worry when he took office that he would support large cable and wireless companies due to his history as the head of those industry groups. And he still might. While he has talked the talk, nothing he has talked about has yet come to pass. All that will matter in the end is what he does, not what he says. But for now I am at least thankful that he is talking the right talk.
Moore’s Law Has Not Yet Broken. It seems like for the last fifteen years that some expert always predicts the end of Moore’s Law – the one that predicts that computer processing power will double every 18 months. But this year alone I’ve seen dozens of incremental improvements in computer power and it doesn’t look like we are anywhere near to the end of technology history as the pessimists have often predicted.
Data Speeds are Getting Faster. Network technology is improving so quickly that the incumbent providers find themselves increasing data speeds almost in spite of themselves. Of course, some of the data speed increases we have seen are the result of competition. But we are seeing gradually faster speeds in many other places as Verizon FiOS, Comcast and Time Warner have all unilaterally increased speeds.
We have a long way to go with data speeds, but as we can see In Austin, TX, the cable companies are capable of delivering 300 Mbps, but they only do so under stiff competition. Even AT&T can be prompted to build fiber when faced with losing a major market
The Country Is Waking Up to the Digital Divide. The digital divide is no long just between those who have computers and broadband and those who do not. The wider digital divide is now between communities stuck with relatively slow broadband and those with fast broadband. More and more communities who are on the wrong side of this divide are starting to demand faster broadband. Many of these communities thought they had solved the broadband issue a decade ago when they got 3 Mbps DSL or cable modems. But a decade later they find themselves with that same technology and speeds, which are no longer acceptable (and which soon may not even qualify as broadband per the FCC).
The Brains of the Network Are Moving to the Cloud. We now have the ability with software defined networking for the more expensive functions of the network to move to the cloud. One of the hardest things about bringing broadband to a rural area is that it’s not cost effective to also bring voice and cable TV. But we are seeing the beginnings of having voice switching, cable TV headends and even cellular headends moving to a cloud. This is going to turn these functions into services rather than capital requirements.
Technology is Making Everything Better. You can barely read the trade press without seeing some new technology breakthrough that will improve telecom. This year alone I have seen a dozen announcements about ways to increase the speed and efficiency of fiber. There are constant improvements in chips sets, batteries, use of spectrum, materials and processes that make it easier to deliver telecom products.
My Cellphone. I am not a sophisticated cellphone user. I don’t run dozens of apps and my main computing tools are still my desktop or my laptop. I don’t play games on the cellphone or watch videos on it. But I use my cellphone in the typical ways of keeping connected when I am away from the office. It is so convenient to be able to answer an email or look something up on the web from anywhere. But I am also thankful that I am not one of those people who sit at a restaurant with my head on my cellphone.
This Blog. I am first thankful that there are people who find this interesting enough to read. Thank you all! I I am mostly thankful for the discipline that this blog has given me and the act of writing daily has reinvigorated my creative drive.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. May you also be thankful for many things!