BEAD Predictions. It’s clear that most state broadband offices are going to try to award all of the BEAD grants in 2024. There will be barely any BEAD construction completed in 2024, but there will be big hoopla over the handful of customers that get connected before the end of the year.
A lot of pundits have been predicting that a large majority of the funding will go to the largest ISPs to build fiber. But after reading the grant rules in numerous states, I’m not so sure. In some states, the big companies will win it all. States that emphasize the cost of the grant per passing might end up giving all of the money to WISPs. A few state rules are so obtuse that even the big ISPs might decide to take their money to a neighboring state.
RDOF Troubles. I’ve talked with a lot of local governments that haven’t heard a peep from RDOF winners. Most winners will be required to have completed 40% of the RDOF construction by the end of 2024, so this is the year that will flush out ISPs that are going to default. Defaults will probably be too late to attract any BEAD funding.
Wireless Technology Improvements Shake up the Market. 6 GHz radios will change the WISP landscape. New radios that include the giant 6 GHz channels will deliver much faster speeds. More WISPs will begin advertising gigabit speeds in 2024, but most will not deliver what they advertise – but speeds will still be fast.
Big cellular companies will use C-Band spectrum to boost speeds on FWA broadband. But a lot of rural counties that are hoping to get faster speeds will not see the new technology deployed in 2024.
The Beginning of Consolidation. We’re going to see some interesting acquisitions in 2024. I don’t know who, but some of them will be big names. There is a huge amount of venture capital suddenly interested in broadband, and as it becomes clear that these companies will not win as much BEAD grants as they hoped, they’ll turn their attention to acquisitions.
Cable Companies Will Lose Broadband Customers. The large cable companies collectively gained only 4,700 customers in the third quarter of this year, and the only one that grew was Charter. In 2024, customer losses will increase each quarter, and the cable industry is going to panic. Cable company board rooms are at a loss on how to stem the losses. They are now banking that the public will be happy with faster upload speeds with mid-split upgrades, but that isn’t going to impress customers who are offered a fiber alternative or a much cheaper FWA alternative.
Little Impact from FCC Broadband Regulation. If you listen to the rhetoric from the big ISPs, the double whammy of Title II regulation and the new digital discrimination rules will devastate ISPs and kill innovation and new investments. The reality is that there will barely be a peep from regulators concerning the new regulations in 2024. Some minor investigations will be undertaken, but the new regulation will have almost no impact on the market or investments.
Congress Will Let ACP Lapse. There seems to be a big consensus in Congress that the ACP program should continue., But I can’t picture the currently dysfunctional Congress approving new funding for the subsidy program before ACP runs dry. I think ACP will get renewed later in 2024, but only after first lapsing, which will create chaos for ISPs and customers. When ACP is renewed, the number of eligible households will be greatly pared down.
The FCC Will Launch the 5G Fund. This is intended to bring more rural cell towers. The industry says that $9 billion is not nearly enough to reach all of the places that need better cellular coverage, so counties and states will lobby fiercely to get included in the funding.
Big ISPs Will Continue to Buy Back Stocks Rather than Invest in Networks or Maintenance. This may be the least bold prediction I have ever made.