Photo representing the concept of wireless coverage

C-Band Coverage Maps

Last week, Verizon and AT&T started rolling out service using their recently acquired C-Band spectrum. Up until now, most of Verizon and AT&T’s 5G service hasn’t been particularly fast. With the help of C-Band spectrum, the networks may finally deliver 5G service that lives up to the hype.1

C-Band Spectrum

Last year, the FCC auctioned off a bunch of C-Band spectrum. In the FCC’s auction, the US was divided into 416 regions called Partial Economic Areas (PEAs). These areas weren’t consistent in size or population. I’ve borrowed an FCC Map that shows these areas and added colors to indicate the availability of C-Band spectrum for cellular networks:2

FCC map of PEAs shaded to show where C-Band is available

  • Blue: Some C-Band spectrum now available
  • White: C-Band spectrum to become available by late 2023
  • Red: No C-Band spectrum available

Let’s focus on the blue areas. Those are 46 of the largest PEAs. While these regions make up a minority of the US by land area, about 190 million people live within them (58% of the US population).3 Both Verizon and AT&T hold licenses that allow them to use C-Band spectrum immediately in each of the blue-shaded regions, and these are the only areas where C-Band cell service is permitted right now.4

Verizon’s C-Band Coverage

Verizon claims its Ultra Wideband coverage (which includes both millimeter wave and C-Band 5G) already covers over 90 million people. Since Verizon’s millimeter wave coverage is terrible, it’s safe to assume Verizon estimates roughly 90 million people have C-Band coverage.

I’m not sure, but I think Verizon has rolled out at least a little bit of C-Band in each of the 46 eligible PEAs. Right now, Verizon’s C-Band coverage is probably concentrated within big cities. However, with time, Verizon’s C-Band 5G will cover larger and larger portions of the eligible regions.

C-Band Coverage Maps

Verizon shows Ultra Wideband coverage in dark red on its interactive coverage map. While Verizon’s map doesn’t show whether Ultra Wideband coverage comes from C-Band 5G or millimeter wave 5G, you can usually make the distinction for yourself.

When only roads or outdoor areas show up in dark red, we’re dealing with millimeter wave 5G:

Snapshot showing a part of Denver on Verizon's coverage map. Roads show up in dark red, while a lighter red shades the rest of the area.

In contrast, areas completely shaded in dark red probably have C-Band coverage:5

Snapshot of Verizon's coverage map showing an area of Little Rock that's mostly shaded in dark red.

Based on reports I’ve seen so far, I don’t think Verizon’s C-Band mapping is particularly reliable.6 It should get better over time, though.

Other Carriers Using Verizon’s Network

I expect cell phone carriers that piggyback on Verizon’s network will gradually gain access to Verizon’s C-Band 5G. At the moment, the two other services that I know have access are US Mobile’s Super LTE and Verizon’s low-cost brand, Visible.

AT&T’s C-Band Coverage

While AT&T holds licenses in all 46 PEAs where C-Band spectrum can be deployed immediately, AT&T is starting small. Right now, eight cities have C-Band service from AT&T:

  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Miami
  • Orlando
  • Detroit
  • Dallas
  • Austin
  • Jacksonville

I expect we’ll see AT&T bring more cities onboard soon.

Gavel with money behind it

C-Band Auction Results

The FCC’s C-Band Auction closed in January, but the full results weren’t released until earlier today. Here’s how I described the auction in a previous post:

In the C band auction, about 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-3.98GHz range was reallocated to cellular companies. Spectrum in this frequency range is particularly appealing to operators of cellular networks. The spectrum offers great characteristics, combining a potential for covering large areas with a potential for delivering fast speeds.

The C-Band Auction had fifty-seven qualified bidders. Twenty-one of the bidders won at least one spectrum license. Here’s a breakdown of the winners (note that Cellco Partnership is Verizon and Little Bear Wireless is Dish):

Bidder Gross Winning BidsLicenses Won
Cellco Partnership$45,454,843,197 3,511
AT&T Spectrum Frontiers LLC$23,406,860,839 1,621
T-Mobile License LLC$9,336,125,147 142
United States Cellular Corporation$1,282,641,542 254
NewLevel II, L.P.$1,277,395,688 10
Canopy Spectrum, LLC$197,021,760 84
Widespread Wireless, LLC$64,606,668 14
Cellular South Licenses, LLC$49,850,284 8
Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$23,652,000 4
Carolina West Wireless, Inc.$18,565,480 7
Nex-Tech Wireless, L.L.C.$12,164,043 5
East Kentucky Network, LLC$8,675,753 1
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$7,638,336 3
Smith Bagley, Inc.$6,635,510 4
Nsight Spectrum, LLC$5,424,123 3
Agri-Valley Communications, Inc.$4,915,460 2
LICT Wireless Broadband Company, LLC$4,267,485 5
Union Telephone Company$3,123,600 2
Little Bear Wireless L.L.C.$2,510,020 1
Grand River Communications, Inc.$1,590,200 2
Granite Wireless LLC$170,510 1

Verizon spent a bit more than some analysts expected. Interestingly, Dish barely spent anything. While Comcast and Charter registered to participate jointly as C&C Wireless Holding Company, they did not win any licenses.

The full results can be explored in the FCC’s Public Reporting System.

FCC Politics & Media Bias

I’m a big believer in a free and open internet. I’m also wary of unchecked corporatism. Yesterday, many people who share my views were rejoicing as Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, stepped down. As Pai left his role, journalists published a bunch of hit pieces about Pai and the last several years of the FCC’s work. Despite having plenty of sympathies with the journalists, I was rubbed the wrong way.

Vice’s article was emblematic of what bothered me. The article’s title started with: “Gigantic Asshole Ajit Pai Is Officially Gone.” Vice went on to give a long list of everything it could construe as a failure of Pai’s FCC term. Not an ounce of effort was put into expressing anything positive.

I would love to see journalists shedding more light on the FCC’s actions. However, I’m concerned with how popular media outlets’ coverage of the FCC gets mixed up with broader political conflicts. We should keep what happened yesterday in mind if the same media outlets that published hit pieces yesterday are only willing to say positive things about the Biden-era FCC and the next FCC chairperson.

If you have suggestions for where to turn for nuanced commentary on the FCC, please chime in with a comment!

Spectrum Is Expensive

The FCC’s C band auction recently closed with a total of about 81 billion dollars in bids. This was by far the highest-grossing spectrum auction in U.S. history. Previously, the largest auction garnered about 45 billion dollars.1

In the C band auction, about 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-3.98GHz range was reallocated to cellular companies. Spectrum in this frequency range is particularly appealing to operators of cellular networks. The spectrum offers great characteristics, combining a potential for covering large areas with a potential for delivering fast speeds.

The amount of money committed in the recent auction drives home a point that I think most casual observers miss: spectrum is an enormous expense for cellular networks in the U.S. With the auction closing at about 81 billion dollars, U.S. networks are spending over $250 per person in the United States in a single auction.2

Farmer with tablet

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase 1 Results

Today, the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase 1 auction. In this reverse auction, the FCC had up to 16 billion dollars in funds available for compensating companies building out broadband networks in underserved areas.

The excerpt below comes from the FCC’s press release:

Auction results released today show that bidders won funding to deploy high-speed broadband to over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses, almost 99% of the locations available in the auction. Moreover, 99.7% of these locations will be receiving broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps, with an overwhelming majority (over 85%) getting gigabit-speed broadband.

While up to 16 billion dollars was available in this phase, only 9.2 billion dollars were allocated. The leftover funds will be added to the pot of money available in the next RDOF phase.

Winning companies in this phase of the auction will have funding awarded over the next ten years (contingent on companies meeting certain milestones).

Results

Below, I share the full list of 180 winners sorted by the funding awarded.1

CompanyAmount
LTD Broadband LLC$1,320,920,718.60
CCO Holdings, LLC (Charter Communications)$1,222,613,870.10
Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium$1,104,395,953.00
Space Exploration Technologies Corp.$885,509,638.40
Windstream Services LLC, Debtor-In-Possession$522,888,779.80
AMG Technology Investment Group LLC$429,228,072.90
Frontier Communications Corporation, DIP$370,900,832.80
Resound Networks, LLC$310,681,608.90
Connect Everyone LLC$268,851,315.90
CenturyLink, Inc.$262,367,614.20
Etheric Communications LLC$248,634,963.10
California Internet, L.P. dba GeoLinks$234,889,665.70
Consortium of AEG and Heron Broadband I$194,378,552.00
NRTC Phase I RDOF Consortium$156,714,678.20
Segnem Egere Consortium$152,854,440.70
NexTier Consortium$126,287,693.30
RDOF USA Consortium$112,044,022.70
Prospero Broadband Consortium$100,366,008.80
Point Broadband Fiber Holding, LLC$78,414,413.10
Mercury Wireless, Inc.$68,310,842.00
Co-op Connections Consortium$61,485,589.50
Consolidated Communications, Inc.$58,873,337.50
Frontier Communications Northwest, LLC$57,202,650.80
Talkie Communications, Inc.$57,065,010.20
Citynet West Virginia, LLC$53,516,858.30
Consortium 2020$48,918,960.90
Computer 5, Inc. d/b/a LocalTel Communications$48,818,171.30
Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation$46,055,343.40
Bay Springs Telephone Company, Inc.$41,871,850.10
Continental Divide Electric Cooperative$38,004,786.20
Cal.net, Inc.$29,169,982.60
Commnet Wireless, LLC$28,436,936.10
GigaBeam Networks, LLC$28,067,881.20
Cincinnati Bell Inc.$26,887,580.40
Aptitude Internet LLC$24,655,295.20
Armstrong Telephone Company – Northern Division$22,009,640.50
Grain Communications Opportunity Fund II, L.P.$19,172,673.60
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc.$18,462,273.10
RHMD, LLC$18,303,843.20
Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative$16,307,892.10
Direct Communications Rockland, Inc.$15,745,252.70
Connecting Rural America$14,180,599.00
Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$12,703,077.60
Halstad Telephone Company$12,141,118.40
South Arkansas Telephone Company$11,387,245.50
Pine Belt Communications, Inc.$11,126,003.10
Centre WISP Venture Company, LLC$11,086,348.40
Micrologic Inc.$10,036,047.70
Emery Telephone dba Emery Telcom$9,822,853.00
Digital Connections Inc. dba PRODIGI$8,583,001.40
Rural American Broadband Consortium$8,471,858.10
Chariton Valley Communications Corporation$8,070,272.00
Northern Arapaho Tribal Industries$7,799,035.00
Hamilton County Telephone Co-op$7,796,825.30
St. John Telco$7,116,876.00
Cox Communications, Inc.$6,636,520.50
Reedsburg Utility Commission$6,439,594.10
Savage Communications$6,090,479.10
Hawaii Dialogix Telecom LLC$6,009,953.00
Tennessee Cooperative Group Consortium$5,981,516.90
Peoples Telecom, LLC$5,668,121.40
Cherry Capital Connection, LLC$5,620,840.40
Pioneer Wireless, Inc$5,543,142.00
Atlantic Broadband Finance, LLC$5,407,684.70
Hotwire Communications, Ltd$5,150,040.00
Shenandoah Cable Television, LLC$5,059,616.50
Wisper-CABO 904 Consortium$4,974,442.30
Midcontinent Communications$4,960,473.00
Visionary Communications, Inc.$4,450,264.40
DoCoMo Pacific, Inc.$3,706,235.00
Daviess-Martin County Rural Telephone Corporation$3,565,039.40
Rivers High Group$3,540,398.10
Great Plains Consortium$3,427,873.30
Cellular Services LLC.$3,294,968.60
City of Farmington$3,179,884.50
4-Corners Consortium$2,598,030.00
Pine Cellular Phones, Inc.$2,303,742.10
Mediacom Communications Corporation$2,254,655.00
Hankins Information Technology$2,171,844.50
BEK Communications Cooperative$2,157,719.00
TruVista Communications, Inc.$2,059,050.80
Minnesota Connections c/o Consolidated Tel Company$2,040,278.70
Horizon Communications, Inc.$2,033,292.00
Custer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$1,954,488.00
American Heartland$1,821,520.00
FiberLight, LLC$1,772,705.80
Bandera Electric Cooperative, Inc.$1,689,601.50
LICT Corporation$1,675,826.80
NBVDS Investment, L.L.C.$1,655,443.40
Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$1,629,930.50
ACT$1,622,136.00
Siuslaw Broadband, LLC dba Hyak Technologies$1,611,684.90
HomeTown Broadband, Inc.$1,424,229.00
Hughes Network Systems, LLC$1,273,784.00
Union Telephone Company$1,264,770.00
Roseau Electric Cooperative, Inc.$1,228,494.00
Safelink Internet LLC$1,197,661.50
Pembroke Telephone Company, Inc.$1,053,063.00
Fond du Lac Communications Inc.$1,046,123.00
Wikstrom Telephone Company$983,637.00
SLIC Network Solutions, Inc.$978,722.00
Altice USA, Inc.$849,880.00
DTC Cable, Inc.$834,597.00
Nova Cablevision, Inc.$785,400.00
Farmers Mutual Telephone Company$759,822.00
Scott County Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$755,841.60
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$729,554.50
Terral Telephone Company$716,381.20
Worldwide Technologies, Inc.$700,874.20
Somerset Telephone Co., Inc.$669,564.00
AB Indiana LLC$668,304.10
Albion Telephone Company, Inc.$599,795.70
Palmetto Telephone Communications, LLC$570,024.00
Federated Telephone Cooperative$537,399.00
Daktel Communications, LLC$531,894.00
Redzone Wireless, LLC$507,752.00
MEI Telecom, Inc.$479,789.10
Zito West Holding, LLC$457,596.00
Baraga Telephone Company$444,490.80
Lakeland Communications Group, LLC$408,952.00
Heart of the Catskills Comm. Inc., dba MTC Cable$398,574.00
LigTel Communications, Inc.$385,924.00
Citizens Vermont Acquisition Corporation$373,680.00
Allen’s T.V. Cable Service, Inc.$371,348.10
Plains Internet, LLC$345,624.00
Reservation Telephone Cooperative$337,080.00
Miles Communications LLC$316,641.00
Mountain View Telephone Company$298,572.00
RC Technologies$263,796.00
QCOL, Inc.$235,146.00
Socket Telecom, LLC$232,768.80
St Paul Cooperative Telephone Association$190,908.00
Easton Utilities Commission$189,047.60
Newport Utilities$159,492.00
Mountain West Technologies Corporation$141,801.20
One Ring Networks, Inc.$137,715.00
Hamilton Long Distance Company$128,560.30
Bruce Telephone Company, Inc.$113,745.00
Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association$104,637.80
WC Fiber, LLC$98,189.50
Net Ops Communications, LLC$69,676.40
Enduring Internet$65,690.00
Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association$63,903.00
Northeast Missouri Rural Telephone Company$60,126.00
Skywave Wireless, Inc.$57,660.00
MARQUETTE-ADAMS TELEPHONE COOPERATIVE, INC.$55,378.00
yondoo Broadband LLC$54,833.80
Pioneer Long Distance, Inc.$50,994.00
All West Communications, Inc.$46,648.00
XIT Telecommunication & Technology$43,254.50
Corn Belt Telephone$42,237.00
WTC Communications, Inc.$40,845.20
Consortium 904$40,470.00
MCC Network Services, LLC$36,204.00
Pinpoint Bidding Coalition$31,254.00
Wood County Telephone Company d/b/a Solarus$28,848.00
NMSURF, Inc.$26,964.00
KanOkla Telephone Association$26,538.00
Yucca Telecommunications Systems, Inc.$26,221.00
IdeaTek Telcom, LLC$23,590.60
Home Communications, Inc.$15,540.00
Barry Technology Services, LLC$14,502.00
LR Communications, Inc.$13,974.00
Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company$12,447.00
PVT NetWorks, Inc.$12,039.00
Baldwin Telecom, Inc.$11,370.00
H&B Communication’s, Inc.$11,301.60
NTS Communications, LLC$8,923.00
W. T. Services, Inc.$8,785.70
Computer Techniques, Inc. dba CTI Fiber$8,509.00
Sandhill Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$6,396.00
Taylor Telephone Coop., Inc. dba Taylor Telecom$5,466.00
Comcell Inc.$4,644.00
Peoples Communication, LLC.$4,140.00
Plateau Telecommunications, Inc.$3,150.00
Coleman County Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$3,142.80
Bloosurf, LLC$1,860.50
Wildstar$1,790.00
Unified Communications Inc.$1,604.00
Carolina West Wireless, Inc.$460.00

Thanks For Approving My Merger!

T-Mobile’s former CEO, John Legere, was extremely successful in branding himself as an advocate for consumers. While I admire Legere’s success, I don’t think he lived up to the persona he created.1

Today, Legere shared a tweet that reaffirmed my feelings:


While I think a lot of criticism of Ajit Pai has been unfair, “advocating for wireless competition” is quite the phrase. It feels particularly insincere coming from Legere who made the better part of $100 million from a bonus and other compensation tied to the closure of the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. I’m on the record saying I expected the merger to be bad for consumers. Eight months later, I continue to stand by my view.

Verizon Hints At Plans For Tracfone Subscribers

Earlier this year, Verizon announced plans to acquire Tracfone and its roughly 20 million subscribers. While more than half of Tracfone’s subscribers already have service that runs over Verizon’s network, it has been unclear what might happen to the 8 to 9 million Tracfone subscribers on other networks.

In an investor event a few days ago, Ronan Dunne, a Verizon executive, hinted at how Verizon might handle those subscribers if the acquisition goes through:

Just for context, about 13 million of their [Tracfone’s] 21 million, 22 million customers ride on the Verizon network today, but there’s 8 million or 9 million thatride on competitor networks. And we have the opportunity to migrate those across to be on to Verizon.

I’m not sure how seriously I should take Dunne’s words. I still think Verizon may sell off Tracfone subscribers on other networks—selling off some subscribers may appease regulators who are reluctant to allow the acquisition.

FCC Hits T-Mobile With A $200 Million Fine For Sprint’s Abuse Of The Lifeline Program

The FCC fined T-Mobile $200 million for Sprint’s abuse of the Lifeline program. Under the Lifeline program, wireless carriers can get a nearly $10 subsidy for each eligible, low-income American they provide phone service to. Often, the Lifeline subsidy is large enough for carriers to offer basic service at no cost to eligible consumers.

According to the Lifeline program rules, carriers are only supposed to get subsidies for lines that are in active use. Lines that go unused are supposed to become ineligible for a subsidy. Here’s how the FCC explains the rationale for rules about usage:

The FCC developed this and other rules after investigations showed that companies were aggressively selling free Lifeline service, knowing that they would get paid each month even if consumers didn’t use their phones. Since there was no bill, consumers had no incentive to relinquish the subscription.

Before Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile, the carrier was receiving subsidies for almost a million lines that we’re in violation of the usage rules. Since T-Mobile now owns Sprint, T-Mobile is on the hook for the FCC’s $200 million fine. The FCC’s press release describes the fine as the “largest fixed-amount penalty to be paid in Commission history.”

In Hindsight: T-Mobile’s Network Outage

Yesterday, T-Mobile experienced a serious network outage beginning around 10am MT. The outage persisted through most of the day and primarily affected voice and text services.

Around 11pm MT, T-Mobile announced that outage was over:

These issues are now resolved. We again apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

What caused the outage?

A lot of speculation was floating around yesterday. Some Twitter users, including a congressman, suggested there was a huge distributed denial-of-service attack causing trouble for U.S. networks. This story never made much sense.

Others speculated that a massive network failure was causing issues for all the major cellular operators. This idea was based on information from the website Downdetector, an entity that aggregates user complaints in real-time. Downdetector suggested that customer complaints about Verizon and AT&T were increasing at the same time that T-Mobile was experiencing issues.

Here’s how Downdectector describes its methodology:

Downdetector collects status reports from a series of sources, including Twitter and reports submitted on our websites and mobile apps. Our system validates and analyzes these reports in real-time, allowing us to automatically detect outages and service disruptions in their very early stages.

I expect the customer complaints about Verizon and AT&T were ultimately caused by T-Mobile’s network issues. Verizon and AT&T customers may have tried to call T-Mobile customers, then thought their own carriers (rather than T-Mobile) were at fault when calls failed.

Both AT&T and Verizon made statements suggesting that their networks were operating normally.

Updates from T-Mobile & the FCC

Yesterday evening, T-Mobile’s CEO, Mike Sievert, gave a vague explanation of what caused the outage:

T-Mobile has been experiencing a voice and text issue that has intermittently impacted customers in markets across the U.S…This is an IP traffic related issue that has created significant capacity issues in the network core throughout the day. Data services have been working throughout the day.

The outage was likely triggered as T-Mobile took steps to merge Sprint’s technology and/or customer base into the New T-Mobile. I haven’t heard any further information about the outage from a plausible-looking source, but details may come out soon. Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, shared the following tweet last night:

U.S. Telecom Companies Take The “Keep Americans Connected” Pledge

In response to coronavirus-related threats, the FCC recently asked a large number of U.S. broadband and telephone companies to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Companies that take the pledge commit not to cut off subscribers who fail to pay their bills for reasons related to the coronavirus. Companies further pledge to waive late fees for subscribers that fail to pay.

From a document on the FCC’s website:

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge reads as follows:Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:(1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;(2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and(3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

In a very short period of time, a ton of American telecom companies took the pledge. Here’s an incomplete list of players in the wireless industry that have already pledged:

  • AlticeUSA
  • AT&T
  • Comcast
  • Sprint
  • T-Mobile
  • TracFone Wireless
  • US Cellular
  • Verizon

It will be interesting to see how these companies’ commitments play out.