In a move that could help AT&T and Dish Network to build their 5G wireless communications networks, the two companies are in fresh talks to merge their satellite TV businesses, according to reporting in the New York Post. AT&T’s satellite TV business is DirecTV.
“The satellite-TV giants attempted a merger nearly two decades ago but the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department’s antitrust division stopped it,” the Post story reads. “Two years ago, the DOJ also quietly warned executives off a prospective deal, concerned about the nascent rollout of 5G, sources said.”
Both companies’ satellite TV businesses have been losing subscribers to a trend that sees consumers using internet connections for video viewing and disconnect there cable TV or satellite TV services in a step called cutting the cord. The Post reported that merging the two satellite services could save the companies as much as $1 billion in costs.
“In 2020, regulators with the DOJ’s antitrust division had told AT&T executives that a marriage between DirecTV and Dish would have to wait until faster 5G wireless service is more widely available in rural markets, two sources close to the situation said,” the Post story reads. “Regulators were concerned that a combined company could jack up the prices of satellite TV.”
The Post quoted telecom analyst Craig Moffett as saying, “The FCC and DOJ would likely both conclude that having one strong satellite competitor is better than none at all — and the future is not terribly bright even together but especially alone.”
Ahead of an appearance by its senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, Pascal Desroches, at Citi’s AppsEconomy Conference this morning, AT&T provided what it called select fourth-quarter subscriber results.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, AT&T delivered total postpaid net adds of 1.3 million, including approximately 880,000 postpaid phones, the company said.
“For the full-year 2021, postpaid phone net adds were 3.2 million, AT&T’s highest annual postpaid phone net adds in more than a decade as the company continues to benefit from strong network performance and its disciplined and consistent go-to-market strategy,” a company statement reads.
AT&T said it added approximately 270,000 fiber subscribers for the quarter. It said full-year 2021 fiber net adds totaled about 1 million, the fourth consecutive year in which the company has added 1 million or more fiber subscribers. AT&T ended the year with an additional 2.6 million fiber customer locations, compared with its prior expectation of about 2.5 million, the company said.
“AT&T ended the year with approximately 73.8 million total global HBO Max and HBO subscribers, ahead of management’s prior guidance that end-of-year subscribers would be at the high end of its 70 million to 73 million subscriber target,” the company said.
Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. secretary of transportation, and Steve Dickson, the FAA administrator, sent a letter to the heads of AT&T and Verizon on the evening of Jan. 3 in which they thank the mobile carrier chiefs for their agreement to delay initial deployment of 5G wireless services on C-band frequencies for two weeks, along with adopting some additional mitigations. The mitigations would be intended to offset potential interference from 5G transmitters to aviation navigation equipment, including altimeters in aircraft.
The two federal officials included with their letter a final term sheet with details of the terms of the agreement.
A statement the FAA issued said that the wireless companies have offered to implement a set of mitigations comparable to measures used in some European operating environments.
“While U.S. standards and operating environments are unique, we believe this could substantially reduce the disruptions to air operations,” the statement reads. “These additional mitigations will be in place for six months around 50 airports identified as those with the greatest impact to the U.S. aviation sector.”
AT&T said that it had, at Buttigieg’s request, voluntarily agreed to one additional two-week delay of our deployment of C-Band 5G services. The carrier said it remains committed to the six-month protection zone mitigations outlined the letter it sent to the secretary and the FAA administrator.
“We know aviation safety and 5G can coexist, and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues,” AT&T said.
Verizon said it has agreed to a two-week delay that it said promises the certainty of bringing the United States what it called its game-changing 5G network in January, “delivered over America’s best and most reliable network.”
President Joe Biden issued a statement about the 5G deployment agreement in which he said that his aministration is committed to rapid 5G deployment, while minimizing disruptions to air operations and continuing to maintain the world’s safest airspace.
“Last night’s agreement is a significant step in the right direction, and we’re grateful to all parties for their cooperation and good faith,” Biden said. “This agreement ensures that there will be no disruptions to air operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to substantially reduce disruptions to air operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on January 19. For the last few months, my administration has been convening technical experts at the FAA, the FCC, and from the wireless and aviation industries to discuss a solution that allows the expansion of 5G and aviation to safely coexist, and I am pleased those efforts helped produce yesterday’s agreement. I want to thank Secretary Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Dickson, and FCC Chair Rosenworcel, as well as AT&T and Verizon and airline industry leaders, for their tireless work to ensure that the expansion of 5G and aviation can safely coexist.”
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reacted today to the agreement between the wireless carriers and the aviation industry to begin 5G deployment on Jan. 19.
“Last night’s agreement provides the framework and the certainty needed to achieve our shared goal of deploying 5G swiftly while ensuring air safety,” she said. “It was made possible by the FCC, DOT, FAA, the wireless companies and the aviation industry working together to share data, bring together technical experts, and collaborate in good faith to ensure the coexistence of wireless and aviation technologies.”
Referring to what they said would be an unprecedented and unwarranted circumvention of due process if they should agree to a request by Biden administration officials to delay their rollout of 5G wireless service on C-band radio frequencies, the heads of AT&T and Verizon rejected the request that Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, and the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, sent to them on Dec. 31, 2021.
Replying in a letter on Jan. 2, John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, and Hans Vestberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, said that the framework Buttigieg and Dickson proposed for the delay asks that AT&T and Verizon agree to transfer oversight of their multibillion-dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years.
“Even worse, the proposal is directed to only two companies, regardless of the terms of licenses auctioned and granted, and to the exception of every other company and industry within the purview of the FCC,” the letter reads. “Agreeing to your proposal would not only be an unprecedented and unwarranted circumvention of the due process and checks and balances carefully crafted in the structure of our democracy, but an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks that are every bit as essential to our country’s economic vitality, public safety and national interests as the airline industry.”
However, in the spirit of cooperation, the heads of the two companies wrote, their companies would volunteer to alter their use of the C-Band spectrum a six-month period, unless they and the FAA determine that the voluntary limits should be relaxed sooner.
“Specifically, for six months, until July 5, 2022, we will adopt the same C-Band radio exclusion zones that are already in use in France, with slight adaptation to reflect the modest technical differences in how C-band is being deployed in the two countries,” the letter reads. “That approach — which is one of the most conservative in the world — would include extensive exclusion zones around the runways at certain airports. The effect would be to further reduce C-band signal levels by at least 10 times on the runway or during the last mile of final approach and the first mile after takeoff. This is over and above the protections we already committed to put in place around airports that were detailed in the letter to the FCC on Nov. 24th, 2021 — protections that the FCC referred to as among ‘the most comprehensive efforts in the world to safeguard aviation technologies.’ As you know, U.S. aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of U.S. passengers and with the full approval of the FAA. As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist. The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France. If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States.”
Meanwhile, in a tweet sent on Jan 1. that included a copy of a letter he sent to Buttigieg, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said that nearly 40 countries have turned on 5G wireless communications service on C-band spectrum, yet the Biden administration is working to needlessly delay C-band operations in the United States. He said that step only would undermine America’s 5G leadership and the mid-band work accomplished over the past few years — mid-band refers to the C-band radio-frequency spectrum.
“The Biden administration is not asking for a two-week delay; they’re demanding an indefinite halt in what appears to be every major market,” Carr said. “The Department of Transportation’s irregular, eleventh-hour tactics — 660 days after the FCC resolved these issues — do not reflect competent decision-making, but gamesmanship. It is incorrect to say that there are unresolved safety concerns that would benefit from additional time. The expert agency charged by Congress with making precisely these types of determinations (the FCC), resolved them years ago in a thorough, 258-page decisional document.”
Carr said that based on expert engineering analysis, the FCC included what he called a massive guard band to protect aviation that was two times as large as the one certain aviation advocates originally asked for. In addition, he said it would be twice as large as even that conservatively sized guard band, because wireless carriers operate their systems are in the lower portion of the frequency band.
“The FCC’s decision is not just grounded in science, engineering, and facts, it is backed by the aviation industry’s own, real-world experiences flying safely every day into nearly 40 countries that have live C-Band operations today,” Carr said.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.
Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, and Steve Dickson, the Federal Aviation Administration administrator, sent a letter on Dec. 31, 2021, to the heads of AT&T and Verizon, asking them to extend a delay of their companies’ launch of 5G wireless communications service in radio-frequency spectrum known as C-band, at least in areas near what they called priority airports. The companies had been planning to start using the frequencies, the rights to which they purchased in an FCC auction, on Jan. 5.
“We recognize the significant investment your companies made to launch 5G C-band service, and the importance of expanding 5G service for the American economy,” a letter from the two officials reads. “At the same time, absent further action, the economic stakes for the aviation industry and the disruptions the traveling public would face from commercial launch of C-Band service on Jan. 5 are significant, particularly with the ongoing stress and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Accordingly, we seek to build on our productive discussions by offering the attached proposal as a near-term solution for advancing the co-existence of 5G deployment in the C-Band and safe flight operations.”
The letter said that under the framework in the proposal, commercial C-band service would begin as planned in January with certain exceptions around priority airports. The FAA and the aviation industry would identify priority airports where a buffer zone would permit aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of the interference potential around those airports, the letter reads.
“Our goal would then be to identify mitigations for all priority airports that will enable the majority of large commercial aircraft to operate safely in all conditions,” the officials said. “This will allow for 5G C-band to deploy around these priority airports on a rolling basis, such that C-Band planned locations will be activated by the end of March 2022, barring unforeseen technical challenges or new safety concerns. Meanwhile, the FAA will safely expedite the approvals of Alternate Means of Compliance (AMOCs) for operators with high-performing radio altimeters to operate at those airports.”
The action Buttigieg and Dickson took in writing to the heads of the two wireless carriers followed Airlines for America’s Dec. 30, 2021, filing with the FCC of an emergency request to delay the rollout of 5G wireless service. A membership organization, Airlines for America represents North American airlines. Referring to the potential for harmful interference to aviation navigation systems that use C-band frequencies, Airlines for America said that the FCC “has never provided a reasoned analysis of why it has rejected the evidence submitted by the aviation interests,” as reported by Bloomberg News.
As cited by the news website The Hill, Bloomberg said that the wireless companies agreed to roll out the 5G service at reduced power for a temporary amount of time in order to compromise with airline groups, but Airlines for America said that would not be enough.