The 2022 Communications Marketplace Report issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before the close of the year assessed the state of competition in communications markets around the country. The FCC highlighted three major areas in its 322-page bi-annual report focusing on lagging competition in broadband markets, overall consolidation in the 5G era wireless sector, and the boom in low earth orbit or LEO satellite constellation deployment and the entrance of new players in that space.
By way of background, the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018 requires the FCC to evaluate competition every two years in the markets for the delivery of voice, video, audio, and data services, commercial mobile service, multichannel video programming distributors, broadcast stations, satellite communications, Internet service providers, in addition to other communications services.
The FCC’s third report began by noting that the “U.S. communications marketplace is in a substantial state of change and re-examination” owing in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, transition to remote work and learning, and corresponding significant increase in consumer demand for fixed and mobile broadband, video, and audio services.
The agency flagged three trends of particular note, starting with its conclusion that millions of Americans lack access to high-speed broadband or only have access to one provider. The FCC said that there is still room for competitive broadband markets, despite the steps it has taken to encourage more firms to deploy broadband infrastructure and service around the country, including to rural areas.
The FCC also shed light on change in the wireless sector, characterized by multibillion-dollar horizontal and vertical acquisitions, including T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, shrinking the nationwide coverage providers from four to three, and Verizon’s purchase of TracFone. The Commission noted that DISH Network has entered the sector with its deployment of “a cloud-native 5G Open RAN network,” and has committed to emerging as a nationwide competitor.
The FCC added that coupled with the increasing interest in “edge computing and private cellular networks,” is a rise in cybersecurity risks to 5G networks and equipment requiring reassessment of protective strategies.
Lastly, the report highlighted the dramatic expansion of LEO satellite constellations as well as the emergence of new players in the commercial satellite industry, citing reductions in launch costs and other innovations. At the top of the field is Starlink, which has launched more than 3,350 satellites, though the FCC mentioned its approval of new satellite constellations from Kinéis, Kuiper, and Boeing, with applications representing thousands of additional satellites still under review.
The FCC underscored actions it has taken to support competition in the field, including making more spectrum available, updating processing rules for non-geostationary satellites to encourage spectrum sharing and information sharing, and adopting new rules to address orbital debris risks. Last month, the FCC supported a newly introduced bi-partisan bill aimed at overhauling the rules governing those topics.