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April 13, 2023
Hundreds of small and midsized cable operators serving millions of US households will soon be able to market and sell mobile services following word today that the National Content & Technology Cooperative (NCTC) has signed an exclusive MVNO agreement with AT&T.
NCTC CEO Lou Borrelli said the organization talked to multiple mobile network operators (MNOs) during the selection process. But the organization determined that AT&T's network best served an NCTC membership of nearly 700 cable operators and telcos, including many in rural areas, that serve a combined 34 million home broadband connections.
Figure 1: With the AT&T and Reach deals now done, NCTC CEO Lou Borrelli believes that some of the co-op's members should be onboarded and have active mobile customers by the time The Independent Show gets underway in late July.
(Source: Vittaya Sinlapasart/Alamy Stock Photo)
"While you can imagine that price was one of the two or three things we considered, what it really came down to was current network availability and performance," said Borrelli. Timed with today's deal, Borrelli is in Philadelphia for an NCTC regional meeting focused on the co-op's mobile strategy.
AT&T "had the fewest areas where there would be service concerns. That's not to say the others weren't competitive, but based on our analysis we felt like AT&T was the best choice for us," Borrelli said. "We feel like for the bulk of our members, coverage and performance is not an issue with this selection."
AT&T's rural coverage is aided in part by the Band 14 deployment (in the 700MHz band) associated with AT&T's rollout of the FirstNet network for first responders. AT&T's deal with the NCTC also includes domestic roaming.
Borrelli said NCTC's selection was also aided by some larger co-op members that conducted "fairly exhaustive research on coverage and [availability] in a wide range of zip codes."
The NCTC-AT&T MVNO agreement takes shape about six weeks after the NCTC partnered with Reach to supply a cloud-based platform that will enable NCTC members to create and customize mobile services – either as a bundle with home broadband or even as a standalone service.
AT&T's first big cable MVNO deal
The MVNO deal with the NCTC represents AT&T's most significant with the US cable industry. AT&T signaled its interest in signing MVNO deals with cable back in early 2020.
The NCTC-AT&T deal also adds more diversity to the mobile networks being used for mobile services being sold by US cable operators.
Altice USA's mobile service, Optimum Mobile, is underpinned by an MVNO deal with T-Mobile, but the operator also has a nationwide roaming contract with AT&T to help round out its network coverage. Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications all offer mobile through MVNO deals with Verizon. WideOpenWest, another Reach partner, is offering mobile services on the T-Mobile network.
Mobile activations could be underway by June
NCTC's deals with Reach and AT&T will put its operator members in position to launch mobile services in the coming weeks and months. While the onboarding and validation processes will take some time, Borrelli said it's possible that an initial wave of NCTC members could be activated with live customers as early as June. He noted that some "early results" of deployment activity among NCTC members could be shared at The Independent Show, which runs July 30-August 2 in Minneapolis and is run by NCTC and ACA Connects.
NCTC hasn't announced any members that have already made launch commitments. However, Borrelli said a "core group of members" have been active in the process from the start.
Mediacom Communications, an NCTC member, has already trademarked "Mediacom Mobile" as it explores the development of a mobile option, but hasn't shed any detail on timing or if its plans hinge on the NCTC's mobile agreements. A couple of other NCTC members, Cable One and Ziply Fiber, have made it clear they do not have imminent plans to add mobile to their respective service bundles.
Borrelli said NCTC will be ready to integrate all members when they are ready. But the group of NCTC members expected to be part of the first wave of mobile launches will be large enough to "meet all of our targets as part of the agreements that we've signed," he said. "Our job is to provide a solid platform with good economics and to give people the ability to launch this [mobile] business line, which I think is important for them all as they move forward."
NCTC isn't divulging the financial details of the AT&T agreement, but they are designed to give operators a path to sell and bundle a range of bundles featuring mobile akin to the kinds of service convergence packages that operators such as Charter and Comcast have put together recently.
"The deals that we've negotiated allow our members to be price-competitive in their markets and still have positive margin," Borrelli said. "Frankly, that's what took the longest out of this negotiation – trying to figure out how to cast the pricing and rate structure so that [NCTC members] could be competitive."
Per the terms of the agreement, NCTC members will own the mobile customer. NCTC members will also have the ability to market mobile services under their own brands. One thing members who go with the NCTC mobile offering won't do is market mobile under a "powered by Reach" cobranding that WOW uses for its mobile offering.
But NCTC does expect to have multiple onboarding options for members, depending on how much control and risk they want to take on. Those options will include "Accelerated" (for smaller members with limited engineering resources), "Accelerated+ (more options and flexibility, with more consulting time with the Reach team) and "Custom" (for larger operators that want to have more control of the service and handle elements such as backoffice systems).
Regarding mobile devices, NCTC members will be able to support a bring-your-own model and will be working with an industry clearinghouse called Quality One to provide access to smartphones. Borrelli anticipates NCTC members to have access to a mix of devices models and brands, with an expectation that they'll have access to the Apple carrier bundle at launch.
NCTC forges mobile connection with AT&T (press release)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading
Senior Editor, Light Reading
Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.
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