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NCTC Plots Plan to Help Cable Ops Work Together on Broadband

Jeff Baumgartner

The National Television Cooperative (NCTC) has long been a buying agent for its hundreds of members, helping those small- and mid-sized operators lock-in volume pricing on everything from programming and video software, partnerships with new OTT-TV services, and bulk buys for access network gear, set-top boxes, cable modems and broadband gateways.

The NCTC is now embarking on a new broadband services-focused initiative that aims to help those independent operators get improved access to peering sites and, ultimately, lower transport costs.

That's one of the front-burner priorities for Jared Baumann, a former C Spire exec who was recently named VP of broadband solutions at the NCTC, which is hosting the organization's Winter Education Conference this week in Atlanta. (See NCTC Names Jared Baumann Vice President of Broadband Solutions.)

Jared Baumann, the NCTC's recently hired VP of broadband solutions, said the new transport initiative and exploring in-home and community WiFi options are among his top priorities, and will also look into how the NCTC's membership can take advantage of new 5G technologies.
Jared Baumann, the NCTC's recently hired VP of broadband solutions, said the new transport initiative and exploring in-home and community WiFi options are among his top priorities, and will also look into how the NCTC's membership can take advantage of new 5G technologies.

Given the NCTC's membership of almost 800 operators that together pass some 40 million homes, there's an immense network of operators involved in the co-op. But most of them, on an individual basis, don't usually get the same value from the big US and international transport providers that companies like AT&T or Comcast do, Baumann said.

Many smaller, independent operators "struggle" with the transport side of broadband more than they do with their access networks, he said. If those operators can get connected to big peering sites, they stand to get more competitive rates, he said.

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By using the NCTC's power in numbers (and its reach in various markets, including many rural areas), the idea is to get them all to work together to provide improved and more economical access to those sites. By sharing data, such as mapping info, those operators should find that another, adjacently located member might be able to provide that connection, rather than always having to go to a large national provider. The NCTC's program hopes to facilitate and manage the assembling and sharing of this sort of information.

"Many of our members have backbones, in different ways, to get there," Baumann said. "We are looking to find ways to enable our members to use each other to accomplish these goals. It's not been done yet in this industry."

Other groups have done it, such as Bluebird Network in the Midwest or Texas Lone Star Network, but they don't have a membership of the size and scale of the NCTC, Baumann said.

Baumann said talks about the project are underway with NCTC members. He said it's already clear that some of the co-op's larger members indeed have connection points that could help out other members and provide better, lower-latency routes at lower costs.

"There's a strong interest there," he said.

Helping solve this transport issue is just one of the areas Baumann will focus on in his new role. He'll also help to develop a program for members around whole-home WiFi. "WiFi is a key element to providing [a] premium experience," Baumann said.

Indeed, operators both big and small have launched or intend to launch premium WiFi products that include multiple access points and extenders that tie into a software management platform that can help optimize the in-home WiFi connections. (See WOW Connects With Eero on Whole-Home WiFi and Why ISPs Are High on Whole-Home WiFi.)

Baumann, who will also look into community WiFi opportunities, said the NCTC will aim to work with best-of-class tech partners on that effort.

Drawing on his experience at C Spire, Baumann will also look into how NCTC and its membership can play a role in 5G, including a potential role in backhaul or using it to deliver fixed wireless broadband service. (See C-Spire Claims to Be First in the US With 5G.)

For the NCTC, 5G "is not an immediate priority, but we feel strongly that it's a part of the future," said Baumann, who will moderate a 5G-focused session at this week's event in Atlanta.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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