BEAD, mobile strategies to lead way at The Independent Show

Grant Spellmeyer and Lou Borrelli, respective CEOs at ACA Connects and the National Content & Technology Cooperative, offer a preview of this year's The Independent Show, set for July 30-August 2 in Minneapolis.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

June 28, 2023

4 Min Read
BEAD, mobile strategies to lead way at The Independent Show
TIS 2023 is expected to host more than 1,000 exhibitors, according to event organizers. (Source: ACA Connects and NCTC)

What's next for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program and how small and midsized cable operators plan to enter the mobile market will be among the key topics at next month's The Independent Show (TIS).

Set for July 30-August 2 in Minneapolis, TIS is jointly hosted by the National Content & Technology Cooperative (NCTC) and ACA Connects, organizations focused on the content, tech and policy needs of hundreds of independent cable operators and telcos.

This year's event is expected to shine the light on subsidized rural buildouts in the wake of this week's state-by-state BEAD allocations. Wireless will also take center stage following recent deals between the NCTC, Reach and AT&T that will enable co-op members to add mobile services to the bundle.

"I have a lot of members interested in pursuing opportunities in the [BEAD] program," Grant Spellmeyer, president and CEO of ACA Connects, said. While some are interested in applying for BEAD funds, others have concerns that BEAD could be used to fund networks that overbuild them, he explained.

Spellmeyer added that, heading into this year's TIS, members are also interested in keeping up with a potential funding gap for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and want to dig into the implementation of new broadband label rules. He also expects members to be eager to discuss potential implications at the FCC amid the recent nomination of Anna Gomez to the Commission.

TIS talk also will be directed towards the NCTC's mobile deals with Reach and AT&T. It's not clear if any NCTC members will announce that they've signed onto the deal ahead of or during the show. While some members are expected to focus on the use of prepackaged rates and options, others are exploring more customized approaches.

The NCTC has "a significant number [of members] we're working through the pipeline," said NCTC CEO Lou Borrelli, an industry veteran who has been leading a "great pivot" of the organization since taking the reins in June 2021.

He said he expects to see a "fair number" of NCTC members sign up for the NCTC-brokered MVNO deal this summer, but also anticipates a broader onboarding of members to take place through the bulk of 2024.

The evolving world of video and pay-TV

Discussions at the event will also cross into video and pay-TV territory even as going-forward plans tend to vary operator by operator. Some operators are upgrading to IP- and app-based offerings and others are exiting the pay-TV business, happy to cede it to third-party streamers so they can instead focus on higher-margin broadband services.

Borrelli says the NCTC will continue to take an agnostic approach by providing members access to next-gen video technologies as well as services that support new streaming services and different types of bundles.

"We're not in the business of picking winners, but in the business of providing choices," he said, noting that the NCTC is having "intense discussions" on video-focused options and bundling opportunities. The goal, he added, is to provide members with a "menu of opportunities."

But the video topic also extends into policy and regulations. Notably, TIS will host a panel regarding whether the retransmission model will ever get "fixed."

Spellmeyer is confident that it can be fixed in Congress if programmers and broadcasters decide to cooperate and act reasonably. "But I don't expect it to be fixed in this current Congressional cycle," he added.

'More than ever'

Topics aside, one change coming to TIS is the venue. Rather than holding the event in venues such as hotels, this year's event will be hosted at a bona fide convention center.

Borrelli says that fits in with the show's "more than ever" theme that will have sessions and show floor hours running concurrently. This year's event will have more floor space and floor time while doubling the number of speakers and sessions typically offered at past shows, he said.

TIS 2023 is expected to host more than 1,000 exhibitors. There's some hope that the location will make it possible for employees of some operators in nearby states, such as Iowa, to make a day trip if they can't stay for the duration and generate incremental attendance for the event, Borrelli said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

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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