BBWN Bites: Satellite broadband market to generate $4.1B in 2026 – report
Also in this roundup: a municipal broadband win in Washington state; AT&T touts $2 billion commitment to digital divide; Italy to increase broadband investment.
- Market advisory firm ABI Research released forecasting this week that the demand for fixed and mobile broadband, combined with the persistent digital divide, will propel the satellite broadband market to $4.1 billion in 2026. "Research forecasts that the satellite broadband market will reach 3.5 million subscribers in 2021, grow at a CAGR 8% to reach 5.2 million users in 2026, and generate US$4.1 billion service revenue," said the firm in a press release. Industry analyst Khin Sandi Lynn adds that "Orbiting around 800-1600 km from the Earth's surface, LEO systems offer a major advantage of low latency between 30-50 milliseconds, enabling LEO broadband services to support low latency services such as online gaming and live video streaming."
Not everyone is thrilled by the hype around LEO satellite broadband. On a recent episode of The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast, Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, shared his concerns, particularly in light of satellite's showing in the RDOF auction where 85% of non-gigabit tier contracts went to Starlink. "You know, when you think about trying to solve the digital divide and have digital equity across the country, you really have to be building an infrastructure. And when you literally strand investment in space, there's no way to build on that," said Bolton. "It's not like you can send a repairman up to a satellite and fix it."
- Municipal broadband scored a win in the state of Washington this week, with the passage of a bill lifting restrictions on municipal broadband projects. A summary of the bill says its purpose is "Creating and expanding unrestricted authority for public entities to provide telecommunications services to end users." The bill's lead co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen, cheered its passage on Twitter: "This bill reverses decades of bad policy—Washington was one of only 18 states with a STATE LAW prohibiting some local governments from offering broadband directly to the public." The win is especially relevant as the Biden/Harris administration's broadband plan specifically calls this out as a necessary reform for closing the digital divide. According to the American Jobs Plan fact sheet: "President Biden’s plan will promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge."
In states where those restrictions still exist – preventing local communities from delivering broadband where it's needed – large ISPs have often lobbied to keep them in place and/or strengthen them. AT&T, for example, pushed for the successful passage of H3508 in South Carolina, limiting local governments' ability to offer retail broadband services to residents. (Worth noting that, as per the White House infrastructure report cards released this week, over 12% of South Carolinians have no access to high-speed broadband infrastructure; 55.5% of South Carolinians live in areas where there is only one such provider; and over 17% of South Carolina households do not have an internet subscription.)
- Thus, it's tough to get misty-eyed over announcements like this one from AT&T this week professing to commit $2 billion to help address the digital divide. The press release explains that AT&T will invest $2 billion over the next three years, doubling its investment from the last three, with that money designated for a few specific areas: continuing to offer "discounted wireless solutions to more than 135,000 public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities"; continuing with and expanding eligibility for its Access from AT&T program, "providing qualifying households with wireline internet service at $10 or less per month"; and by participating in the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. While the continuation and expansion of such affordability programs from national telcos are important, they'd be more meaningful without parallel efforts to suppress broadband competition where it's most needed.
- Reuters reports that the government of new Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is revisiting the region's recovery plans and now aims to spend 60% more in EU funds on broadband. The government reportedly intends to increase its investment in broadband, 5G and satellite infrastructure from €4.2 billion (US$5 billion) to €6.7 billion ($8 billion). "The total funds for boosting digitalization amount to some 49 billion euros, up from a previous 46.3 billion euros, including investments in public administration and grants for small and medium-sized companies," writes Reuters, citing an anonymous source. The story further points out that "Italy ranked fourth to last in the European Union for digital competitiveness in 2019," according to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) compiled by the European Commission.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading