Jeff Johnston

Lead Economist, Communications

Jeff Johnston is a lead communications economist in CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange research division, where he focuses on the communications industry. His work revolves around identifying emerging technologies, business models, risks and opportunities within the industry, and providing strategic analyses to both internal and external stakeholders.

Prior to joining CoBank in 2018, Mr. Johnston was an equity analyst covering the tech, media and telecom sectors. Jeff has also held various senior management positions in the telecommunications industry. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from York University and he is also CFA charterholder.

Reports

The wireless tower industry is in the midst of several cross currents that represent both opportunities and threats.

<p>Over the past four months, every rural industry has grappled with how to adjust its business to remain relevant and sustainable in the pandemic.</p>

On July 23, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will start its highly anticipated CBRS auction for the licensed portion of the spectrum band.

Satellite-based internet has been around for several years, but for the most part it has failed to gain traction due to slow data speeds and pricey rate plans with data caps.
Numerous rural operators are going above and beyond to keep their communities connected. However, in doing so, these operators are taking on increased cash flow risks.
The primary challenge to bridging the digital divide is cost. In many rural markets there simply aren’t enough residents to justify the capital and operating expenditures needed to run a profitable network. 

Broadband operators are seeing a 20-40% increase in data traffic where a shelter in place order has been issued. This is putting undue stress on rural communication networks.

Keeping Us Connected, Our Lights On, and Our Pantries Full

Coronavirus Testing Labor and Supply Chains of Essential Rural Industries

The beginning of a new quarter finds us in unparalleled times – a pandemic ravaging the world, the U.S. economy in shutdown, millions of Americans out of work, and financial markets in turmoil.

The coronavirus and the measures to prevent its spread are wreaking havoc for all Americans. But for those living in rural America, the disruption is even worse.

As Sprint and T-Mobile forge ahead with their merger, a number of states are standing in the way citing anti-trust concerns, among other factors. 
The fourth quarter is ending with much more optimism on trade and the economy compared to how it began. 
The U.S. rural economy will continue to face headwinds in 2020 and is expected to underperform relative to the economy of urban America. 
Mergers & acquisition activity in the telecom market has driven an explosion in cloud computing, consumers’ insatiable demand for data, and new technologies.
CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division analyzes the underlying trends and economics for streaming video services and how some pay-TV operators are navigating these changes.
Uncertainty over trade policy, weather and African Swine Fever dominated agricultural markets last quarter.
As the wireless industry works towards deploying 5G, we’ve looked at the underlying drivers behind these deployments & how they will impact wireless operators & their customers. 
Broadband partnerships between Rural Local Exchange Carriers (RLEC) and Electric Distribution Cooperatives (EDs) are uncommon, but when done right, can benefit all involved.

Global economic growth continues to slide, as tariffs drag on global trade and manufacturing.

The wireless industry is embarking on a new unlicensed spectrum sharing business model that will help the likes of wireless internet service providers (WISPs), rural local exchange carriers (RLECs), and electric distributor co-ops build fixed wireless networks in rural America.

As organizations look for cost-effective ways to manage their IT operations, the hybrid cloud offers an attractive alternative to on-premise data centers.

U.S. agriculture is poised for serious challenges for the remainder of 2019.

Wireless operator margins are being pressured and cost management is under the microscope as the mobile market matures. As a result, the legacy tower business model with its annual escalators and amendment fees are becoming a problem for operators. 
Investments in U.S. fiber networks have become an area of focus for infrastructure funds looking to take advantage of the industry’s secular tailwinds and strategic buyers who want to diversify their business and/or gain operating leverage.

The U.S. economy is still performing well by most key measures. However, consumers, investors, companies and other market participants have become more wary about the near-term future with seemingly good reason.

Agriculture and its farmer cooperatives will face a challenging environment in 2019. Commodity markets have steadied, but resolution of ongoing trade disputes and completion of recently concluded trade negotiations will be critical to restoring optimism for the year ahead.
Many rural local exchange carriers, or LECs, face secular headwinds in their core business thanks to declining regulated revenues. These revenues have been under pressure for years given a variety of factors, particularly with the shift away from landline service in favor of wireless. 

FirstNet will enable rural wireless operators to evolve their business model with AT&T to a co-locate/backhaul structure versus just a roaming relationship, which opens the door to new long-term recurring revenue opportunities.

As rural telecom operators look for cost-effective ways to bridge the digital divide, 5G FWA has been identified as a potential solution. The issues deploying widespread fiber networks in rural markets are numerous and well documented, which has led to an estimated 25 million consumers without broadband access.