Jeff Johnston

Lead Economist, Communications

Jeff Johnson Lead Economist of Communications - CoBank Knowledge Exchange division

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.

Recent Reports


All Day Digital

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All Day Digital is a CoBank Knowledge Exchange audio program. We connect with communications executives and thought leaders to get their perspective on what’s shaping the industry.

All Day Digital


All Reports

Major Forces Will Shape the Communications Industry for Years to Come

The communications industry is expected to evolve significantly over the next several years as our work and lives grow increasingly digitized.

The Quarterly: Adapting to Persistent Supply Disruptions

Businesses of all sizes and across most industries are wrestling with perhaps the worst supply chain bottlenecks to date

Is Now the Time for Smaller Cable Operators to Enter the Wireless Market?

New advancements in wireless technologies and the flood of newly available spectrum are enabling national wireless operators to enter the home broadband market with a fixed wireless access solution.

The Quarterly: A Long Tail—Pandemic After-Effects are Just Beginning

The long-awaited period of pent-up, exuberant demand is here. And for all the benefits to businesses and consumers, bumps are unavoidable – labor shortages, price inflation, supply chain disruptions, and uncertainty about what a new steady-state economy will look like. They loom large, even as we celebrate a return to normalcy.

Federal Funds, Satellite Rivals Could Expedite Rural 5G Plans

The current state of 5G, when rural America can expect true high-speed 5G, and the opportunities that exist for rural operators as 5G is deployed.

The Quarterly: We’re Not Going Back to Pre-COVID Conditions

Anticipation of a return to normal is in the air. But for the economy and rural industries, there will be no going back to pre-COVID conditions.

Broadband Operators Well Positioned to Capitalize on Accelerated Connected TV Growth

With millions of bored consumers waiting out the pandemic at home this past year, 2020 was a tipping point for connected TV on-demand video streaming services, which drove an acceleration in cable cord cutting.

RDOF Broadband Results Raise Concerns About Execution, Financial Risk

The FCC’s recently-released results for the first round of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund left many questioning how the commission decided to allocate the funds.

The Quarterly: New Year Optimism Confronts the Pandemic

2021 has quickly altered the political and market landscape. And optimism, particularly about the second half of the year, is rising. But to get there, all of us must muddle through for a few months more.

The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the US Rural Economy in 2021

The speed of the economic recovery will largely hinge on the availability, dissemination and reach of COVID-19 vaccines, pushing the expected burst of pent-up consumer demand into the latter half of 2021, according to a comprehensive year-ahead outlook report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division.

Funding Uncertainties Wreak Havoc for Rural Communications at the Worst Time Possible

As the U.S. and China continue to battle over trade, technology, and intellectual property rights, those living in rural America are getting caught in the middle.

The Quarterly, October 2020: The Fragile Recovery is About to be Tested

The coronavirus pandemic has now impacted all four quarters of 2020, and seemingly every aspect of life and business. 

Rural Broadband Valuations Remain High as Investors Move Down Market for New Opportunities

The abrupt shift in 2020 to working from home and remote learning has significantly increased high-speed data subscriptions, representing a new catalyst for the broadband market.

What the CBRS Spectrum Auction Results Mean for Rural Telecom

The FCC recently concluded its CBRS spectrum auction and as expected, there was a wide range of winning bidders.

New Networks and Spectrum to Fuel Tower Industry Growth

T-Mobile’s efforts to expand rural coverage should be a tailwind for rural tower operators as it’s likely the company will use existing towers in remote parts of the country rather than building its own.

The Quarterly, July 2020: Rural Industries Adapt to Coronavirus Reality

Over the past four months, every rural industry has grappled with how to adjust its business to remain relevant and sustainable in the pandemic. Agricultural supply chains have been massively disrupted and lost revenue. Water and power suppliers have adapted as commercial and industrial customers went dark and demand shifted to residential customers. And the communications industry is seizing a moment when home broadband access has become vividly essential, to help expand access to everyone, everywhere.

As CBRS Auction Shapes Broadband Landscape Should Rural Operators Make a Bid?

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

LEO Satellite Broadband Expectations Need to Come Back to Earth

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.

Rural Telecom Operators Take on Risks for Their Communities, But for How Long?

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.

Network Sharing Could Be a Creative Way to Bridge the Digital Divide

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. 

COVID-19 Pushes Rural Internet Providers to Get Creative

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.

The Quarterly, April 2020: Keeping Us Connected, Our Lights On, and Our Pantries Full

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. 

COVID-19 Highlights the "Digital Disadvantage"

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.

Sprint – T-Mobile Merger Takeaways

The verdict is in and a federal judge has cleared the way for Sprint and T-Mobile to merge. There are three main takeaways for rural America.

Deal or No Deal: How the Sprint – T-Mobile Saga Will Impact Rural America

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. 

Quarterly US Rural Economic Review, December 2019: Trade Resolutions Boost Optimism for a New Year

The fourth quarter is ending with much more optimism on trade and the economy compared to how it began. 

The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the US Rural Economy in 2020

The U.S. rural economy will continue to face headwinds in 2020 and is expected to underperform relative to the economy of urban America. 

Flush with Cash and Ready to Buy, Investors Take Aim at Fiber-Rich Operators

Mergers & acquisition activity in the telecom market has driven an explosion in cloud computing, consumers’ insatiable demand for data, and new technologies.

Pay-TV Operators: To Cut or Not to Cut?

Consumer adoption of over-the-top video streaming services, coupled with rising programming costs, have created significant headwinds for traditional pay-TV operators.

Quarterly US Rural Economic Review, October 2019: Trade Remains the Focus as Tariffs Take Toll on Agriculture

Uncertainty over trade policy, weather and African Swine Fever dominated agricultural markets last quarter.

5G: What Does One More G Mean to You?

Hype is reaching fever pitch for 5G (fifth-generation cellular wireless service), which has been touted as a quantum leap for wireless internet speed. However, operators’ go-to-market strategies are unclear.

Recent Insights into Successful Broadband Partnerships

Broadband partnerships between Rural Local Exchange Carriers (RLEC) and Electric Distribution Cooperatives (EDs) are uncommon, but when done right, can benefit all involved.

Quarterly US Rural Economic Review, June 2019: Stalled Trade Talks, Record Rains Upend Agriculture

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

Equipment Ban Creates Static for Rural Telecom Operators

Rural operators will be the ones hurt the most by the executive order, which will likely soon ban U.S. telecom operators from buying Huawei-made telecom equipment.

Spectrum Sharing Shows Promise for Broadband Access

Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, has introduced a new spectrum sharing business model that will improve broadband coverage in rural America.

Digital Clouds are Brewing over 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.

Quarterly US Rural Economic Review, March 2019: Agriculture Still Waiting For Relief

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

US Wireless Tower Market Standing Tall Despite Headwinds

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. 

Diversification: The How and Why for Rural Telco Operators

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. 

Fiber Valuations: Secular Tailwinds to Support Current Multiples

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 Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the US Rural Economy in 2019

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. 

Quarterly US Rural Economic Review, December 2018: Agriculture Limps into 2019

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.

FirstNet Brings New Opportunities for Rural Operators

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.

5G Fixed Wireless: Is It Really a Solution to Help Bridge the Digital Divide?

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.