Jeff Johnston

Lead Economist, Digital Infrastructure

Jeff Johnson Lead Economist of Digital Infrastructure - CoBank Knowledge Exchange division

Jeff Johnston is lead digital infrastructure economist in CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange research division. He focuses on identifying emerging technologies, business models, risks and opportunities within the telecommunications 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. He has also held various senior management positions in the telecommunications industry. Mr. Johnston earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration, accounting and finance from York University and he is also a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst®) charterholder.

Recent Reports

All Day Digital podcast

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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.

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All Reports

As Inflation and Geopolitical Concerns Fade, Domestic Issues Come to the Fore

July 2024

The U.S. economy continues to perform reasonably well by most metrics, but the red-hot labor market of the last two years is finally cooling off.


The Rural Revolution is Coming as Generative AI Drives Hyperscale Data Centers

May 2024

Generative artificial intelligence has taken the data center market by storm and operators are scrambling to stand up new locations to meet its surging demand.

Sticky Inflation Puts Fed on the Horns of a Dilemma

Sticky Inflation Puts Fed on the Horns of a Dilemma

April 2024

As we pointed out in our Year Ahead report in December, expectations that the Fed would cut rates six or seven times were completely irrational.

Broadband Consolidation

Shifting Signals Create Uncertainty for Rural Broadband Consolidation

March 2024

The cable and wireless industries have consolidated over the last 20-30 years to create scale and gain access to valuable nationwide spectrum. Observers are watching to see if history will repeat itself in a similar tech provider industry: the rural broadband market.

The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the U.S. Rural Economy in 2024

The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the U.S. Rural Economy in 2024

December 2023

Despite multiple systemic shocks in recent years – COVID-19, trade conflict with China, the Russia-Ukraine war, surging inflation and interest rates – our economy has performed strongly.

Fiber Network

Open Access Networks Poised to Turn up the Heat in the U.S. Broadband Market

October 2023

National wireless operators and institutional investors are embracing open access fiber networks, a new broadband business model that could disrupt the market. Open access fiber networks consist of a fiber network owner who sells wholesale access to multiple Internet Service Providers.

“Higher for Longer” a Drag on Rural Economy

October 2023

The Fed’s relentless 20-month attack on inflation has pushed long-term interest rates to their highest levels in years.

Rural Broadband Operators Poised to Enter the MVNO Market

Rural Broadband Operators Poised to Enter the MVNO Market

September 2023

The latest communications bundle has gained traction with consumers and is forcing broadband and wireless operators to enter new markets. 


The Slowdown-Resistant Economy

July 2023

Despite predictions for a slowdown, the U.S. economy remains the envy of the world. Jobs are plentiful, asset values are near all-time highs, and consumers are spending


Slowdown in M&A Activity Does Little to Dent Private Valuations for US Communications Companies

June 2023

The feverish pace of M&A activity in the U.S. communications market has seen a considerable slowdown over the last 12 months.

U.S. economy

Adapting to a Slowing Economy

April 2023

Effects from higher interest rates are permeating rural industries

Communication towers

Opportunity Awaits in the Rural Wireless Tower Business

February 2023

Providing wireless coverage in rural America has not been a priority for the national wireless operators as the limited market opportunity didn’t justify the cost to provide “urban like” coverage in remote parts of the country.

General Field

Inflation is Beginning to Loosen its Grip

January 2023

The war in Ukraine and inflation will remain the two biggest factors for commodity
markets in the first half of 2023. 

2023 Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the U.S. Rural Economy in 2023

December 2022

The Russia-Ukraine war, surging inflation, and an energy crisis joined the COVID-19 pandemic this year as major events defining the operating environment for U.S. companies. We can expect to feel the aftershocks in 2023. 

Communication towers - fixed wireless

As Fixed Wireless Wreaks Havoc on Cable, are Smaller ISPs Next?

November 2022

The national wireless operators, most notably Verizon and T-Mobile, have been wreaking havoc on the internet business of cable companies. The wireless operators are looking for new growth opportunities and have set their sights on the home internet market. 


Niche for Now, Satellite Smartphones Could Answer the Call for Rural Connectivity

October 2022

Smartphones with satellite connectivity are generating quite the buzz in the wireless
market thanks to recent announcements from industry heavyweights including
Apple, T-Mobile, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Rural America

The Quarterly: Inflation Abundance, Commodity Shortage

October 2022

Despite ongoing impacts from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and lingering supply chain
effects from the pandemic, the U.S. economy remains incredibly resilient.

edge computing

Partnerships Are Key for Rural Telecom Operators in Burgeoning Edge Computing Market

October 2022

Edge computing is distributed information technology architecture where data is stored and/or processed at locations close to where the applications are being used.

5 Timely Trends Shaping Telecommunications into 2023

August 2022

Rural telecommunications are one of the most dynamic markets in the U.S. Here are five notable market-moving developments to watch. 


CoBank Quarterly: Clouds are Forming

July 2022

Fears of higher rates and weakening economic conditions
linger over the year’s second half.

communications farm broadband

How Co-ops Can Lead the Way for DIY On-Farm Broadband

May 2022

Although precision agriculture has been around for more than 25 years, the past decade has introduced advanced computing technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, connected devices, robotics, and automation.

Money - Communications broadband

Big Gap in Valuations Puts Private Companies in Broadband Catbird Seat

March 2022

There has always been a valuation gap between public cable and private communication operators that offer internet, cable and phone services. Public equities are exposed to the whims of the stock market which can have a significant impact on valuations

Self-driving electric vehicles

Self-Driving EVs Could Overwhelm the Data Center Market. Can the Industry Respond?

February 2022

As auto manufacturers pivot their business model away from internal combustion engine vehicles and towards electric vehicles, the stage is being set for millions of self-driving EVs to buzz through the streets. 

2022 Year Ahead

The Year Ahead: Forces That Will Shape the U.S. Rural Economy in 2022

December 2021

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is still in control of the economy.

Communication tower

Major Forces Will Shape the Communications Industry for Years to Come

November 2021

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

Rural America

The Quarterly: Adapting to Persistent Supply Disruptions

October 2021

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

Cell communications

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

August 2021

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

July 2021

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

Federal Funds, Satellite Rivals Could Expedite Rural 5G Plans

May 2021

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.

Rural America

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

April 2021

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.

Cable tv

Broadband Operators Well Positioned to Capitalize on Accelerated Connected TV Growth

March 2021

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

January 2021

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.

New Year Optimism Confronts the Pandemic

The Quarterly: New Year Optimism Confronts the Pandemic

January 2021

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.

Year Ahead 2021

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

December 2020

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.

Telecommunications tower

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

November 2020

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: The Fragile Recovery is About to be Tested

October 2020

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

Communications tower

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

September 2020

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.

Telecommunications cables

What the CBRS Spectrum Auction Results Mean for Rural Telecom

September 2020

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

Communication towers

New Networks and Spectrum to Fuel Tower Industry Growth

August 2020

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: Rural Industries Adapt to Coronavirus Reality

July 2020

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.

Rural communications tower

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

June 2020

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

LEO Satellite Broadband Expectations Need to Come Back to Earth

June 2020

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 communications towers

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

May 2020

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 cables

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

April 2020

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. 

Communications industry

COVID-19 Pushes Rural Internet Providers to Get Creative

April 2020

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

April 2020

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. 

Communications tower

COVID-19 Highlights the "Digital Disadvantage"

March 2020

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.

Communications industry

Sprint – T-Mobile Merger Takeaways

February 2020

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.

Rural communications

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

January 2020

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: Trade Resolutions Boost Optimism for a New Year

December 2019

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

The Year Ahead report cover

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

December 2019

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

Communications industry

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

November 2019

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

Cutting cable

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

October 2019

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: Trade Remains the Focus as Tariffs Take Toll on Agriculture

October 2019

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

Communications Tower

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

September 2019

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.

Communication cables

Recent Insights into Successful Broadband Partnerships

August 2019

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: Stalled Trade Talks, Record Rains Upend Agriculture

June 2019

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

Communications equipment

Equipment Ban Creates Static for Rural Telecom Operators

June 2019

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.

Communications wires

Spectrum Sharing Shows Promise for Broadband Access

May 2019

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

5G - Rural communications

Digital Clouds are Brewing over Rural America

April 2019

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: Agriculture Still Waiting For Relief

March 2019

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

Communication towers

US Wireless Tower Market Standing Tall Despite Headwinds

March 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. 

5G Value Proposition Remains Murky

February 2019

As wireless carriers work towards building their 5G networks, many of them have yet to finalize their commercial strategy and business case, according to a report from McKinsey & Company.

communications fiber

Fiber Valuations: Secular Tailwinds to Support Current Multiples

February 2019

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.

Executive Order to Ban Chinese Telecom Manufacturers

February 2019

The U.S. administration is reportedly close to issuing an executive order preventing U.S. companies from buying telecom equipment from Chinese manufacturers.

The Year Ahead report cover

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

January 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.