As many as 50 cable cos could become MVNOs on AT&T's network

Junior cable finally has an easy way to get into the wireless game. After months of negotiations with multiple wireless carriers, the National Content & Technology Cooperative (NCTC) signed a deal with AT&T to provide its members with a white-label MVNO service.

Formerly known as the National Cable Television Cooperative, NCTC counts nearly 700 small and independent broadband service providers among its members.

The deal itself isn’t necessarily a surprise. In January, Wave7 Research’s Jeff Moore told Fierce that NCTC was working with several of its members to secure MVNO deals. But NCTC CEO Lou Borrelli pointed out, it’s notable who the group signed the deal with.

“The fact that AT&T hasn’t done this with any of the other cable guys is something pretty significant,” he said. Cable giants Comcast and Charter Communications both have MVNO agreements with Verizon, while Altice USA has partnered with T-Mobile.

According to Borrelli, NCTC chose AT&T as its partner because it offered the best combination of coverage, performance and economics. He added the carrier also went the extra mile to understand the co-op’s needs, which he said isn’t necessarily easy given its members vary widely in size and geographic location.

Getting started

An initial batch of nearly 50 NCTC members are set to launch wireless service via the MVNO deal on June 1, Borrelli said. He added these were the companies NCTC worked with for validation and as a sounding board as it went through the negotiation process.

A secondary group of between 60 and 80 members have expressed interest in launching MVNOs, but Borrelli said it’s too early to tell whether they’ll follow through.

How it works

Under the terms of the deal, NCTC members will be able to tap into AT&T’s network to launch MVNO services. NCTC’s deal with the operator includes domestic roaming, to ensure coverage even in the most remote parts of the country. And in terms of prioritization, Borrelli said, “We’re high on the totem pole. We’re not the highest, but it’s at a retail price that’s competitive to market.”

NCTC members will have the option to customize their MVNOs with different rate plans, service provisioning, agent interfaces and more. But Borrelli said there will also be an “easy button” option, which he thinks will be especially appealing for smaller members.

To get started, NCTC members will let the organization know they’re ready via a web portal, which will require them to validate their membership and eligibility for the service. That will kick off an onboarding process, which will include representatives from NCTC, AT&T and the mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) Reach Next.

Those who choose the “easy button” option will be set up within a few weeks. Timelines for customized MVNOs will vary based on the degree of customization.

NCTC members will pay a flat onboarding fee. What they reap from customer rate plans will be split between the members, AT&T and Reach.

Members will be able to choose from a selection of pre-determined rate plans for their customers. Borrelli noted “all of our rate plans produce a positive margin for the operators” while also allowing members to be competitive in the market. But he added they also have the flexibility to price their own products if they so choose. They can also bundle wireless service with their broadband offerings to boost margins, he said.

Borrelli said he expects there to be a fair amount of bring-your-own-device customers. However, members will also have access to a supply of devices – and device repair services – from Quality One.