Incoming CCA CEO reflects on organization's future

Given ongoing consolidation throughout the wireless industry, the future of various associations often comes into question.

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) has been a staunch advocate in Washington, D.C., for rural and regional carriers for many years. The organization’s roots are in the rural areas, but it’s also expanded to include bigger members, like T-Mobile.

T-Mobile announced its membership in the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) in 2012; the organization changed its name to the Competitive Carriers Association later that same year. But now, T-Mobile is the No. 2 wireless carrier in the nation.

How does that jibe with the organization’s identity and representation of smaller operators?

As the CCA’s annual convention was wrapping up Thursday, Tim Donovan, currently SVP of legislative affairs at CCA and incoming president and CEO, reflected on where the organization has come from and where it’s headed.

He noted that T-Mobile grew into becoming the second largest carrier while it was a member of CCA, and it has a lot of interests that are similar to the smaller carriers.

“There’s a lot of things that the smaller carriers and T-Mobile agree on” when it comes to the need for a competitive market, he said. “T-Mobile also, unlike Verizon and AT&T, which are descendants of the Bell telephone system, is a wireless-first company, and that’s in line with where we are and what we’re working on.”

CCA doesn’t disclose how many members are in its ranks but it has more carrier members than any other carrier association, according to Lucy Hodas, SVP of media and communications and incoming COO.

One unique thing about CCA is it’s one carrier, one vote, so no matter how large a carrier is, they get the same vote as a smaller carrier, she said.

Up-and-coming wireless player Dish, which is building a greenfield, cloud-based network from scratch, is another CCA member and it’s been one since before the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. Like T-Mobile, it also had a presence at this week’s show.

Shared interest in 2.5 GHz

But the question – one that could be posed for untold number of years – about the organization’s future still revolves around the continued consolidation of many of its members.

“There has been consolidation,” Donovan acknowledged. “But there’s still a lot of strong, independent small carriers.”

He pointed to the FCC’s recent 2.5 GHz auction as a sign of their viability. Yes, T-Mobile was the largest bidder in that auction, but “there was another 25 CCA members that won over 700 licenses,” he said. The Auction 108 offered county-based licenses and most of them were in rural areas.

For those operators in smaller markets who aren’t looking to go nationwide, the chance to get licenses filling in “white spaces” in various parts of the country was a big win, according to Donovan. Plus, it’s spectrum that’s already supported in existing infrastructure and handsets and for the most part, it’s clear, so license winners can use it right away.

“What’s the future of smaller carriers? You’re not spending money on auctions for new spectrum if you’re not planning to continue to provide service and to expand that service,” he said.  

With 5G coming online and with carriers of all sizes investing in it, “that’s a sign that you’re in it for the next generation of wireless technology.”

It takes about 10 years for each “G” to evolve, and the investment here in 5G proves they plan to be in it for the long haul, he said.

Needless to say, the organization’s next conventions are already booked.

The spring Mobile Carriers Show will be May 2-4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and next year’s annual convention will be October 17-19 in Atlanta. After that, the 2024 spring show travels to Palm Springs, California, and the fall convention will be September 9-11 in Amelia Island, Florida.