Bernie Moreno Claims Blockland Conference Convinced AT&T to Bring 5G to Cleveland – Cleveland Scene

6 minutes, 44 seconds Read
Bernie Moreno  
Gage Skidmore/FlickrCC” class=”uk-display-block uk-position-relative uk-visible-toggle”> click to enlarge Bernie Moreno - Gage Skidmore/FlickrCC

Bernie Moreno

In December of 2018, Cleveland hosted the first of two conferences aimed at promoting blockchain technology and establishing itself as a destination for blockchain companies. The idea’s biggest booster was Bernie Moreno, who is now the Republican nominee in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race. And Moreno’s plans didn’t stop at the Blockland conference. He launched his own company using blockchain to manage vehicle titles and dreamed of redeveloping the downtown Tower City Center into City Block — a mixed-use space hosting tech companies and startups.

But three years later, the effort was dead. Moreno, in his first U.S. Senate bid, stepped away from Blockland because he didn’t want the community “tarnished by the divisiveness and vitriol that permeates our current political environment.” Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert announced new plans for Tower City, making no mention of City Block.

According to Moreno, though, it wasn’t a total loss. In 2019, he claimed the Blockland initiative prompted AT&T to bring 5G service to Cleveland.

“AT&T is looking at putting 5G in Cleveland,” he told Smart Business Dealmakers Cleveland that April. “That probably wouldn’t have happened without the Blockland effort and the people who were involved.”

In a Cuyahoga County finance and budgeting committee meeting a few months later, Moreno said, “AT&T has made the decision to roll out 5G in Cleveland — first in Ohio, and probably first fully implemented city in America, if they go on their timeline.”

The record, however, tells a different story. One in which Blockland was less a draw for AT&T than a new platform to lobby for infrastructure improvements the company was already planning. The episode demonstrates how Moreno interacts with major corporate interests and burnishes his own reputation in the process.

AT&T’s plans

AT&T’s earliest announcements about 5G networks come from 2016. In December, the company announced the deployment of a 5G network at Intel’s offices in Austin. Put simply, 5G is just the latest technological standard for mobile devices, following 3G and 4G and eventually to be overtaken by 6G. Its broader rollout was inevitable, and AT&T moved rapidly.

In April of 2017, before the standards were even finalized, the company began touting what it called “5G evolution” in parts of Austin, TX. The service was essentially a juiced up 4G connection, that the company routinely described as laying the foundation for 5G. AT&T projected it would roll out the technology in 20 metro areas by the end of 2017.

The following year, AT&T announced plans to introduce true 5G services in a dozen cities, and in April touted the expansion of 5G evolution to more than 100 new markets, including Columbus. The announcement projected they’d bring 5G evolution to 500 markets, Cleveland among them, by the end of the year. That’s more than six months before the first Blockland conference, and while AT&T’s 5G evolution service isn’t a true 5G connection, Ohio’s big cities were part of the company’s planning.

And at the outset of 2019 — just weeks after Blockland — the company was already looking past cities and predicting it would have “a nationwide mobile 5G footprint” by early 2020. The press release bragged “we took what was typically an 18-month cycle from the time standards were finalized to launching and whittled it down to 6 months.”

State & local lobbying

While AT&T was rushing headlong toward 5G coverage nationally, it was also lobbying leaders in the Ohio Statehouse and in Cleveland City Hall. Those efforts began years before Blockland and were aimed at laying the groundwork for 5G around the state.

Late in 2016, the company secured passage of legislation capping how much municipalities could charge telecom companies for installing “small cell” wireless infrastructure. In a press release, AT&T Ohio president Adam Grzybicki described how that legislation would encourage millions worth of investments in wireless infrastructure. “This investment will also help pave the path to 5G mobile services in the years ahead.”

But those provisions caught a ride on a bill cracking down on puppy mills and prohibiting cities from establishing their own minimum wage. In all, 80 cities, including Cleveland, sued the state over the caps on wireless development, and courts struck down the measure in 2017 because it violated the single subject rule.

A year later, lawmakers passed a new measure crafted in consultation with local leaders and AT&T. Again, proponents like Verizon invoked the looming introduction of 5G in committee testimony. Then-Gov. John Kasich signed the bill and it took effect in August of 2018.

Later the same month, Grzybicki wrote to then-mayor of Cleveland Frank Jackson to complain about the slow permitting process for AT&T’s deployment efforts.

“AT&T has been working with the (Cleveland) law department and other contacts within the mayor’s office for more than a year to secure a small cell attachment agreement,” he wrote, adding “As you know, small cell technology is crucial to bringing 5G to cities like Cleveland.”

In contrast, Grzybicki praised Columbus’ diligent efforts to secure a small cell agreement and promised to share information about the deal “in the event you find it helpful.”

Moreno’s inaugural Blockland conference was held that December, roughly three months later.

When Grzybicki wrote Mayor Jackson the following February, still frustrated with the slow pace of permitting, he invoked Blockland. But in his telling the conference was less a magnet for AT&T than a warning for the mayor.

“There was robust discussion surrounding the importance of 5G in securing any momentum for blockchain development,” he wrote. “The blockchain community clearly heard the call to action and is eager to see these technologies deployed.”

That “robust discussion” came in part from AT&T itself. When Moreno spoke before Cuyahoga County’s finance and budgeting committee he shared a “fireside chat” from Blockland featuring John Donovan, then-CEO of AT&T Communications, and Beth Mooney, the chairwoman and CEO of KeyCorp and a member of AT&T’s board of directors.

Moreno’s response

Nevertheless, Moreno still insists Blockland played a major role in convincing AT&T to bring 5G to Cleveland.

“Bernie is proud to have helped spearhead the Blockland initiative in Cleveland, in an effort to bring blockchain and other leading-edge technology to Cleveland,” campaign spokeswoman Reagan McCarthy said in a statement. “These efforts by the Blockland team, all volunteers, undoubtedly helped AT&T decide to bring 5G to Cleveland, which was a huge win for the city. He gave up his time and resources as a private citizen.”

AT&T’s declined to comment for this story as did a person who led one of the Blockland conference’s subgroups, referred to as ‘nodes’. Grzybicki did not respond to an email requesting comment. Additionally, Moreno’s campaign recommended a person involved with the conference and AT&T, but that person didn’t respond to attempts to reach them by text and phone.

In a swipe at Moreno’s Democratic opponent this November, McCarthy added, “By contrast, (U.S. Sen.) Sherrod Brown has done nothing to help NE Ohio attract cutting edge companies.”

Sen. Brown, of course, has taken a share of the credit for landing the Intel fab currently being built in Licking County. Brown, his former U.S. Senate colleague Rob Portman, and virtually every official in Ohio have argued that facility’s impact will be felt statewide.

In Northeast Ohio specifically, Brown’s campaign noted he’s lobbied for federal investment in Akron’s sustainable polymers efforts to benefit the rubber industry and he’s pushed the Biden administration to protect steelworkers by blocking the sale of U.S. Steel and combatting unfair trade practices. Brown also supported and voted for the CHIPS Act of 2022, which included historic funding for domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.

This post was originally published on the 3rd party mentioned in the title ofthis site

Similar Posts