‘The Big Crunch’ Theory

The merging worlds of broadcast and telecom

By Jan Wondra

In the world of science, it would be called the “big crunch,” the moment when all things come back together again into one infinitesimal moment—the reversal of the “big bang,” in which the metric expansion of space eventually reverses and the universe re-collapses.

In the rapidly changing universe of broadcast and telecom, what were once individual business industries called telecom, radio, television and video are coming together into singular entities that combine purposes, merge technologies and completely redefine what the words broadcast and telecom used to mean.

Metro Denver lies at the heart of the big crunch, with two of the nation’s largest satellite providers and a concentration of digital providers offering expanded broadband and increased network speeds. It also counts a workforce of more than 18,100, one of the largest industry clusters in Colorado, with a growth rate over the past five years of more than 10 percent.

Change is occurring almost too rapidly to track. Thousands of these new entities are forming across the country and more than 380 broadcast-telecom entities have found a home in Colorado, most of them on the Front Range in the Denver south area.

Here’s the thing. Just as in the big crunch that might be coming for our own universe, the merging of previously separate technologies of voice, data and streaming video are creating a plethora of entirely new entities that combine technologies in ways that are allowing us not only to do many things at once, but to shift time, share content, delete content we don’t want to see or hear, talk only to those we want to, and create our own programming.

Riding your bike while deciding to download a movie to your mobile device? You can do that. Watch a program and decide to pause it, watch something else and return, skipping the ads? You can do that.

There’s another term for what is happening at breathtaking speeds. Science calls it “singularity,” the point at which a civilization changes so much that its rules and technologies are incomprehensible to previous generations. Think of it as a historical point of no return. We’re getting close. While millennials program, share, shift and post at breakneck speeds, baby boomers are sometimes still struggling to program their dinosaur VCRs.

The watchwords of the industry are speed, reliability, coverage, and performance.

Denver has a unique place in this new world because in the early 1980s it became the capital of the cable industry, setting the stage for decades to follow. This industry includes landlines and wireless telephone communications companies, radio and television services, and cable and Internet service providers and custom applications. Increasingly, governments and local communities are relying on digital technologies to enhance service and safety—everything from Reverse-911-like notices to digital monitoring to clear traffic after a concert.

Wireless access has exploded with AT&T alone investing just under $550 million in wireless and wired networks throughout the state. It also acquired DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite-TV service provider. Verizon Wireless has rolled out mobile broadband and is continuing to improve its 4G network. Sprint launched its LTE network in 2014 in Denver with speeds that make it a contender for wireless customers.

Wireless activity, while it might be superseding landlines, is not totally replacing them. CenturyLink has greatly expanded its Internet television service into Douglas County and is now offering speeds of one gigabyte per second in the metro area. This allows users to stream high-definition video and download songs up to 100 times faster than the national average.

Not to be outdone, Comcast and Liberty Media, based in the Corridor, launched a WiFi roaming partnership in 2015 that lets users access each others’ WiFi networks without using their wireless data plans. And to add a bit of Hollywood, Dish Network signed an agreement with the Walt Disney Company that lets customers access all Disney sports, news and entertainment on their Internet devices rather than home televisions.

The expansion of broadcast and telecom in Denver south is not limited to programming. Greenwood Village-based ViaWest, which was purchased by the Canadian company Shaw Communications, located its new Greenfield Data Center near Centennial Airport in 2014 with plans to invest more than $300 million over the next few years.  In 2015 Charter Communications located its new research and development center in Douglas County, housing more than 200 technical staff. Also in Douglas County, TW Telecom was purchased by Broomfield-based Level 3 Communications, which had demurred from locating in the Denver south area decades ago because it feared there wasn’t enough affordable housing.  The move dramatically increased its fiber-optic network capacity.

Of the 380 metro Denver companies in the category, 63.4 percent are located in Arapahoe County with 32.8 percent in Douglas County. More than half of them are cable and other pay-television services, and slightly more than 30 percent are telephone communications entities.

There is room in the category for startup players, not just industry giants. In fact, some 67 percent of the region’s broadcast and telecom companies employ fewer than 10 people. Only 3.7 percent have workforces of more than 250. The category is a draw for a highly educated, highly skilled workforce, the largest share of them between 25 and 54 years old.

Those jobs range from customer-service representatives to software developers, computer-network architects, electronics engineers and network administrators earning an average annual salary of $97,700, significantly higher than the national average for the category. In 2013, the latest year for which payroll numbers are available, total payroll in the category topped $4.1 billion.

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