The Future of Broadband in Underserved Areas

At a recent panel convened by the Wireless Future Project at New America, Ellen Satterwhite, of the American Library Association, noted that 40 percent of libraries cannot meet the minimum speed requirements set by the Federal Communications Commission (100Mbs for small libraries and 1Gbs for large ones) because of high costs or lack of access. We need only look at Idaho to get a glimpse of this absurd pricing: One library there pays $1000 per month for 5Mb service, while another pays $650 per month for 40Mb service.

So how can we ramp up connectivity in these areas? One potential solution that has shown promise is fixed wireless internet. This, in a nutshell, involves beaming internet access from a broadcasting tower directly into people’s homes via a small receiver on their roof. These sorts of point to multi-point (P2MP) fixed wireless services are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in Middle America, in part because of the relative ease of deployment and the ability to provide gigabit-level speeds. You might be wondering, then, how we can encourage fixed wireless. At the panel, advocates and industry leaders discussed the possible benefits of expanding, or sharing, wireless spectrum access in the 3.7-4.2GHz band to wireless internet service providers, or WISPs. This would be a boon to rural WISPs like Jeff Kohler’s Rise Broadband. Kohler noted that companies like Rise are starting to “feel the squeeze” on the spectrum they’re currently allowed to operate on. He also noted that the cost per customer is considerably less as well, often being roughly $250 for someone using fixed wireless, where the average rural fiber consumer could be upwards of $1,000. In fact, the overall cost of deploying “wireless fiber” for his company was roughly one-tenth of the price of standard fiber.


The Future of Broadband in Underserved Areas