For decades, large telcos have gone where they can find profit, building massive infrastructure and funds to connect America with high speed broadband. In densely populated urban centers this is a great way to improve quality of life by granting access to better employment, education, and entertainment.
But what happens when there isn’t a profit? When the residents are too poor or too spread out, telcos like AT&T and Verizon opt out, leaving millions of Americans with inferior connectivity, or none at all.
In cases like this, it’s up to communities of private wireless service providers to face the incredible challenge of connecting these underserved populations.
Fortunately, North America is home to some of the greatest innovators in a generation.
This is the wireless frontier.
About 40% of rural America does not have access to broadband, high speed internet. The FCC defines this category at 25mbps, which in practical terms is enough to open email, load web pages, and stream a video on more than one device.
Considering that many small towns are getting 0.61Mbps (too slow to fully load a web page or email), the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots can be the difference between a prospering city, one that offers jobs and a quality education, and a ghost town.
The country understands the need for functional internet, which is why the Connect America Fund (CAF) offers billions of dollars to companies willing to try to close these gaps and strengthen connections. Despite these grants, most telcos steer clear of sparsely populated, difficult terrain, like Garrett County, Maryland.
It’s up to the local government to partner with WISPs to find a solution.
Rural America: Garrett County, Maryland
In 2016, less than 60% of Garrett County’s population had broadband due to low population density and a brutal terrain of hills and trees. High speed internet was their economic development office’s number 1 priority, hands down, because there could be no prosperity without decent internet.
The county made the goal of 90% broadband coverage.
This was no easy task, so the WISPs had to get creative. The answer came from underused television bands. The FCC’s recent approval for channel bonding allowed local ISPs to push the project forward, broadcasting wireless across these antiquated TV bands. Since the channels stopped being used when TV went digital, there was no competition and the coverage was enough to get the project off the ground.
It’s given Garrett County a chance to reach new heights of connectivity.
Using these bands, along with old towers and fiber cables, Garrett county was able to link 150 new homes and businesses in 2016. Now residents are paying less than they would for satellite internet and getting faster, more reliable service.
While there are still many homes without access, the project is bringing the county together, as the local government supports the WISPs who are helping bring this area back on the map.
Rural America: Coschocton, Ohio
For this county’s 4000 completely unconnected members, the plan to build fiber infrastructure was far too expensive, but their IT department (naturally) came up with a ‘unique’ solution.
Local WISPs had the technology to provide wireless, but they couldn’t possibly pay to put up the towers. So the county looked to the skyline, to see if they could use what they already had.
State-owned radio and 911 towers were a great place to start, but Coshocton knew they were on to something big. It was much easier to get the green light for water towers, grain silos, and even high school radio stations.
Six years after this initiative, 16 towers were raised atop various landmarks, and WISPs worked together with the state to connect the county’s rural residents.
Each tower was different, each property a new struggle. Unsurprisingly, between 20 and 30 households accepted the offer of free internet, so long as a small tower could be built on their property. In some cases the residents offered to pay; these people just want to be able to help their friends and neighbors stay connected.
Partnerships and Community
The pairing between an internet-starved rural community and an enterprising WISP is an amazing way to get real profit and bring prosperity back to the towns you care about. Better education, more employment opportunities, and quality education can change a community’s future. Big telco can’t say who deserves internet and who doesn’t.
For WISPs on this frontier, it’s important to have reliable, affordable products that can provide quality connectivity and speed. Fortunately BLiNQ Networks has the FW-300i: the compact solution for WISPs trying to close the gaps and make a real difference in their communities, without breaking their budgets.