WISPs fighting to be seen as 'future proof'
With Washington, DC, gearing up to spend billions on broadband, the debate amongst stakeholders rages on about where that money should go and what types of technologies it should cover.
While fiber has become synonymous with the phrase "future-proof," Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA, said today that fixed wireless providers fit the description as well, and it's imperative to get policymakers to see it that way.
Aiken spoke before a real, live, in-person audience of 900-plus attendees at the WISPAMERICA 2021 Conference in Grapevine, Texas (as well as to a virtual audience). He engaged in conversation with Matt Larsen, CEO of Vistabeam, an ISP providing service in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, and member of WISPA, who also urged fixed wireless providers to fight the perspective that fiber is the only way forward.
"I love fiber, we have 40-something miles worth of it that we've put in ... but we're in a situation here where, a lot of places, there's still a lot of people out there that don't have decent enough service. And the huge push is that it needs to be fiber or nothing," said Larsen.
"We've already got a shortage of supply because of factories that haven't been able to run, and of electronics because we've got chip shortages, and we're going to have a huge labor shortage too," he said. "Putting government resources towards building nothing but fiber networks is going to do nothing but drive up the cost of deploying fiber. So we have to fight against that perspective, and show that fixed wireless is still going to be a good alternative."
That fight is where WISPA comes in. Indeed, Larsen shared a story about being told by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development that the state was not deploying fixed wireless with its CARES Act funding, of which it allocated $40 million for broadband.
"I managed to shut my mouth down before I got into really big trouble. But as soon as the call was over, I called Claude [Aiken] and told him," said Larsen. "And about three hours later I got a call from somebody at the Nebraska Department of Economic Development who said, 'we misspoke, fixed wireless will be included in this.'"
As a result, Vistabeam was able to finish its fixed wireless project before the end of 2020, essentially speeding up its existing three-year plan for broadband in Nebraska.
"I think we've already got like 300 or 400 people on that network," said Larsen.
Pursuing the 'path to gigabit'
One way WISPA is advocating for fixed-wireless-friendly policies is through its own Path to Gigabit proposal. Released in March, it calls for a series of reforms, including localized spectrum policy, subsidy programs for existing providers in hard-to-reach communities, changes to infrastructure policy to allow for small innovators to compete, and programs to promote digital adoption and inclusion.
While there's much more advocacy ahead on Capitol Hill for WISPA to successfully pitch fixed wireless as an equally future-proof alternative to fiber, Aiken still urged the audience to start preparing for the influx of funds coming their way.
"You think we've seen a lot of money flow into broadband over the course of the past couple of years... Get ready for multiples of that amount," said Aiken. "I say that not to scare folks but to say, let's get prepared."
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
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