The $7.2 billion , which is to be signed by the president today, is controversial to say the least. This program has taken more ‘arrows’ than General Custer did at Little Big Horn. Criticism has included its alleged inadequacy to properly address the rural broadband challenge to allegations of inefficiency and outright incompetency of the government agencies tasked with managing it. It was even recently called the “.” If you listen long enough, you’d think this program is a complete waste of time. But don’t tell that to William Wallace, chairman of (DBC), a rural operator based in Ashburn, Virginia. “We think the broadband stimulus program is great for the country, great for the WiMAX ecosystem, and great for DigitalBridge Communications,” Wallace told us in a recent interview. “DBC is ready to hit the ground running with numerous shovel-ready projects across multiple states.”

DBC sounds motivated. According to Wallace, DBC has a proven model for deploying broadband in underserved rural territories, and the stimulus program is just what the doctor ordered. In addition to building out underserved communities, Wallace says they’re bringing jobs to the local communities they serve, including local home based customer service representatives. DBC also thinks WiMAX is the way to go. “If a significant amount of the broadband stimulus money went to WiMAX, we’d be able to get broadband out to more markets faster,” says Wallace. “We can deliver 5 Mbps now, and expect that to get better as the technology progresses.” Obviously DBC is somewhat biased given their business model is based on WiMAX, but their arguments have some validity.

The idea that this country ‘needs’ to get FTTH to every home in rural America is preposterous. That argument fails to recognize that many homes in rural areas (and urban for that matter) simply don’t need/want FTTH connectivity – not to mention the cost in getting it there. Outside a rural town’s core center, broadband wireless technologies like WiMAX and other 4G technologies should absolutely be part of the equation. Complementing a robust wireline broadband network with broadband wireless connectivity for the most rural part of a community makes good financial and operational sense. As Wallace points out, “… very few low density rural markets work for broadband unless you’re using technologies like WiMAX.” Wireless is the way to go in many instances, but unfortunately, one critical broadband wireless issue – poor spectrum policy – gets lost in the passionate arguments about rural broadband. Rural broadband wireless can’t happen in the many underserved territories where it makes sense because access to spectrum by operators interested in serving those same communities is limited. There are willing carriers, both incumbent wireline and wireless, who would gladly shoulder the rural broadband challenge if they had access to spectrum. All too often, that spectrum is held by entities either unwilling or unable to serve those territories. In fact, if regulators really wanted to positively impact rural broadband, reforming spectrum policy to encourage (or maybe even mandate) spectrum leasing and partnering could have a profound effect.

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Wallace believes DBC has the spectrum issue figured out as well. “Service providers and local communities should partner together to obtain spectrum. It’s a model that we’ve been quite successful with. Our Appomattox, Virginia market is a great example of a public-private partnership to obtain spectrum and bring broadband to an underserved community. We now have 30% penetration of that market and expect to go EBIDTA positive soon,” he said. Wallace believes this model could be replicated in many other underserved communities. With the May 2011 deadline for use looming, Wallace believes “… there is plenty of opportunity and room for service providers, both incumbent and new entrants, to partner for spectrum.” DBC’s efforts have secured spectrum for about 3 million pops, although they haven’t launched service in all those territories yet.

Regardless of all the debate and argument surrounding the broadband stimulus plan and rural broadband in general, DBC plans to move full speed ahead. “We view the stimulus plan as a very strong growth opportunity for DBC,” says Wallace. We agree. The stimulus plan is not perfect and it will not completely solve the rural broadband challenge. But rural service providers should ignore the cynics and view it as a growth opportunity – one that is there for the taking.

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8 thoughts on “Broadband Stimulus a Boon for Rural WiMAX?

  1. is 5 mbps broadband enough? i don’t think so. we should be pushing for more – the only true way to get ‘real’ broadband out there is some type of wireline broadband service. doesn’t have to be ftth, but dsl or cable modem is better.

  2. I certainly understand this argument. If we’re going to go for broadband everywhere we should push the envelope and get 20 Mbps + speeds (or more) out to everyone. I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise – I just think it’s unrealistic. In a perfect world – sure – we should do that. But right now, we’re in a very imperfect world. I say if we can get 5 Mbps to areas that absent this effort are stuck with dial-up, or maybe 768k, then why not. I fear we get bogged down in this debate about the need for greater speeds, and meanwhile, we’re missing the opportunity to at least get faster/better broadband going.

    Managing Editor, Telecompetitor

  3. By saying, “The idea that this country ‘needs’ to get FTTH to every home in rural America is preposterous,” you start sounding like those who poo-pooed the “need” to get electricity and telephone service to every last corner of our great nation.

    By buying into claims that WiMAX providers can deliver 5Mbps today without questioning what that means in terms of speeds customers will actually realize given the many variables that can impact wireless delivery, you start sounding like someone in the pocket of the wireless industry.

    While I agree with you that we sometimes get too caught up in discussions about bringing ultra-high-speed connections when many areas don’t have broadband of any sort (http://app-rising.com/2007/04/a_5mbps_nation.html), at the same time you’re falling victim to the idea that wireless vs. wireline should be an either/or proposition when ultimately we need both.

    Just as we can’t afford to focus only on the ideal of fiber when the good of wireless can do the job in the short-term, rural areas can’t afford us simply saying the problem’s too big to solve, shrugging our shoulders, and walking away.

    America is too great of a nation to not strive to be the best.

    Will it be hard, expensive, time-consuming, etc.? Yes!

    But will it be worth it, to empower our rural communities to be able to not just participate in the digital economy but compete with anywhere else in the world? I say “Yes!” again!!

    Fiber is to the 21st century as copper was to the 20th. We built the world’s greatest economy on our universal electric and telephone networks. If we want to maintain that leadership position then we need to find a way to bring the key infrastructure of the 21st century to every corner of our country as quickly as possible.

    Regardless of whether they’re rural, urban, or suburban: no community deserves to get left behind.

  4. Your points are well taken. Our ‘preposterous’ claim is simply a dose of reality in our view. The costs are simply too high for a country as vast as ours, if wireless can offer a viable alternative. I don’t think this post is “falling victim to the idea that wireless vs. wireline should be an either/or proposition” though. We firmly believe, as I think you do, that ubiquitous broadband should include both wireline and wireless. As stated in the post, “Complementing a robust wireline broadband network with broadband wireless connectivity for the most rural part of a community makes good financial and operational sense.” We’re big fans and advocates of FTTH – but we don’t necessarily believe it has to connect to every structure in the country. We’re also firm believers in 4G, and think it has a significant role to play in bringing ubiquitous broadband to everyone. Your absolutely right – no community deserves to get left behind.

    Managing Editor, Telecompetitor

  5. Industry figures for “homes passed” FTTH trend toward the $2,000 mark. The figure for WiMAX can be as low as $10. Even if the figure is $100, its a fraction of the cost of fiber. The Act, simply put, calls for bringing the most bandwidth to the most citizens for the least cost.

  6. …but if the goal is to bring next-generation, high-speed Internet to as many communities as possible in the next 2 years, wireless (and specifically WiMAX) is the way to go. WiMAX is ready NOW, it has a global interoperable standard, it can already deliver 3-5Mbps, and it’s projected to get to 11MB+ eventually. This is low cost/high speed access, definitely meeting the intent of the new bill, which is stated in the NTIA section as providing “broadband infrastructure deployment for the greatest population of users in the area … to increase the affordability of the service, provide greatest speed … enhance service for health care delivery, education, or children…”

    Fiber is just too expensive to be a universal solution right now, and LTE is light years away, especially in rural communities where broadband is needed NOW. WiMAX offers a chance for rural America to leapfrog urban America for a change.

  7. The WiMAX equipment puts out what the spectrum license allows. If changes were made to how the spectrum is allowed to be used, higher bandwidth can be the result.

    Right now there are fixed wireless applications which can do a minimum of 3 mbps, and can be software upgraded to 6 mbps or even 54 mbps. And this is capable of covering a 10 plus mile radius. This fixed wireless base equipment is also about 1/6 of the cost of WiMAX wireless base station equipment.

    The bottom line is that 10 mbps and higher speeds can be achieved whenever the FCC changes how specific license-free and semi-license-free spectrum is allowed to be used. For example, have you noticed how fast and what distance the 802.11 b/g got with your laptop and wireless router? Now look at what the 802.11n can do. Six times the bandwidth and range, all because the 2.4 ghz spectrum was allowed to be bundled differently. The same thing can be done with 802.11e, etc.

  8. Can you point to providers written statements or whitepapers that state these sub-$100 (per home passed or per subscriber connected or other measure?) figures for WiMAX deployment costs.

    I’d really like to see how they arrive at the numbers.

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