NetAmeriaPeoples Telephone Cooperative, a wireless and wireline service provider in rural eastern Texas, has begun offering fixed LTE service, making the company the first participant in the NetAmerica Alliance to turn up service.

“Some people are getting six to 10 Mbps, which is fantastic for rural America” said Steven Steele, assistant general manager of Peoples Telephone Cooperative, in an interview. “Within a few miles of the antenna they can get up to four Mbps.”

NetAmerica first attracted public attention just under a year ago when organizers announced plans to coordinate the efforts of rural spectrum holders in building out LTE.

Since then the organization has conducted trials in unnamed markets and announced a partnership with Ericsson, which is supplying equipment to NetAmerica participants and assisting with implementation plans.

By joining NetAmerica rural carriers gain buying power, said Roger Hutton, CEO of NetAmerica Alliance. Members, he said, can buy individual Ericsson Node B equipment at the same price that large carriers pay for orders of 2,000.

At last count NetAmerica had announced four members. But Hutton expects to see that number grow substantially. “We’re engaged with over 100 license holders,” he said, adding that the organization’s emphasis over the past six months has been on getting operations ready to handle a larger volume of participants, all involved in network construction.

An important milestone was last month’s opening of a network operations center and data center to support NetAmerica participants. Members will share common operating costs, including costs of developing new IP-based services that they will bring to the market, Hutton said.

Steele said he was glad to have NetAmerica behind him through the LTE network deployment process. “We had a bit of a struggle cutting in service,” said Steele. But with expertise provided by NetAmerica, he said the company was able to address any problems.

Peoples Telephone had about 200 customers on WiMax service but wanted to convert them to LTE because LTE seemed to have a stronger future, Steele said. As of now, the WiMax network is shut down and people who were using that service are now on the LTE network. Peoples has not yet promoted the LTE offering but customers have learned about it through word of mouth and the company is now adding about five new accounts every day.

Customers will be able to choose from three service tiers priced between $40 and $100 a month. Eventually Peoples Telephone anticipates offering mobile service, Steele said.
Hutton said the ultimate vision for NetAmerica is for all members to offer the same prices and services nationwide, but details of those offerings are still being formulated.

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