NRTC and DigitalBridge Communications (DBC) announced a partnership agreement for rural WiMAX services, where NRTC will distribute DBC WiMAX solutions to its 1,400+ rural utility members. William Wallace, Chairman of DBC tells Telecompetitor,”Partnering with NRTC will bring the benefits of 4G wireless broadband to rural communities quicker than many urban markets will see it.” This agreement follows a long legacy of distribution agreements for NRTC, including DirecTV, WildBlue Satellite Internet, and the since discontinued IP Prime IPTV service. NRTC’s members include rural electric and telecom service providers. DBC provides WiMAX services to a variety of cities and small towns in Idaho, Indiana, and Montana among others. NRTC also made a ‘strategic’ investment in DBC as a part of an additional DBC equity financing round which also included investments from Paladin Capital Group, RedShift Ventures, CNF Investments, and Novak Biddle Venture Partners.

Under the terms of the agreement, NRTC members will be able to wholesale DBC’s ‘packaged’ rural WiMAX solution, while managing sales and marketing, billing, and customer relationships. DBC will provide technical and operational management in partnership with the NRTC member wholesale distributors. “We now cover 600K pops with rural WiMAX, and we’ve learned a lot, including efficient operational experience and cash flow positive financial models,” says Wallace. “WiMAX can also provide a solution for electric cooperative members who are implementing smart grid technologies that rely on enhanced communications capabilities,” said NRTC CEO Bob Philips in an NRTC press release.

The timing of this agreement is no coincidence. DBC and NRTC intend to work closely with NRTC members to aggressively pursue broadband stimulus monies to fund these rural WiMAX networks. “A number of NRTC members have already expressed interest,” Wallace says. He expects significant activity with the broadband stimulus program as a result of this agreement.

The two did an “extensive” analysis of both NRTC members with wireless spectrum and DBC spectrum holdings to determine if an alignment made sense for WiMAX. “NRTC member spectrum holdings match well with either our current spectrum holdings, or spectrum we have in the pipeline,” Wallace says.

This partnership will be interesting to watch. On the surface, it appears to have the potential to bring WiMAX to a significant number of rural markets. But of course, as is the case with all partnerships, we’ll have to wait and see how it transpires. We’ll be watching.

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