The former CEO of DigitalBridge Communications, Kelley Dunne, made a statement regarding rural broadband wireless at a conference a while ago which evidently still rings true today. He said, “We’ve never been more popular,” commenting on how the broadband stimulus program (and its $7.2 billion funding prize) created a lot of interest and buzz around his company and rural 4G efforts in general.
That interest continues today and may be accelerating. It seems the interests of rural America and its lack of mobile broadband coverage is becoming a rallying cry for many companies. AT&T and T-Mobile cite it often and promise that, should their merger be approved, they’ll be front and center to address it. To say there is skepticism for this claim, may be the understatement of the decade.
Verizon is launching their own initiative, the LTE in Rural America program, which partners with rural carriers and plans to lease them 700 MHz spectrum for rural LTE coverage. They have signed up ten partners so far. That program has its skeptics as well, but in my opinion, it’s too early to draw conclusions either way.
The latest to join this rural 4G love fest is LightSquared, the wholesale 4G LTE operator, who is busily raising funds and fighting off critics to get their operation off the ground. They announced their Empower Rural America Initiative yesterday, which has several goals.
“There is an overwhelming need for reliable wireless broadband for public safety, education, healthcare and economic development in rural America. We can have a robust, accurate GPS network and also create a substantial new resource for rural America in the form of a wireless network that reaches areas that still don’t have broadband access,” said former Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who is a co-leader of this effort, and no stranger to rural telecom.
So where will all this new found interest in rural 4G take us? Cynics will argue that these high profile and deep pocketed companies are simply using the rural 4G issue to further their own interests or gain policy favors. Optimists may say the rural industry should embrace these overtures and leverage them to hopefully achieve the goal of getting true 4G coverage in rural America.
I probably fall somewhere in the middle. Past history supports a cynical view, but all too often cynicism can lead to missed opportunity. Where do you fall?