The City of Amarillo, Texas plans to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to build a fixed wireless network targeting low-income households. We talked to Rich Gagnon, the city’s managing director and chief information officer about the fixed wireless project and additional plans to bring service to additional areas of the Texas panhandle.
“We will lead with that technology; it doesn’t mean we won’t have to change moving down the road [or] where we can’t do line-of-sight,” said Gagnon.
A particular concern in Amarillo was the large number of refugees – 12,000 – who have settled in the city, many of whom do not have broadband available to them. The project aims to make service available to all schools in the Amarillo independent school district and to about 10,000 students.
The city already has piloted a fixed wireless network that uses an access point mounted on top of a seven-story police building. Coverage is at least three miles and speeds exceed 100 Mbps symmetrically, Gagnon said.
The technology is operating in the unlicensed 5 GHz band but can also operate in the 6 GHz band.
Gagnon hastened to add, though, that “the technology is the smallest piece” of what went into the project.
The city will own the network but plans to enlist one or more private companies to operate the network and act as the service provider.
Plans include offering service at no charge initially for households with students who qualify for the school lunch program. The free service is made possible by the Emergency Broadband Benefits program, which will transition into the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Low-income families will be able to sign up for the school lunch program and the broadband program simultaneously.
One of the challenges of the Amarillo fixed wireless project was that “we have to think about year six when the federal money goes away,” Gagnon observed.
By that time, the city hopes to get costs down to the point where service would cost only $20 to $25 monthly.
The broader Texas panhandle fixed wireless network would be owned by Texas Region 16, comprised of 55 communities. Gagnon is acting as a project lead on that project. Organizers have applied for up to $100 million in funding from the Texas Broadband Development Office for that project, which would add more than 80 towers and 70 repeaters to the Amarillo network.
A middle mile network already exists in the area, which will help minimize project costs.
“If we had to run fiber, we couldn’t do this,” said Gagnon.
The ARPA funding that will support the Amarillo project came from the state and local funds program created in the act.
The fixed wireless that the City of Amarillo is using is Airspan from Mimosa. Additional information about the city ARPA fixed wireless and panhandle projects can be found in this press release.