Wireless tower

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) has sent a letter to the governors of all 50 states asking them to ignore a prohibition against using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) broadband funding for fixed wireless deployments.

“This approach will result in slower deployment of much-needed services, arbitrarily constraining the market to use the most expensive and time-consuming option to connect Americans who need broadband today, not years from now,” wrote WISPA President and CEO Claude Aiken in the letter.

The prohibition is included in the interim rules issued by the U.S. Treasury for $350 billion in ARPA funding directed to state and local governments. Those rules call for broadband funding to be directed to wired technologies.

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Considering that Treasury traditionally hasn’t been involved in broadband, it is possible that the drafters of the interim rules simply meant to exclude funding from being used toward mobile, but not fixed wireless, service. The rules also call for service to support speeds of at least 100 Mbps except where that speed is “impractical because of topography, geography or cost.”

Aiken urged the governors to take a “technology-neutral approach to deploying advanced communication infrastructure for your constituents.”

WISPA members, he said, “utilize a variety of technologies based on the needs of the communities they service, taking a variety of factors into account including cost, deployment time, terrain and population density. Simply put, [they] utilize the best technology for the job.”

As Telecompetitor previously reported, the interim rules for ARPA state and local broadband funding also could make areas served by fixed wireless internet service providers (WISPs) vulnerable to overbuilding by competitors – even if the WISPs offer relatively high-speed service.

The guidelines suggest that funding target areas lacking “wired” broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. In other words, a wired broadband provider theoretically could receive funding to overbuild an area where a WISP already provides 25/3 Mbps or even 100 Mbps service.

Here, too, Treasury may simply have intended to make areas eligible for funding even if a mobile provider serves the area.

The interim rules, Aiken said in the WISPA ARPA letter to governors, “if followed by the letter, could inadvertently hurt rural small businesses and negatively impact rural consumers.”

Capital Projects Fund Guidelines

More recently, Treasury issued guidance for the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, a $10 billion program that was also included in the ARPA. That funding also will go to states, as well as to tribal and territorial governments, and can be used for broadband.

The Treasury guidance for that program is somewhat less problematic for WISPs.

According to the guidance, funding can be used for service that “reliably meets of exceeds symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 Mbps” unless “impracticable because of geography, topography or excessive cost.” There is no requirement to use wired service.

However, overbuilds could still be an issue, as those seeking funding are “encouraged to prioritize projects that are designed to provide service to households and businesses not currently served by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 100 Mbps of download speed and 20 Mbps of upload speed.”

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