Push for Rural Broadband Intensified

Posted by Sam Churchill on

This week a crowd of several hundred people attended the first meeting at NTIA’s Washington headquarters on how two U.S. government agencies should spend about $7 billion to improve broadband deployment across the nation (pdf).

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps asked; “Where’s the policy for broadband? Where’s the action? Where’s the beef?”

The broadband deployment programs, part of a $787 billion economic stimulus package approved by Congress in mid-February (recovery.gov), are designed to bring broadband service to unserved and “underserved” areas of the country. But officials at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the crowd they are just beginning to work on details of much of the program, including a definition for “underserved.”

  • The NTIA was allocated $4.7 billion for broadband programs in the economic stimulus bill, and plans to give out three rounds of grants, with the first round coming between April and June. The NTIA is required to allocate all the money by September 2010.
  • The Rural Utilities Service, with about $2.5 billion to allocate, will also have three rounds of grants and possibly loans, with a funding notice coming out within 60 to 90 days, said David Villano, assistant administrator for telecommunications programs at USDA’s rural development program.

Still, the agencies need to hammer out the details of the funding programs, and along with the FCC, they will hold a series of public meetings this month to gather comments. Most of the meetings will be in Washington, but one will be in Las Vegas on March 17 and one will be in Flagstaff, Ariz., on March 18.

Companies are actively positioning their solutions.

  • AlphaStar, a hybrid satellite/terrestrial broadband wireless service, is promoting its system as a solution to rural broadband delivery. AlphaStar@Home does not go directly to your home via satellite, such as 2-way satellite providers Spaceway and Wild Blue. Instead, AlphaStar uses a hybrid delivery method with terrestrial wireless for last mile delivery.

    AlphaStar and Computers & Tele-Comm, (CTC) announced today a joint venture to provide very high speed WiMAX 4G services for any area anywhere across the entire USA using this hybrid approach.

    “President Obama approved over $7 billion to foster rural and accelerated urban broadband infrastructure,” according to CTC President, Graeme Gibson Gibson. “By partnering with AlphaStar, we can build complex projects in areas that nothing else can reach.

    Organizations and groups can download the CTC authored Rural Reference Model (pdf). This model will help operators in their planning and budgeting process as it supplies baseline references, technical capability, and integration with other systems, says the company. It reviews the costs and benefits of delivering the last mile by various flavors of WiFi and WiMAX.

  • TerreStar Networks expects to launch its 2 GHz mobile services satellite, TerreStar-1 on May 28th, 2009. It will combine satphone service with terrestrial broadband. TerreStar expects to be the first to offer a fully optimized 4G IP network over satellite. TerreStar-1, with an antenna almost sixty feet across, will be able to communicate with terrestrial base stations and standard wireless devices. TerreStar Networks expects to launch its 2 GHz mobile services satellite, TerreStar-1 on May 28th, 2009.
  • The ICO G1 satellite, a similar geosynchronous satellite, operated by Craig McCaw’s ICO, was launched from Cape Canaveral last year (on April 14, 2008). It was the largest commercial satellite ever launched. ICO Global Communications also plans to supplement satphone service with an ancillary terrestrial component. The land-based network (ATC), when combined with ICO satellite coverage, will provide ubiquitous national coverage to end users, says the company. ICO has been surprisingly low key in promoting the service.
  • Inmarsat released their 2008 results today — and the numbers are up. Total revenue for 2008 was $996.7 million, vrs $576.5 million in 2007, while EBITDA was $531.2 million vrs $388.1 million in 2007.

    Their new global I-4 spotbeam satellite network was successfully transferred to the latest Inmarsat-4 (I-4) F1 spacecraft on 24 February, 2009 and brings Inmarsat’s satellite repositioning programme to a successful conclusion.

    Chairman and CEO Andrew Sukawaty said, “In 2008 we saw sustained growth across all our market sectors and have delivered results well ahead of market expectations. Despite global economic uncertainty, Inmarsat Core trading results since the start of the year have been positive and we remain cautiously optimistic that we can deliver solid revenue growth in 2009.”

  • Alvarion also offers a complete line of RUS-accepted solutions with “Buy American” status using a range of unlicensed, semi-licensed and licensed frequencies. Alvarion says you can build your rural wireless network using 3.65, 5.3, 5.4, 5.8, 4.9, 2.3 or 2.5 GHz and qualify for funding by using RUS-accepted Alvarion solutions if you are currently working on projects to bring wireless broadband access to rural communities or have plans to develop such projects.
  • Proxim Wireless announced a new bundle of wireless broadband radios designed for broadband connectivity, in association with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, The German Konjunkturpaket, the Digital Britain plan and more). Proxim is bundling 20 of their new Tsunami 5012-CPE license-free WiMAX subscriber units, designed specifically for the global residential market. In addition, they announced today their Government Grant Resource Guide which provides an overview of the options that are available to help fund wireless broadband networks.

Craig Settles, an industry analyst who helps community organizations develop broadband solutions, argues for municipally owned wireless broadband, even though most of the city-run WiFi networks have been a failure.

The premise behind the anti-muni position is that it’s a bad idea for municipalities to own broadband networks, or partner with private sector companies in broadband projects because muni-wireless networks failed. This premise doesn’t reflect two key points.

First, muni wireless as a government policy took hold because of blatant failure and direct refusal of incumbents to provide adequate service in rural and urban communities that wanted them. This has not changed. Even as incumbents come to the table of broadband stimulus, their supporters keep trying to justify the position that it’s not profitable to bring service to many of these communities. Or if only one service exists, no matter how bad it is, then no money should go toward developing other options. Sock puppets keep preaching the word that free market dynamics will save un-served communities–some day.

Second, many muni-wireless projects failed not because they were bad ideas, but because they were driven by an incredibly bad business model: private sector companies would bear all the costs AND give away many of the access services for free. One of the more awesome aspects of the stimulus bill is that it pushes grantees to have a business plan for sustaining broadband projects that get funded. In other words, those drafting the bill saw the muni-wireless problems for what they were–a failure of adequate planning.

A Tech Policy Institute broadband report (pdf) argues the U.S. is doing okay. When normalized by population, the U.S. ranks behind 14 other countries in penetration per capita by the OECD’s count. Broadband is available nearly everywhere in the U.S., but not everyone subscribes. According to the NTIA, 92 percent of U.S. households could subscribe to cable broadband services by the end of 2007 and 79 percent of households that could receive telephone service could obtain DSL.

The FCC estimates that telcos had been overpaid by $970 million, or 23%, from the High-Cost Universal Service Fund. Telecommunications providers must contribute to the USF fund through an assessment on their interstate and international revenues. The High Cost USF program ensures that consumers in rural, insular, and high-cost areas have access to telecommunications services at rates that are affordable and reasonably comparable to those in urban areas.

Related DailyWireless Space and Satellite News includes; HughesNet’s Spaceway 3 Now Available, Hughes Launches Switchboard in the Sky, HughesNet & Broadband Corporation, Spot Beam Sats Multiply, Clearwire & SatTV Do a Deal, Sprint Beams Up with MSV, TerreStar: I-HSPA for Satphones, Satphones: Merger Ahead?, Inmarsat + SkyTerra = Spectrum Sharing, Mobile Satellite on the Move, TerreStar Gets a Slot, Satellite Repeaters – Grounded In Reality?, WildBlue Partners with DirecTV & Echostar, John Malone in Space, TerreStar Gets a Slot, BSkyB + Google, SkyNet Satellite Hacked?, Lockheed CEO: Space is Broken, MSS: AWS Alternative?, WildBlue: AT&T’s DeathStar?.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 7:43 am .

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