Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Spotlight on Idaho's Broadband, Wireless and Connectivity to Rural Areas!

Idaho recently got a lot of attention after the New York Times published an article about how it has the slowest broadband speeds in the country. I am sympathetic to the frustration of people who live in places where they do not have access to better broadband and are stuck with slow, overpriced satellite or overpriced, unreliable DSL service. I am also sympathetic to the gentleman from Potlatch highlighted in the article who said that his Internet service was taken out by bears that were rubbing against the towers up in the mountains! If it is dependent on towers, he is most likely using fixed wireless from a WISP. In fact, most places in Northern Idaho can ONLY get broadband from a WISP! Here is a map that is part of a WISPA project that highlights the census blocks in Idaho that can only get broadband from fixed terrestrial wireless providers:

51,646 households in Idaho can only get access from a WISP, that is 9.19% of the total households in the state.

This total area is 16,888 square miles and represents 20.41% of the total land area of the state.

Idaho has 6.79 households per square mile in the entire state, but only 3.06 households per square mile in the areas served by WISPs.

This data highlights the advantages of WISPs, and the massive failures of our current telecom policy and USF mechanism.

WISPs are able to survive and deliver broadband even in places that have very low population density. All of those purple sections in the map above would have NO broadband if not for WISPs. Which points out a massive failure of our current telecom policy and USF system. According to the USAC High Cost Disbursement Data Tool, Eligible Telecommunications Carriers in Idaho received $51,785,484 in subsidies. The Potlatch Telephone company that serves the Potlatch area received $208,053 in USF subsidies last year, equivalent to $21.92/month for each resident of Potlatch. Apparently, nearly $52 million dollars is not enough for the phone companies of Idaho to upgrade their infrastructure to deliver better broadband. Yet another example of why this system is doomed to waste money.

Compare this to a WISP that serves the area – First Step Internet – that offers a choice of broadband speeds starting at $35/month for 800k/128k and up to 4mb/1mb for $80/month. First Step has been in the ISP business since 1994 and is one of the few surviving independent ISPs that have been able to thrive and prosper in the wake of anti-competitive efforts from the telcos and rampant and unnecessary subsidization of obsolete infrastructure through USF.

Finally, I’d like to highlight another WISP success story in Idaho that I touched on earlier this month. Microserv Technologies, another Idaho WISP, recently passed the 10,000 subscriber mark. That growth has taken place organically, with no government subsidies, by providing a high level of service to their customers and urban quality broadband speeds at affordable prices.

The answer for Idaho is pretty clear: pull the plug on unnecessary subsidies and foster the development of WISP operators by clearing up more spectrum for independent fixed wireless broadband operators.

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