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WISP Executives Debate Whether Government Unfairly Favors Fiber Builds Over Wireless

Critic cites RDOF program as an example of bias toward fiber.

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WASHINGTON, April 11, 2022 – At a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event last month, the federal government faced criticism for allegedly favoring fiber builds over wireless projects in broadband expansion efforts.

The assertion was a topic of debate among panelists at the event, with Donny Smith, CEO of midwestern wireless internet service provider Fibersmith, disagreeing with the initial claim from Rory Conaway, CEO of Phoenix-based WISP Triad Wireless.

At Broadband Breakfast’s event held at the WISPAMERICA trade show, Conaway cited the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund as an example in which the government has favored fiber builds, saying the agency went forward with the builds even though wireless deployment would be more economical, and fiber would take years to deploy.

Smith on the other hand stated that government projects are generally “skewed against fiber.”

Broadband Breakfast’s event focused on the question of whether WISPs should overbuild their networks – where infrastructure is deployed where there is existing facilities.

Throughout the discussion, WISP executives hailed overbuilding as necessary to meet increasing connectivity demands of consumers.

They also highlighted some of the key challenges facing connectivity via fiber, such as building around vegetation, and the comparative utility of fixed wireless to overcome such issues.

Matt Larsen, CEO of Nebraska-based WISP Vistabeam, pointed out that even all of Google’s funding could not be harnessed to overcome right-of-way issues in some areas, and as a result the company shifted its focus to fixed wireless in urban areas.

The discussion ended with a warning from Jason Guzzo, general manager of New York state WISP Hudson Valley Wireless, cautioning that poor decision making from the government with regard to its funding allocation will only further the digital divide for those left unconnected once projects are completed.

Drew Clark, Jason Guzzo, Matt Larsen, Donny Smith and Rory Conaway

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event and REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Should Wireless Internet Service Providers Overbuild Themselves?

Live from WISPAmerica, Broadband Breakfast brings its Live Online program every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET on the road to New Orleans! In this special edition, Drew Clark of Broadband Breakfast will be interviewing WISPs about their take on the topic. What are the pros and the cons of seeking funding to build a fiber network on top of a wireless network? Should WISPs become fully invested in federal- and state-funded broadband expansion efforts? Learn more about the topic that has WISPs talking.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Jason Guzzo, General Manager, Hudson Valley Wireless
  • Matt Larsen, CEO, Vistabeam
  • Donny Smith, CEO of FiberSmith
  • Rory Conaway, CEO, Triad Wireless
  • Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Jason Guzzo is General Manager of Hudson Valley Wireless (https://www.hvwisp.com/). Hudson Valley Wireless currently operates New York’s largest Private LTE network covering over 3,500 sq miles passing over 120,000 homes, 8,500 businesses, and 450 anchor institutions. Jason currently serves on the Board of Directors at WISPA and focuses on various topics, including Broadband Access, Digital Equity, and Mission Critical Infrastructure.

Matt Larsen is the CEO of Vistabeam (http://www.vistabeam.com).   Vistabeam operates a fixed wireless and fiber broadband network covering 40,000 sq miles in Western Nebraska, Eastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado.   Matt is a founding member and past President of WISPA, serves on BITAG (http://www.bitag.org) and publishes the Wireless Cowboys blog (http://www.wirelesscowboys.com)

Donny Smith is the founder of The Fibersmith Company, a design and engineering company specializing in Fiber to the Premise (FTTP). He is a 20 year veteran in the FTTH arena working in design and construction of APON, BPON, GPON and lately various 10GPON networks.  He and his firm specialize in rural fiber network design and implementation.

Rory Conaway is CEO of Triad Wireless, a WISP operation in Arizona with infrastructure from the Grand Canyon to Arizona border. An engineer, he has been in the IT and Wireless Industries for the past 25 years as an author and consultant. He is also an industry consultant for  investors, manufacturers, and WISPs. In addition to writing articles in industry publications such as Mission Critical Magazine, he writes the series “Tales from the Towers” that can be found on www.muniwireless.com.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Reporter T.J. York received his degree in political science from the University of Southern California. He has experience working for elected officials and in campaign research. He is interested in the effects of politics in the tech sector.

WISP

WISPA Announces David Zumwalt as New CEO

Zumwalt’s tenure will begin on June 1.

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Photo of David Zumwalt used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2022 – In a press release Wednesday, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association announced that David Zumwalt will be the association’s president and CEO as of June 1, following selection by a search committee.

Zumwalt will be replacing Claude Aiken, who in February announced that he was stepping down from his position in April, moving to provider Nextlink Internet to serve as its chief strategy officer and chief legal officer.

Zumwalt has served as the CEO of Broadband VI, a major internet service provider in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was formerly the founder, chairman and CEO of CNet, Inc., a provider of radio-frequency engineering and operational support system software and services.

Zumwalt was recruited to Broadband VI to prepare the company for scale, and during his tenure helped guide the organization to a historic $84.5 million from the Federal Communications Commission Connect USVI fund as well as provided operations leadership last year through the organization’s acquisition by a unit of provider Liberty Latin America.

He also has experience leading policy, workforce investment, infrastructure and market outreach initiatives as the CEO and executive director of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation.

“David is simply the best person to guide our members to the tremendous opportunities at stake,” said Todd Harpest, WISPA’s chairman of the board.

Zumwalt praised the work WISPA has done upon his selection.

“WISPA’s active advocacy efforts extend the reach of members at the Federal level and within state and regional jurisdictions,” said Zumwalt.

“I am delighted to be joining WISPA and look forward to leading it as our membership, staff, and Board work to advance our Association’s mission.”

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Wireless Internet Service Providers Association CEO Claude Aiken to Step Down in April 2022

Aiken helped elevate the profile of the wireless association in Washington.

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Photo of WISPA CEO Claude Aiken speaking at WISPAPALOOZA 2019 by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2022 – The Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations on Wednesday announced the departure of CEO Claude Aiken. Aiken’s official last day at the association will be April 30, 2022.

Aiken, a former official in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner (and former acting chairwoman) Mignon Clyburn, worked to elevate the profile of the association in Washington. Prior to Aiken’s tenure, the association was led by volunteer executives or board members.

In his role as CEO since March 2018, Aiken helped bring WISPA into more of the broadband and telecommunications policy debates here.

Aiken was a frequent guest on Broadband Breakfast programs, including Broadband Breakfast Live Online in January 2022.

Infrastructure Money Must Go to Better Networks — Even If in Areas with Existing Infrastructure

“We are grateful for the four years in which he helped us grow and we wish Claude much success in the future,” said Todd Harpest, WISPA Chairman. “Claude has been a positive impact on WISPA and the thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs who are laser-focused on providing better connectivity across the world.  Although Claude has elected to not renew his contract with WISPA, he will remain at WISPA until the end of April 2022 and has made himself available even after that. For that, we are thankful. Thank you, Claude.”

Todd further added: “We hope to see many of you at WISPAmerica 2022 (March 14-17) in New Orleans. This will be a great time to thank Claude for his service.  Also, you will not want to miss the Broadband Billions Bootcamp on Monday (March 14), and learn about the newest industry advancements throughout the week.”

Claude indicated that he has been grateful for the opportunity and thanked WISPA and its members for placing trust in the association and in his leadership.

“The future, of WISPA and its members, is bright. It continually amazes me how much our members can accomplish, and this role has been one of the greatest joys of my professional career. Incredible volunteer leaders and dedicated staff have come together to accomplish things that I couldn’t have imagined possible when I first started in 2018,” said Aiken.

WISPA members continue to bring ingenuity and innovation to the communications industry. Said both Aiken and Harpest: “We are seeing members deploy fiber optic and hybrid fixed-wireless networks driving faster speeds and better service to homes and businesses. WISPA is a home for all technologies, enabling broadband operators to connect and bridge the digital divide in urban, rural, and remote communities.”

WISPA has organized a search committee for a CEO, with an outreach email for interested parties to SelectionCommittee@wispa.org.

WISPA is composed of about 1,000 members. These wireless internet service providers are part of what the association described as an evolving industry that supports fixed broadband connectivity, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components.

Aiken is also scheduled as a forthcoming guest on Broadband.Money’s “Ask Me Anything!” series on March 11, 2022. The event will take place immediately prior to the WISPAmerica show, Aiken’s last as CEO.

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WISPAPALOOZA Show Reopens in Las Vegas With Celebrations of Can-Do Broadband Connectivity

Many WISPs are no longer merely “wireless” internet service providers, but offer fiber-optics in a hybrid solution.

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Photo of a packed event center for breakfast at Bally's in Las Vegas as WISPAPALOOZA opened by Drew Clark

LAS VEGAS, October 12, 2021 –  The Wireless Industry Service Provider Association on Tuesday reopened its flagship trade show, WISPAPALOOZA, through Thursday at the Paris Hotel and Bally’s.

Not held since 2019 due to the pandemic, WISPAPALOOZA brings the community-based internet innovators ecosystem together at a single spot for education, trade show exhibits and ISP community engagement.

“This WISPAPALOOZA is a celebration on a number of levels,” said Claude Aiken, CEO of WISPA.  “Our community hasn’t gotten together at this scale for two years, and we’re just excited as heck to get back and see old friends.”

At Broadband Breakfast Live Online on October 6, 2021, Broadband Breakfast previewed the Wispapalooza trade show.

He also touted the WISP community for its service during pandemic. ”They kept people connected, safe and working.  And they did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Other analysts and attendees agreed. “Fixed wireless offers a much-needed substitute for addressing broadband need in underserved rural and suburban markets where other solutions are too cost-prohibitive or take too long to deploy,” said Mobile Experts principal analysis Kyung Mun. The consultancy predicts that globally, there are 80 million subscribers to fixed wireless (20% year-over-year growth) will take off to 200 million by 2026, or a compound annual growth rate of 70%.

WISPAPALOOZA is set to feature:

  • More than 90 panels filled with more than 200 internet access innovators, featuring updates on the state of technology, operational tips and practices, human resources, and the regulatory landscape, among others.
  • More than 160 exhibitors, demoing their best hardware, software, services and know-how.
  • A full 2,000 WISP industry attendees, enabling tons of networking opportunities.

WISPs are among the hardiest and those with the most can-do spirit in the communications industry. The group was loath to cancel their smaller trade show, WISPAmerica, in March 2020, and already held WISPAmerica earlier this year, in Grapevine, Texas.

In other words: Even the lingering spike of the Delta variant of COVID-19, which caused the National Association of Broadcasters and other groups to cancel their in-person shows, couldn’t keep WISP operators from gathering at this time.

Indeed, community-based access innovators have been integral to lifting the economy and helping Americans connect during the pandemic, delivering internet access to those in the farthest and toughest reaches of America.

Other wireless industry trends include hybrid networks, government funds

WISPAPALOOZA is also a celebration of the continual evolution of ISP technology and business models, too.

Over the course of two years, the landscape has changed significantly.  Many WISPs now have licensed spectrum, via the Citizens Broadband Radio Service auction completed last year.

Perhaps most significantly, many WISPs are no longer just “WISPs,” meaning that they are actively making use of fiber-optic technologies in their deployments.

While fixed wireless access has been the industry’s predominate delivery technology, today the majority of WISPs now employ other transmission modes, such as fiber to the home and business.  As an example, he cited the work on Nextlink: “They have proven the case that fixed-wireless and hybrid networks deliver” when fiber and wireless are harnessed together.

An additional significant change among the rank-and-file WISPA members: More and more WISPs are competing for and using public funding to grow their networks, while also reducing the digital divide.

“Our community-based providers use an all-the-above toolbox so all Americans get competitive, innovative and affordable internet access in their communities,” said Aiken.  He said that the exhibition floor will showcase WISPs ““resilience and continued evolution of an industry that’s future-proofing solutions for their customers and marketplace.”

WISPA is composed of about 1,000 members and provide broadband access to more than 4 million residential and business customers in the United States, often in exclusively rural areas.

Nextlink Internet voted “Operator of the Year” by colleagues, others recognized

Meanwhile, the Hudson Oaks, Texas, based Nextlink Internet, an internet service provider focused on rural communities across the central United States, announced that it has been named “Operator of the Year” by its colleagues in the ISP industry.

The company was recognized today at WISPAPALOOZA.

“Our team has been putting forth tremendous effort in expanding our service areas in 12 states across the country,” said Nextlink CEO Bill Baker. “We are also proud to be leading the way for our industry in terms of successful engagement in the Federal Communications Commission’s programs and in many public-private partnerships.”

WISPA also announced additional awards:

“Manufacturer of the Year” – Cambium Networks: “We are honored to be recognized as Manufacturer of the Year by WISPA network operators,” said Atul Bhatnagar, CEO. “Cambium Networks collaborates with WISPs to deliver customer-focused innovations in hardware, software and services to provide excellent quality of experience.”

“Product of the Year” – RF Elements: “Our third consecutive year winning the WISPA Product of the Year Award sends a very clear message about how game-changing our RF elements products really are,” said Juraj Taptic, Co-Founder and CEO.

“Service of the Year” – Aterlo Preseem: “We are humbled and honored to have been selected to receive this award for the third year running,” said Gerrit Nagelhout, CEO. “We are proud to serve the thriving WISP community by developing products that make their lives easier and help them grow.”

“Distributor of the Year” – ISP Supplies: “We celebrate the hard work of our employees and the close partnerships we enjoy with our customers,” said Steve Discher, Founder and CEO.

“Triumph Award” – All WISPs: “Never has robust and reliable connectivity been more essential than now,” noted Aiken of WISPA. “The industry’s selfless work during the pandemic with the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, and ensuring their networks were always up and running no matter the strain, for all.  Congrats, All WISPs, for your tremendous public service, unflagging spirit, and get it done attitude!”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:46 p.m. ET to reflect additional awards, besides those of Nextlink Internet.

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