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Wireless Internet Service Providers Facing Challenges Meeting BEAD Program Requirements: Experts

Hurdles WISPs face include defining reliable service, regulatory burdens, and financial requirements, experts say.

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Carol Mattey, principal at Mattey Consulting LLC, via Twitter.

LAS VEGAS, October 4, 2022 – Several requirements for providers receiving funds from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program present significant difficulties for wireless internet service providers, said experts at the WISPAPALOOZA conference on Monday.

The BEAD program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will allot $42.5 billion dollars to the states to promote broadband access. States will in turn issue awards from their allotted funds to “subgrantees” – such as wireless internet service providers – for broadband deployment and other projects.

“The biggest concern is the way that NTIA has defined ‘reliable broadband service’ to exclude locations that are served exclusively with unlicensed spectrum,” Stephen Coran, attorney in the broadband and communications practice group at Lerman Senter, told Broadband Breakfast Monday. “There’s nine million people who are getting broadband service that way. Many of them can’t get it any other way and the service is reliable.”

Areas covered solely by unlicensed spectrum are considered unserved by the NTIA. Carol Mattey, principal at Mattey Consulting LLC, told Broadband Breakfast Monday that although WISPs who operate such networks can apply for BEAD funding to alter their networks to meet the NTIA’s definition of “reliable broadband,” navigating BEAD’s complex regulatory framework will be difficult for many small providers.

“Most small providers don’t have the in-house staff or expertise to manage regulatory compliance,” she explained. “They’re…in the business of building networks. They don’t have people [who are] regulatory compliance experts.”

Mattey said small networks will have to adapt to overcome BEAD’s regulatory barriers. “They either have to acquire [regulatory-compliance] resources of share resources with others,” she said.

Possible financial hurdles

States or subgrantees must provide matching funds of at least 25 percent of each project’s cost. In addition, the NTIA’s notice of funding opportunity requires subgrantees to provide a letter of credit from a bank, totaling no less than 25 percent of the subgrantee’s award from the state.

Subgrantees receiving BEAD funding must also comply with Build America, Buy America provisions, which require construction material produced domestically make up at least 55 percent of total project cost – even if foreign sourcing would be cheaper. The NTIA is moving to waive some of these requirements for recipients of the NTIA’s $1-billion Middle Mile grant program.

Many subgrantees must also comply with the Davis-Bacon Act, which empowers the Department of Labor to set wage thresholds for contractors working on federally funded projects.

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WISP

Wireless Internet Service Providers to Connect More Fiber Points as Bandwidth Consumption Increases

‘The only way to get that density is to get fiber out there. That allows you to get more subs with your wireless.’

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Photo of Jay Anderson, chief technology officer of FiberLight

LAS VEGAS, October 6, 2022 – By employing more fiber points, wireless internet service providers can improve network performance and innovation, industry players at the WISPAPALOOZA conference told Broadband Breakfast.

Jay Anderson, chief technology officer of FiberLight, which has built fiber networks in several states, including Texas, Florida, and Virginia, told this publication as wireless internet service providers get more subscribers online, the existing connections to the fiber backbone can get congested without more densification of fiber points.

“The only way to get that density is to get fiber out there, and that allows you to get more subs with your wireless,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he expects WISPs to adopt a “hybrid architecture” moving forward. FiberLight’s Texan WISP partners have grown “leaps and bounds,” he said. “They’re using our infrastructure…to get that capacity out there…our job is to get as much of it out there, [at as high a] bandwidth as possible,” he added.

Mike Rowell, senior vice president of operations for Hilliary Communications, related some of his own professional experience with fiber to Broadband Breakfast. Hilliary provides internet, telephone, and television service across Texas and Oklahoma.

“We can see fiber helping us out tremendously in some areas getting us to a wireless access point,” Rowell said, explaining that a single fiber deployment can replace a less-reliable, multi-device connection to a hard-to-serve area. He said this strategy enabled his company to offer higher internet speeds and reach new customers. 

Rowell has worked in telecommunications for four decades. He said he has seen once-prohibitive costs for fiber-installation machinery plummet, which makes fiber a far more viable option than it previously was.

“Fiber – from just…two years ago – was totally different than today,” he said. “You can [now] have fiber splicers that can do a really, really nice job for under $3,000.”

Rowell also emphasized the importance of foresight and innovative business planning. “We never thought we’d be selling one-gig, and here we are selling it,” he said. “It’s going to be the same thing: We don’t think we’re going to be selling 10-gig, but we’re going to.”

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Wisper Internet CEO Takes Issue With Federal Government Preference for Fiber

Wisper CEO Nathan Stooke said the attitude to connect more Americans should be to let the “best technology win.”

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September 13, 2022 – The CEO of a wireless internet service provider took a shot at the federal government’s preference for fiber infrastructure, saying the attitude to connect more Americans should be to let the “best technology win.”

Officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce agency that is handling $42.5 billion for broadband infrastructure, have said that they prefer fiber builds because of their claimed ability to stand the test of time.

But Nathan Stooke of Wisper Internet said during an Ask Me Anything-style interview with Broadband.Money on August 26 that the government shouldn’t “dictate the technology.”

“What is their goal?” Stooke asked in an exchange with Drew Clark, Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher. “I mean they keep saying it’s to get people who don’t have service, service. We have to bridge the digital divide by forcing it to be fiber. You’ve now shrunk down the number of people you can serve right because it’s just the reality of it.

“I think there should be some fiber projects there. I’m never advocating for ‘don’t exclude anything.’”

A similar sentiment was expressed last month during a panel at the TPI Aspen Conference, in which representatives from private industry, trade associations and academia urged the government to give alternative technologies – like fixed-wireless and satellite – a chance to show their potential. That came after the Federal Communications Commission denied SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband service nearly $900 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund because it is still a developing technology.

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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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