NEWS: High-speed Internet in rural areas becoming a reality

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By Andy Brack, editor and publisher  |  Business people and residents in poor, rural South Carolina have been dreaming for years of accessing the same kind of high-speed Internet service commonly found in urban areas.  Now, it’s starting to become a reality.

AT&T announced this week that it is offering its new “fixed wireless” Internet service in more than 70,000 locations across nine Southern states from Louisiana to the Carolinas.  Announcements on when the service will be available at specific locations in the Palmetto State are forthcoming, a spokesman said.

Jim Stritzinger is executive director of Connect South Carolina, a group leading the state’s effort to increase high-speed Internet access adoption and use.  He is excited by AT&T’s news, which he says is a major step ahead in getting rural areas up-to-speed.

“Taking 10 years [to do this] is not an option,” Stritzinger said.  “I feel a major sense of urgency, especially looking at this through the eyes of a 6-year-old and thinking about what it looks like to grow up in a house with no Internet service.  Your economic opportunities in the future are dramatically different than a child in a digitally-connected household.”

Speeding high-speed access

Building high-speed Internet service delivery systems typically is time-consuming and costly because companies rely on fiber-optic cable to “wire” an area to receive Internet service.  Rural areas are a challenge because they have fewer people per square mile, large distances and slower paybacks for investments.  That’s why they’ve suffered from lack of modern broadband service that some leaders say is as important as a good road system or schools to ensure economic vitality.

The Obama Administration made connecting rural areas to the high-speed grid a priority through the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund, which subsidizes telecommunications companies to invest in technology to get broadband service to underserved areas more quickly.

In South Carolina, four companies agreed to focus on getting high-speed access to underserved areas and will get FCC money to move it along.

Stritzinger

“The fixed wireless technology has just evolved exponentially,” Stritzinger said.  “It is, of course, very efficient to get it installed.

“From a speed-to-market perspective, it’s an extraordinary development, especially to a child in a rural market when the alternative is digging trenches and installing fiber optic, which could take years.”

AT&T, which has been boldly increasing reliance on wireless technology in recent years, agreed to service 30,458 locations in South Carolina for an annual subsidy of $9.7 million.

“We’re committed to connect hard-to-reach locations to the Internet,” said AT&T Vice President Cheryl Choy.  “This changes lives and creates economic growth in these areas.  We’re excited to bring this service to even more underserved locations.”

How it works

AT&T’s fixed wireless solution is a blend of wired and wireless technologies.  It will install fiber optic cable to get high-speed Internet service to central area, such as a cell tower.  It then will use an antenna to transmit a wireless signal – kind of like satellite television – to the area.

Individual users will have to install a fixed antenna, which reportedly is the size of a pizza box, to consume the high-speed signal – and be able to bounce it back to the tower.  The wireless solution allows the company to deploy more quickly than is traditional, AT&T says.

  • To learn more and check availability, click here.

Deployment by 2020

In the nine Southern states, AT&T plans to serve more than 400,000 locations by the end of this year and more than 1.1 million by the end of 2020, which indicates that its South Carolina service commitment may be met in three years.

Three other companies also are involved in the build-out of high-speed internet in underserved areas, as illustrated in the map below:

  • CenturyLink will get $2.9 million a year in subsidies to offer service to 8,551 locations.
  • Frontier will get $2.7 million in subsidies annually for service offerings in 7,205 locations
  • Windstream will get just under $1 million for 3,144 locations.

CenturyLink’s Linda M. Johnson of Washington, D.C., said the company is using a combination of fiber and copper wired solutions to meet its commitment to the FCC.

“We continue to investigate other deployment methods and technologies, including fixed wireless, that would allow us to provide faster speeds in hard-to-serve areas,” she told Statehouse Report.  “We look at areas individually and select technologies based on a variety of considerations, including regional characteristics.”

“We understand the importance of broadband connectivity and have invested heavily in South Carolina for many years. CenturyLink is bringing high-speed Internet services to more than 8,000 rural households and businesses in South Carolina over six years through the FCC’s CAF II program.”

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One Comment

  1. David Sweatt says:

    I owned a rural fixed wireless company in Rural North Carolina serving areas that the big companies would not serve. The costs of delivering the service was something the big companies would not absorb. We delivered high speed internet in several DownEast counties
    of North Carolina.There were no subsidies of any kind to a small company doing what the big companies are now being paid to do.

    At the time the big companies were, and still are, receiving federal subsidies for regular phone service in rural areas. So we competed against the big companies who were subsidized for the regular phone service with its so called “dial up” slower internet service.

    I talked with the folks at the FCC in Washington, D.C. about this discrepancy: subsidizing the old technology to compete against the new. They said they had never thought about it that way. But there was no consideration that they would do so.

    Now, surprise: the big companies receive subsidies for both the older rural phone service and the “new” technology for high speed internet in the rural areas. But it is not really new. What is new? The subsidy for the big companies.

    The little companies like mine just lost money, private money and gave up. Most did not make it.

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