The WISP Manifesto

Brian Webster made the following statements in an email thread about WISPs and the government last week:

“Think about it as a politician for a moment:

Do you make spectrum available for free to give to a bunch of rag tag independent operators who don’t like to file their government compliance reports,


Do you listen to the lobbyist who represents the cellular, telephone, cable and entertainment industries, who will contribute to their re-election campaign in dollar amounts we could only dream of?”

Well, this got me thinking about how WISPs can make a difference.

I think that Brian is mostly right, but this implies that we are accepting the framing of the issues as the telcos and politicians want them to be framed.   That there is no way that we can win a toe-to-toe slugging match for spectrum, but this is not about a full on, frontal attack.    This is guerilla warfare, and the game is played by a completely different set of rules.

Think of it from the wisp operator’s point of view….

1)         We’ve been given essentially no spectrum (the junk bands that we use were around long before WISPs were),

2)        We get no government subsidies, despite the existence of stimulus and rural development programs for broadband deployment, which actually….

3)        Pours billions of taxpayer dollars into our competition, the same competition that has either delivered low grade broadband or none at all.

4)        The USF program allows telcos to impose additional “taxes” on their services to go into a giant government enabled slush fund that goes right back into their systems.

5)        RUS only lends to ILECs and will not work with multiple entities in an area

6)        We are asked to turn over highly detailed information about our subscriber bases, tower sites and anchor tenants as part of the broadband mapping programs – information that is a FOIA request away from being public knowledge!

In many (most) ways, we have little incentive to cooperate with the government.   The scale is tilted so far that there is little we can do that will make much of a measurable impact.   As an upstanding citizen, and WISPA member, I file my Form477, and I’ve been working with my state broadband mapping group, and I have supported our FCC lobbying efforts.  But I am very frustrated at the lack of substantial progress in our federal and state governments – and I’m ready to look at a different approach.

One of the primary reasons for mapping out our coverage areas and compiling better demographics on our industry is because no one has done it right and no one outside of our industry seems to care – including the government.   So it is up to us to get it together and deliver it to the public and our potential allies out there.    We should be leading with our hearts and our deeds, because we have been doing the tough work of improving broadband conditions in the US with little or no help and a wide array of forces working against us.

We should start thinking of ourselves in slightly different terms.   In the past, industries like ours have started out with many small companies that are eventually swallowed up by consolidation into a small number of big players.  This has happened over and over again with telephone companies, cell carriers, cable and dialup ISPs.   I thought it was going to happen with this industry as well, but at this point I don’t think it will happen very soon.   Especially with Clearwire on the verge of collapse and capital being tied up in the New York casino.   In many ways, WISPs work like the Internet, described by one of the blogs (Global Guerillas – I like to follow:

“Work like the Internet?  Here’s what we mean:  companies that are highly decentralized, open and egalitarian.  This is in contrast to traditional corporate hierarchies that are secretive, centralized, and totalitarian.  What’s the benefit of this organizational style?  We believe these organizations would be much more productive, responsive/agile, innovative, rewarding, socially beneficial, and competitive than all other forms of organization for many business tasks.”

WISPs might be a herd of cats, but we are agile, innovative, competitive and socially beneficial cats.   Someone at the Broadband Expo show said that WISPA was probably the most egalitarian trade organization he had ever come across, and I took that as a compliment.   With these things in mind, I think that we should ponder some slightly different tactics, and think of some out of the box ways to deal with the government – and more importantly the public.   With that in mind, I present to you:


1)         We should NEVER ask the government for stimulus or any other kind of money.   We should be actively lobbying for the government to STOP subsidizing telecom/broadband because it supports untenable business models while wasting taxpayer money.   300 million American taxpayers approve this message.

2)        Along those lines, we should advocate the complete disbanding of the USF program.   It funds our competition and we are never going to get access to it in any usable fashion anyway

3)        We should come up with our own numbers on our industry by surveying our members, compiling as much publicly available information as is available on the net about WISPs that aren’t members and working with distributors to help put together meaningful numbers about our industry.   And we should broadcast our numbers as loudly and widely as possible

4)        We should position ourselves as the solution to Net Neutrality.   Net Neutrality is about regulating ISP behavior in a monopolistic market.   It wouldn’t be needed if customers had a choice of competitive providers.   If WISPs can provide an alternative for a user who doesn’t like cable or telco usage policies, there is less need for legislation to impose conditions on all ISPs.

5)        We should push the envelope on innovative uses of spectrum.   Back in the 80s, Nextel bought fleet dispatch spectrum rights, and used that spectrum to deploy cellular for a fraction of the cost of buying regular cellular spectrum.   They were definitely pushing the envelope – and skirted around several legal obstacles to create something out of nothing.   I would imagine that WISPs could come up with some very innovative uses for Clearwire’s spectrum after it goes under.   Or many of the other pieces of spectrum that are now sitting fallow.

Finally, and most importantly, we need to give ourselves an image makeover.   I have been participating in this industry for 12 years now.   I have had a chance to travel all over the country and meet hundreds of WISPs.   The weaker ones have been sorted out.   The snake oil salesmen have moved on to some other group of suckers.   The people that are left in this business are making a big difference for a lot of people who would otherwise be out of luck.   How many soldiers in Iraq are able to Skype with their loved ones over a WISP connection?   How many small towns are now able to retain businesses and residents because a WISP is delivering broadband?   How many businesses have been able to escape the telecom billing fraud machine in favor of a WISP?   How many jobs have we created in our areas?   How much money have we been able to put back into our local communities?

We have been working long hours, maxing out our credit cards, climbing towers on frozen winter days, crawling around on rooftops in the blazing summer sun, sacrificing time we could be spending at the lake or beach or with our families to fix a network problem, driving for hours to reboot a radio then turn around again to drive in the other direction to reboot another one, sitting on hold for hours waiting for some moron at the telephone company to fix the T1 connection that THEY messed up in the first place, telling customers that the “No Signal” message on their monitor doesn’t mean their Internet doesn’t work – it means they need to turn their computer on!, starting our own trade association from scratch and pouring hundreds of hours of volunteer time into it, and all because we want to be able to do good things for our community and hopefully make a living from our labors.   We need to let the world know what our employees, customers and communities know….

WISPS are a bunch of f***king HEROES!

The revolution starts here.


2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Todd,

    Your thoughts on being open and decentralized are in line with a book I just read:
    Wikinomics by Don Tapscott
    It flies in the face of conventional business practices that business open their networks and data to outsiders but IMO in 10 years we will look back in horror or laughter about how business kept such tight control of business data.

  2. Rich,

    Well done, Matt. I don’t think the majority of us realize that a future heavily-controlled-and-regulated Internet distributed by a handful of monopolies is going to be NOTHING like the relatively unregulated Internet that we have today. WISPs may be one of the sole “HEROS” who can keep the Internet truly “free”.

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