Broadband Illinois released a report today about the broadband supply in the state of Illinois. The full report is available here:
I have known about this report for a couple of weeks because I work with Brian Webster at Wireless Mapping on a few projects and he is one of the co-authors of this report. There are two very important takeaways from this report that stand out to me.
The first is that they did a considerable amount of user-based testing on the broadband data that they were given to get real-world data about what users were seeing, as opposed to blindly accepting the coverage data given to them by the carriers. After collecting their user data, they decided to remove mobile broadband and satellite broadband from the report because neither one was capable of delivering true broadband conditions (1meg speeds and <100ms latency) on a consistent basis. As so many end users of mobile and satellite Internet service know, these connections are broadband in name only and it is a refreshing change to see a report that gets this right.
The second revelation was the part of the report showing the areas within Illinois that have fixed wireless providers as their ONLY source of broadband.
All of the areas in purple on this map can get broadband from a WISP, and not from any of the traditional providers. This area includes 137,330 households and covers 21,062 square miles of the state. Over ONE THIRD of the entire State of Illinois can ONLY get broadband service from a WISP!
The revelation in this is that self-funded private providers can deliver service to the most unprofitable and difficult to serve segment of the population and thrive, without government subsidies or access to existing landline facilities. This is one of the clearest illustrations of how broken our USF system is and the danger that we face if access to new unlicensed spectrum is blocked in favor of incentive auctions.
On my last visit to Washington DC, I was on the phone with Rick Harnish, the WISPA Executive Director, and told him that I think I may have been the only person in Washington DC that was not asking for more money from the government! WISPs do not want the money from USF (or the regulation that comes with it) because we are surviving just fine without it. What we would like is for the government to quit subsidizing our competitors – the companies that deny us access to their networks, charge usurious rates for special access and even undercut us and operate at a loss with consumers paying the difference through USF. That is the main reason why USF in its current state needs to go away as soon as possible. My hope would be that it could be replaced with something that is consumer (rather than carrier) driven, such as vouchers, but I’ll leave that for a future post.
Today’s government infatuation with incentive auctions is the other critical problem that WISPs are facing today that has a strong carryover into the future. Without unlicensed spectrum we would not have WIFI, cordless phones, bluetooth or smaller fixed wireless providers. WISPs are able to build out networks quickly and affordably because they have access to equipment that uses unlicensed spectrum, they are not required to operate within the restrictive parameters of enormous geographic license areas and they devote the majority of their capital to actually building networks instead of speculating on license values.
WISPs don’t need money from the government, but they do need unlicensed and lightly licensed spectrum and access to middle mile networks so that they can offer the high capacity, low latency services that American’s want now and in the future.