The cliché that nothing gets done in Congress unfortunately very often turns out to be true. But hope springs eternal, so perhaps things will change with the creation of the Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus.
The new House group has one thing going for it up front: It is bipartisan. The founding members are Representatives Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Bob Latta (R-OH), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Peter Welch (D-VT). The other positive is that many rural areas are more Republican than Democratic, so their representatives may be more inclined to spend money than they would be otherwise.
The news elsewhere on the rural broadband front appears to be positive as well.
Wisconsin seems to be the biggest winner. No fewer than three big providers are queuing up to help rural citizens. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, CenturyLink will receive $330 million over six years to reach 129,000 “locations” – typically homes or businesses. Frontier Communications will get $31 million for each of the same six years to reach 76,000 locations and, finally, AT&T will be the recipient of $9 million for each of six years to reach 24,000 locations. All told, the government is handing out $570 million to reach 230,000 locations. The funding will come from the Connect American Fund II (CAF II).
A cheery view is also offered by Telecompetitor, which catalogues a number of operator and vendor rural broadband initiatives. The site points to two startups that will serve rural customers: Starry aims to use wireless technology in the 3.8 GHz spectrum band for a nationwide service and Infiniti Broadband will serve at least some rural subscribers, though it is unclear where. A third player, Rise Broadband, formerly JAB Broadband, will also reach out to rural areas. The piece also looks at fixed LTE approaches from Nokia (FastMile) and the Huawei unnamed product to be used by Infiniti.
Not all the news is so positive, however.
In Massachusetts, a program that would provide broadband to 32 communities in the western part of the state is on hold. MassLive says that $40 million is ready to be channeled through the Massachusetts Broadband Institute; WiredWest, a multi-community cooperative, is set to operate the project. However, the Baker administration is holding off. The Executive Office of Administration and Finance wants to “conduct due diligence on the financials” before anything else can happen.
When – and if – the Massachusetts project is completed, businesses and residents in the communities will likely see a significant upgrade to the services to which they now have access:
Most of the network will consist of fiber optic cables attached to existing utility poles. Mass Tech Collaborative plans approximately 2,040 miles of cabling in western Massachusetts with around 29,000 homes being passed, according to a design and engineering request for proposals issued Dec. 24.
Projects are sprouting up as technology makes it financially feasible to reach people in ever-more sparsely populated areas. It will be interesting to see if the money continues to flow under a new president.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.