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How Community Anchor Institutions Can Help Close the Digital Divide

How Community Anchor Institutions Can Help Close the Digital Divide - GeoLinks

Community Anchor Institutions play a pivotal role in closing both the California and U.S. Digital Divide. So, what are both the government and key broadband stakeholders doing to ensure they get connected? Let’s explore.

While the United States has clearly and rapidly advanced technologically over the years, the fact remains that the country still remains in a digital divide. The digital divide, defined as the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not, has left a large portion of U.S. citizens, predominantly in rural America, at an extreme disadvantage.

One of the primary ways this gap can be resolved is to ensure adequate broadband Internet access is deployed to all communities – rural, urban, and suburban. From a business stand point, however, the majority of today’s major carriers find that building out networks to residents and businesses in rural areas with low population densities does not often provide a healthy Return on Investment (ROI). Therefore, if both homes and businesses can’t be immediately serviced, connected anchor institutions become a critical community resource. So, what is a community anchor institution?

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), community anchor institutions are, “schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, public safety entities, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education, and other community support organizations and agencies that provide outreach, access, equipment, and support services to facilitate greater use of broadband service by vulnerable populations, including low-income, the unemployed, and the aged.”

Fortunately, over the past few decades a variety of federal and state programs have formed aiming to provide the funding needed to connect community anchor institutions across the country.

E-Rate Program – 1996 Telecommunications Act

As part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Congress authorized the E-Rate program. This program specifically aims to connect public and non-profit K-12 schools, in addition to public and private libraries, to advanced telecommunication networks. Funding for the program is provided by the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), which collects fees on national telecommunications services. USAC provides schools and libraries with up to 90% of funding for advanced telecommunications services.

E-Rate Program – 1996 Telecommunications Act - Geolinks

While the E-Rate program has undoubtedly made strides towards closing the digital divide nationally, we still have a long way to go. The Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) has identified that 39% of rural Americans and 41% of tribal lands still lack basic broadband Internet services. SHLB has also identified that:

  • 42% of schools do not meet the minimum requirement set by the FCC for broadband services.
  • 41% of libraries have a broadband connection of 10Mbps or less, which is lower than the FCC’s recommended 100Mbps for libraries.
  • 88% of rural area healthcare providers have a broadband connection of less than 50Mbps.

The majority of these statistics stem from unconnected anchor institutions located in rural America. In addition to the efforts taking place federally, programs have also been developed at a state level. California, for example, has programs in place to aid in connecting community anchor institutions.

California Teleconnect Fund

The California Teleconnect Fund (CTF) was created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in 1996 to reaffirm its commitment to universal broadband services with a focus on community anchor institutions. The program provides discounts on voice (25%) and broadband services (50%) for eligible organizations. These organizations include public schools, private schools, libraries, community based organizations, hospital and health clinics, California Community Colleges, and California Telehealth Network.

California Emerging Technology Fund

The California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) was created in 2005 to help “provide leadership statewide to close the digital divide by accelerating the deployment and adoption of broadband to unserved and underserved communities and populations.”

Established as a non-profit corporation pursuant to orders from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), CETF has access to a total of $60 million in funding to support deploying broadband access across California, particularly in underserved communities. The CPUC also directed that at least $5 million of these funds should be used for telemedicine projects.

Effective Use of Capital

With the presence of funds being allocated towards connecting community anchor institutions across the state of California, it is critical to evaluate how the capital can be used in the most effective and efficient manner. California has a diverse range of topologies with a variety of unique and differing challenges. Therefore, in order to successfully connect anchor institutions state-wide, it’s imperative to deploy hybrid networks.

A hybrid network utilizes a variety of technologies such as fiber, fixed wireless, and fixed 5G. While there are pros and cons to each delivery method, when used together, they have the ability to create a complete solution that can deliver multi-gigabit bandwidth to anchors in both urban, suburban andultra-rural communities.

GeoLinks – Bridging the Digital Divide

GeoLinks was founded in 2011 with the mission of helping close the U.S. digital divide. In the past few years, the Company has further focused its efforts on connecting underserved and unserved anchors to the Internet. Working closely with regional broadband consortiums, organizations like CETF, and non-profits such as CENIC, GeoLinks has connected dozens of California K-12 schools and libraries.

Currently, the telecom is completing network construction that promises to scale a rural hospital in Kern River Valley’s bandwidth from 12Mgps to 1Gbps and fully convert its 170 POTs lines into Hosted VoIP lines. The redundant one gigabit speeds plan to benefit the entire community as GeoLinks will offer its services to other local businesses in partnership with the larger Kern River Valley Broadband Project. This case study showcases just how important community anchor institutions become in closing the divide.

Ultimately, deploying broadband networks to anchor institutions is a cost-efficient and vitally important investment in our nation’s future. Several studies show that building high-capacity broadband to community anchor institutions has a multiplier effect that generates tremendous economic growth for the community and the nation. That being said, while connecting our anchors is imperative, this alone won’t close the digital divide.

To learn more, read our recent article published in Forbes about the “Five Crucial Steps Needed To Close The U.S. Digital Divide”.

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SHLB Coalition Announces 5 New Board Members

Original Source SHLB.org

Washington, D.C. (December 5, 2018) – Today the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition announced five additions to its board of directors for 2019:

  • Cindy Aden, state librarian, State of Washington;
  • Erik Heinrich, senior manager SLED business development, Ruckus Networks, an ARRIS Company;
  • Tim Koxlien, CEO, Telequality Communications;
  • Ray Timothy, CEO and executive director, Utah Education & Telehealth Network; and
  • Melissa Slawson, general counsel and VP of government affairs and education, GeoLinks.

“These individuals and their organizations are dedicated to achieving digital equity through connecting community anchor institutions (CAIs),” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, “Their passion and diverse areas of expertise will make SHLB’s advocacy for CAI broadband connectivity even stronger.”

The current SHLB board of directors appointed Aden, Heinrich, Koxlien, and Timothy, while SHLB’s membership elected Slawson to serve. The incoming members, who begin their three-year terms on the board on January 1, 2019, made the following statements:

“As the State Librarian for Washington State, I am eager to get more involved in the nuts and bolts of broadband and e-rate issues, as my state readies itself for significant broadband legislation that will include the State Library as one of the stakeholders. I am honored to follow the work of my esteemed colleague, the Montana State Librarian Jennie Stapp, and I look forward to working with the SHLB board.” – Cindy Aden, State Librarian, Washington State.

“As a research and education network, we have found SHLB to be a great resource for our organization as we strive to network for education and telehealth in Utah. I am excited to be on the board so that we can share our experiences and strengths with others throughout the country.” – Ray Timothy, Utah Education & Telehealth Network

“SHLB is the only voice representing the common broadband interests of community anchor institutions, local and state government entities and service providers. Under John Windhausen’s leadership, our members receive the benefit of a well respected, hard working and dedicated organization. I am grateful to be a part of the work that SHLB does in helping to solve broadband problems throughout the US.” – Tim Koxlien, Telequality Communications.

“I am honored to join SHLB in raising awareness around the challenges of Digital Equity and advocating for solutions to the disparity in online access among our Nation’s diverse populations of students, teachers and their communities. SHLB’s mission is closely aligned with this very issue and I look forward to fulfilling a role as a member of the SHLB board of directors while working closely with the SHLB member community to help close the digital divide.” – Erik Heinrich, Ruckus Networks, an ARRIS Company.

“I am excited and honored to have been chosen as the newest member of the SHLB Board of Directors. Universal broadband access has always been a personal passion of mine and I look forward to representing GeoLinks as I work with SHLB and my fellow Board members to bring more awareness to the issue and create policies that help bridge the digital divide.” – Melissa Slawson, GeoLinks.

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About SHLB:

The SHLB Coalition is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, DC and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States. To learn more, visit www.shlb.org.

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Alicja Johnson
[email protected]
(202) 261-6599

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Spectrum as Infrastructure – Connecting Rural and Underserved Areas

Spectrum as Infrastructure – Connecting Rural and Underserved Areas

Panel discussion at the 8th Annual SHLB Conference.

Panel Description: More than 15 million Americans in rural and tribal areas still lack access to 25/3 broadband, and a disproportionate number of rural schools and libraries lack high-capacity broadband connections. Wireless services may provide cost-effective solutions to address this rural broadband gap. Fixed wireless access can provide broadband at high capacity (100/10 Mbps or better), or over long distances to remote locations, at a fraction of the cost of trenching fiber. This panel will describe three pending FCC rulemakings that could open access to a large new supply of both unlicensed and lightly-licensed shared spectrum.

Featured Speakers in Highlights: Melissa Slawson (GeoLinks) Andrew Clegg (Google), Moderator: Michael Calabrese (New America OTI)

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The SHLB Coalition Applauds the FCC’s “Connected Care” Proposal

The SHLB Coalition Applauds the FCC’s “Connected Care” Proposal

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Alicja Johnson
[email protected]
(202) 261-6599

Washington, DC (August 2, 2018) – The Federal Communications Commission voted today to explore creating a $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program,” which aims to bring telehealth to low-income Americans. The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition applauds the FCC’s leadership in proposing to expand telemedicine access to those who need it most.

The following statement can be attributed to John Windhausen Jr., Executive Director of the SHLB Coalition:

“The idea of connected care is still in its infancy, yet it has enormous potential to help people across rural America – veterans and low-income patients in particular. That is why the SHLB Coalition called upon the FCC to provide a discount for the wireless broadband costs of providing remote home monitoring in our 2015 Petition for Rulemaking.  The Connected Care Pilot Program could provide a unique opportunity for the FCC to collaborate with broadband providers, healthcare providers and other government agencies to ensure that low-income consumers and rural communities have low-cost, high-quality telemedicine services.  The SHLB Coalition and its members look forward to working with the FCC to build up this program.”

Visit http://www.shlb.org/policy/Rural-Health-Care to learn more about SHLB’s advocacy to improve our nation’s telehealth.

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About The SHLB Coalition:

The SHLB Coalition is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, DC and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States.  To learn more, visit www.shlb.org.

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SHLB Commends FCC Chairman Pai’s Intention to Increase Rural Health Care Funding

SHLB Commends FCC Chairman Pai’s Intention to Increase Rural Health Care Funding

June 06, 2018

For Immediate Release:
June 6, 2018

Contact:
Amy Robinson
Communications Manager, SHLB Coalition
[email protected]
(202) 261-6599

 

Washington, DC (June 6, 2018) – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai circulated today a draft order to raise the cap of the Rural Health Care (RHC) program from $400 million to $571 million to reflect inflation over the past twenty years. The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition,  a broad-based membership organization that includes health providers and telehealth networks, has been advocating for RHC funding and reform since December of 2015 and commends the Chairman’s announcement in favor of more funding.

The following statement can be attributed to John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director of SHLB:

“The SHLB Coalition is extremely pleased with Chairman Pai’s intention to increase funding for the Rural Health Care program. This increase is long overdue, as the $400 M cap on the RHC program has remained set in stone for over twenty years. This proposal also addresses our concerns about the retroactive funding reductions for FY 2017 by ensuring that applicants in the current funding year can be fully reimbursed.  This action will avoid the unfortunate 15% to 25% reductions that had been announced for the current funding year. While we have not seen the entire proposal, we are encouraged that Chairman Pai has taken our concerns to heart and is responding to the SHLB Coalition’s Emergency Waiver Petition and the request by 31 US Senators – led by Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven – for more funding for the program.”

The FCC launched a proceeding to reform the RHC program in December of 2017.  In our comments filed with the FCC, the SHLB Coalition estimated that the number of eligible entities has more than doubled since the $400 million cap was set in 1997 and asked for the cap to be raised to $800 M to account for future demand. The SHLB Coalition also filed an Emergency Waiver Petition earlier this year asking the FCC to fully fund applicants for FY2017 and to avoid the retroactive rate increases on services provided as of July 1, 2017. SHLB has pointed out that the $400 M cap does not reflect the enormous changes in the rural health care marketplace, including the closure of scores of rural hospitals, the improvements in telemedicine, the growth of electronic medical records, the doubling of eligible health care providers, and the rural broadband gap.

The SHLB Coalition previously filed comments and reply comments in the FCC’s WC Docket No. 17-310 with the following four main recommendations to reform the Universal Service Fund program: 1) Increase the cap to $800 million to meet the current demand; 2) Encourage the formation of consortia in the Healthcare Connect Fund; 3) Establish funding tiers to ensure funds are distributed to the most rural areas; and 4) Improve administrative  efficiency, transparency, and protection against waste, fraud, and abuse. Visit http://www.shlb.org/policy/Rural-Health-Care to learn more about SHLB’s advocacy to improve our nation’s telehealth.

 

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CENIC Recognizes Corporate Partner GeoLinks for Serving the Research and Education Community in California

CENIC Recognizes Corporate Partner GeoLinks for Serving the Research and Education Community in California

LA MIRADA, Calif. & BERKELEY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–CENIC is recognizing GeoLinks, headed by CEO Skyler Ditchfield, with the CENIC 2018 Innovations in Networking Award for Corporate Partnership.

Thanks to the commitment of Ditchfield’s team and their understanding of the importance of high-speed broadband for California research and education communities, and their strategy for reaching those with limited or no broadband access due to remote locations and challenging terrain, CENIC and GeoLinks have been able to move forward on numerous initiatives in support of these underserved communities.

Dozens of projects have been completed, are in progress, or are anticipated that will serve K-12 schools, the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) research sites, and public libraries throughout the state. Previously, a number of these sites were served at speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less. Most now have 50 to 100 times greater speeds as a result of these efforts.

CENIC President and CEO Louis Fox stated, “GeoLinks has become an important ally in our efforts to address broadband-access inequities in California. Together we are hard at work on public policy initiatives that, we hope, will bring more resources to California, and thereby bring the benefits of advanced networking to all Californians at their community anchor institutions – schools, libraries, health care, and research sites. CENIC looks forward to a long collaboration with Skyler and his team to ensure that California remains at the global forefront of innovation in research and education networking.”

Fox added, “As CENIC has historically focused on fiber-network deployments, I was skeptical at first about using fixed wireless, but GeoLinks has demonstrated that they can deliver gigabit speeds with symmetrical services to remote sites that have no access to fiber-optic networks. Even with the significant special construction necessary, they have delivered these services within 9 to 12 months, which is remarkable.”

GeoLinks’ fixed wireless network, ClearFiber™, uses carrier-grade equipment and provides telecom-grade broadband service with the same latency and jitter as fiber. GeoLinks is able to build solar- and wind-powered telecommunications facilities off the grid, resulting in rapid network deployment in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost of fiber. ClearFiber uses FCC-licensed spectrum with redundancy at every level of hardware deployment.

“We analyze 50 years of regional weather patterns to determine the proper type of antenna, radio frequency output, and broadcast distance to ensure we receive 99.999% uptime on all of our links,” further explained GeoLinks CEO Skyler Ditchfield. “We also use this data to determine how much solar energy is needed for each individual site. As a standard, we engineer our sites to run for 25 days without sunlight to safeguard against extreme weather events. Furthermore, we also build in redundancy at every level, from our power equipment, to our routers, switches, and radios. We are also currently in the early stages of experimenting with wind energy. While solar power is typically low during storms, wind is high on mountain tops and can thus reduce the need for solar panel and battery load, ultimately reducing overall deployment costs.”

Recognized as thought-leaders in closing the digital divide, the GeoLinks leadership team proudly serves on an array of national boards, coalitions, and working groups including the Schools, Healthcare and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast (BCPC), and the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee’s (BDAC) Streamlining Federal Siting Working Group.

The CENIC Innovations in Networking Awards are presented each year at CENIC’s annual conference to highlight exemplary innovations that leverage ultra-high bandwidth networking, particularly where those innovations have the potential to transform how education and research are conducted or where they further the deployment of broadband in underserved areas. The CENIC conference will be held March 5 – 7, 2018, in Monterey, California.

About CENIC • www.cenic.org

CENIC connects California to the world — advancing education and research statewide by providing the world-class network essential for innovation, collaboration, and economic growth. This nonprofit organization operates the California Research and Education Network (CalREN), a high-capacity network designed to meet the unique requirements of over 20 million users, including the vast majority of K-20 students together with educators, researchers, and individuals at other vital public-serving institutions. CENIC’s Charter Associates are part of the world’s largest education system; they include the California K-12 system, California Community Colleges, the California State University system, California’s public libraries, the University of California system, Stanford, Caltech, the Naval Postgraduate School, and USC. CENIC also provides connectivity to leading-edge institutions and industry research organizations around the world, serving the public as a catalyst for a vibrant California.

 

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SHLB to Release Cost Estimate and Broadband Strategy to Connect Rural America

SHLB Coalition to Release Cost Estimate and Broadband Strategy to Connect Rural America

CONTACT:
Amy Robinson, [email protected], (202) 261-6599

SHLB (SCHOOLS, HEALTH & LIBRARIES BROADBAND COALITION) PRESS CALL

REGISTER HERE

 

“Anchor institutions are key to solving the rural broadband gap.”

Washington, D.C. – (Monday, February 12th) – The SHLB Coalition (Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition) will release on Thursday a holistic broadband strategy to close the digital divide in rural markets. Particularly timely following the release of the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal earlier today, SHLB’s rural broadband strategy will focus on deploying high-capacity broadband “to and through anchors” to the surrounding community through wireless and wireline technologies, a strategy that could solve the digital divide for millions of rural Americans.

SHLB will hold a conference call with reporters THURSDAY, February 15th, at 11:00 am ET.

On the call, SHLB will release a new paper from CTC Technology & Energy that estimates the cost to connect all remaining anchors to fiber.  SHLB will also outline its strategy to connect rural America with a mix of fiber, fixed wireless, and TV WhiteSpace (TVWS), and present specific policy recommendations for the Trump Administration and Congress. The call will feature prominent voices representing anchor institutions as well as wireless advocates and commercial providers.

Speakers will include:

  • John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director, SHLB Coalition
  • Joanne Hovis, President, and Andrew Afflerbach, CEO & Director of Engineering, CTC Technology
  • Jim Hermes, Associate Vice President, Government Relations, American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
  • Melissa Slawson, General Counsel and Vice President of Government Affairs and Education, GeoLinks
  • Don Means, Executive Director, Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN)
  • Richard Cullen, Executive Director, Connect Americans Now

WHO: SHLB’s Broadband Industry Experts and Anchors

WHAT: Press Call to review New Cost Estimate and Rural Broadband Strategy

WHEN: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm ET

WHERE: Phone Line Number: (202) 847-5889 (No PIN Required)

Register for the press call to receive an advance copy of the press release, cost estimate report, and rural broadband strategy.

 

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About SHLB:

The SHLB Coalition is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-capacity broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, DC and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations that support our mission from across the United States.

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Have you Heard of GeoLinks? If not, you will soon.

Have you Heard of GeoLinks? If not, you will soon

RCRWireless.com

Is it possible to disrupt the “big four” carriers? We say yes. California-based telecom company, GeoLinks, is doing just that, proving that even new players can substantially impact the industry as we know it. In the past six months alone GeoLinks has been asked to sit on an array of national boards, coalitions, and working groups including the Schools, Healthcare & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast (BCPC), the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) Working Group, and WISPA’s FCC Advisory Board.

Founded in 2011, much of GeoLinks’ early success can be attributed to its flagship product, ClearFiber™,which provides customers truly redundant fixed wireless broadband. Boasting ultra-low latency, 99.99% uptime, sub 10ms jitter, and a 4-hour max response time, GeoLinks holds the industry’s best Service Level Agreement backed by in-house U.S. based customer support. GeoLinks’ ability to rapidly deploy Hosted Voice, Temporary and Event Circuits, and both Public and Private Turnkey Network Construction has contributed to the company’s accelerated growth.

So, why all the recent recognition?

2017 has been a monumental year for the innovative Internet and Phone provider. From officially earning its status as a competitive local exchange carrier public utility to launching nationally, to building 37 custom towers—the majority solar and wind-powered—GeoLinks’ dedication to making industry advancements has propelled it to become the country’s second fastest-growing privately-owned Internet Provider.

Amongst its many accolades, GeoLinks was also the largest construction grant winner for California K-12 schools and libraries in both 2016 and 2017 enabling it to successfully connect 21 rural anchor institutions, and counting, with high-speed broadband. GeoLinks’ recognized passion and dedication to closing the digital divide has prompted company CEO, Skyler Ditchfield, to be a featured speaker at many high-caliber events including the upcoming 10th Annual TC3 Summit taking place Nov 1-2 in Silicon Valley.

“I recognize the skepticism and wireless anxiety that people have surrounding fixed wireless technology,” says Ditchfield. “People think that the technology is inherently flawed, when that’s just not the case. It is an ongoing challenge for our company to re-educate the market that the problem doesn’t lie in the technology itself. In fact, the technology has been around since the 60’s and is actively utilized by large companies in the New York Stock Exchange and Militaries around the world. The real problem falls with improper installation. That’s why, at GeoLinks, we decided to bring everything in-house. We’re general contractors, and from land procurement, to building the actual towers, to customizing network configurations, our team ensures that the technology is deployed properly. When deployed correctly, ClearFiber™ is the most effective and superior solution available on the market.

So, you’ve never heard of GeoLinks before? You can be assured that the thriving telecom will be a large player in the country’s evolving national broadband discussion in 2018 and beyond.

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GeoLinks Makes Mogul’s Top 100 Innovators in Diversity & Inclusion in 2017

GeoLinks Makes Mogul’s Top 100 Innovators in Diversity & Inclusion in 2017

GeoLinks, Skyler Ditchfield

GeoLinks is a member of the SHLB Coalition, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) advocacy organization that supports open, affordable, high-capacity broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. Additionally, GeoLinks works with the Microsoft Whitespace Projects, pushing for more rural and urban wireless spectrum to ultimately drive up competition and lower industry costs which aligns with GeoLinks’ focuses to have a positive impact on the local economy.

Too see the full list visit: https://onmogul.com/stories/top-100-innovators-in-diversity-inclusion

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Can Fixed Wireless Fix Rural Broadband?

Can Fixed Wireless Fix Rural Broadband?

Original Article

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a telco, a cable company or a software giant with designs on the ISP market, everyone is hoping that new wireless solutions will cut the cost of providing broadband to large sections of the country. The big question is: How much juice does new wireless tech actually have? And is it enough to make rural broadband deployments cost effective?

Service provider GeoLinks and technology vendor Mimosa Networks Inc. , two partners on the fixed wireless frontier, are very bullish on the technology’s promise. How bullish? In working with the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), GeoLinks CEO Skyler Ditchfield says he believes fixed wireless technology can be used to reduce the amount of money needed to connect underserved anchor institutions across the US by up to 70%. That could go a long way to helping close the digital divide, and it could even kick off new competition in some markets where service providers traditionally haven’t cared to venture.

“[We’re] working on doing the cost analysis on doing fixed wireless instead of fiber,” says Ditchfield, referring to a program SHLB is working on to get federal funds for rural broadband deployments. “We think we can probably reduce the total cost in the build ask by about 65% to 70%.”

As partners, GeoLinks and Mimosa have experience in delivering broadband to far-flung places. For example, Ditchfield notes that GeoLinks has built out service to a couple of dozen rural schools in the last 18 months, and that many of these deployments rely on solar- and wind-powered telecom relay stations with wireless links that range from 25 to 58 miles.

“These were schools that weren’t able to complete state testing. The students were being bussed out because they had to go do the state testing at another facility and that’s obviously very costly and time consuming,” says Ditchfield. “So we were able to come in and solve that geographical issue with fixed wireless.”

Ditchfield also recalls a recent deployment where an island off the coast of California needed help to improve the reliability of local Internet. In that case, the issue wasn’t so much the distance the wireless signal had to travel, but the fact that, in order to provide backhaul capacity for the island’s Internet service, the signal had to reach across water from the mainland. Unfortunately, the effects of temperature and air pressure caused the signal to bounce and bend off the water in unexpected ways, disrupting connectivity on a daily basis.

“If you’re looking on a hot day down the road and you’re looking at a distance and you see those heat waves where the light starts to bend a little bit, that mirage effect, that’s basically what’s happening with the radio frequency signals as well,” explains Ditchfield.

GeoLinks and Mimosa solved the issue by dropping wireless equipment to two separate locations on the island, with a fiber run in between, and creating redundancy to counter the interference. Now when one link goes down, the local ISP fails over to the second link.

For future fixed wireless broadband expansion, there is still the issue of finding enough available spectrum to meet bandwidth demand. However, the good news is that companies that are providing fixed wireless services don’t necessarily need to compete with mobile providers for some of the most coveted spectrum real estate. Mimosa Chief Product Officer Jaime Fink and others are lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open up more mid-band spectrum, and Fink says that while frequencies in the 3.7GHz band aren’t ideal for mobile services, they are a viable option for fixed wireless connections.

The FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry to study opportunities for mid-band spectrum in July.

“Mimosa has been extremely aggressive with the FCC,” says Fink, noting that the company has put together a Broadband Access Coalition that includes members such as GeoLinks, Cincinnati Bell Inc. (NYSE: CBB) and others. The coalition, as he explains it, is “really pushing the envelope of how fast can we share the 3.7GHz spectrum. It’s really perfect for fixed wireless applications. It’s not something that would be typically used by mobile guys out in rural areas especially so we’re trying to really advance access to that band for multipoint as soon as possible.”

TV white spaces, the spectrum encompassed by the guard bands around older analog television stations, offer another possible alternative. Microsoft Corp.(Nasdaq: MSFT) is pushing heavily for white spaces development as part of a $10 billion rural broadband project and Ditchfield sees the company as a potential partner for GeoLinks down the road. (See Microsoft Pushes White Spaces for Rural Broadband .)

There’s long been a question of whether fixed wireless service will eventually be a cable killer, ending cable’s long dominance of the home broadband sector. Even beyond rural markets, if fixed wireless technology can cut the cost of deployments and still deliver high-speed Internet, it has the potential to radically shift market dynamics.

However, even if wireless technology becomes the preferred solution for last-mile broadband delivery in the future, it won’t negate the need for wired backhaul. Fink points out that even though wireless links can span 50 miles and beyond, the more common scenario is to have a fiber connection within five miles or so of end users in order to support fixed wireless service.

The logical conclusion is that broadband going forward will be a mix of wired and wireless technologies. That’s why cable ISP Charter Communications Inc. is running 5G fixed wireless trials, and why Google Fiber Inc. is considering fixed wireless solutions in conjunction with existing fiber-to-the-home deployments. (See Charter Reveals New Details on 4G/5G Trials and Google Fiber Now a Wireless ISP!.)

Fixed wireless isn’t likely to kill cable, nor to let telcos off the hook for fiber. But it could still open up a lot more opportunity for broadband expansion and specifically for reaching unserved and underserved rural communities across the country.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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