What About the 14%?

I was born in a small town, and I live in a small town.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you can guess Wisper Internet and our employees are proud of the small towns we live in and humbly confident in the fact we are connecting small communities to great broadband service every day.

According to the 2020 United States Census, 46 million Americans are rural residents. That is 14 percent of the overall population of the country who live in small towns, or outside the city limits.

Being one of those in the 14 percent, I know I may be further away from services, and I might have to drive to the next town over for fast food, groceries, or other conveniences. I am fine with that and many like me are as well.

What I am not fine with is being overlooked or skipped because of my desire to live in the small community my family has called home for 80 years. My grandparents moved here in 1942 and my kids are now the fourth generation to call this special place home.

There are some major industries here in the town, which was founded to support a major national railroad. We are also exactly nine miles from downtown St. Louis and minutes from the sprawling counties to the east and west, so there are many opportunities for careers.

We understand our bedroom community does not have the rooftop population to draw a big box store, supermarket, or chain restaurants. Just like other towns just like mine, we still need and deserve basic services. We can’t drive to the neighboring town to pick up a bucket of internet.

Wisper founder and CEO, Nathan Stooke, refers to the internet as more essential than water because you cannot create it yourself or store it in your garage. You must get it from somewhere. Where is that source in a small community or rural town?

Wisper Internet has been that broadband source for tens of thousands of households in unserved and underserved areas for 20 years. The fixed wireless network Wisper deploys across the urban and rural landscape can reach places others cannot.

On May 13, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA announced over $40 billion in funding for nationwide broadband internet deployment under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD).

This and other programs like the Connect America Fund are great opportunities for companies like Wisper to better serve Americans in the areas we have been focused on for two decades.

In 2019, Wisper was the winner of $220 million from the Federal Communications Commission as part of the Connect America Fund II program. Since that time, Wisper has deployed nearly one hundred new fixed wireless broadband towers in dozens of communities across six states serving 20,000 customers.

Yes, in some areas there is competition and that is the beauty of a free market. Offer an excellent product and customer service and let the purchasing public decide what is best for them. Unfortunately, in some of these areas, Wisper may be the only company that has made the effort to provide households with much-needed services.

Although the spirit of the NTIA and the BEAD effort is to provide reliable broadband internet to residents of rural America, they are not deeming traditional fixed wireless as a reliable offering despite the record of Wisper and other progressive wireless internet service providers (WISPs) who have been filling the digital divide across the nation.

So, what does all this mean to John and Jane residents of a small-town USA? It means the $40 billion in funding will be allocated to fiber-focused companies and projects, which, Wisper does as well. Like Nathan always says, “Right tool for the right job.”

Again, competition is great, but for the NTIA to minimize the efficiency and reach of the entire WISP industry with proven results of getting service to places others can’t reach, is a bit of a disservice to the American people.

This decision is especially detrimental to the 14 percent living in the rural areas where it would take miles of digging to get to just one home and miles more to serve a whole rural community.

Wisper has partnered with Tarana Wireless and can cover an area of eight square miles from one of our towers serving an entire town from one location. Wisper has been deploying between 10 and 30 of these towers each month in 2022 and has an aggressive construction plan for the rest of the year.

The importance of WISPs should not be overlooked, downplayed, or excluded in any broadband discussions. Fixed wireless is a great tool to reach the unserved and underserved and Wisper has been leading the industry in connecting the 14 percent.