Unlicensed Spectrum Does Provide Reliable Internet Access: A Statement from Preseem

A $41.6B funding opportunity announced by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) excludes local and regional ISPs who deliver internet access via fixed wireless over unlicensed spectrum. Because of this, we believe the definition of Reliable Broadband Service should be amended.

This is a statement from Preseem regarding the NTIA’s $41.6-billion BEAD Program and its definition of Reliable Broadband Service.

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).

According to the NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), distribution of this money will be “primarily based on the relative number of ‘unserved’ locations (i.e. broadband-serviceable locations that lack access to Reliable Broadband Service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream and latency levels low enough to support real-time, interactive applications) in each State and Territory.”

On the surface, this sounds admirable but it’s the definition of Reliable Broadband Service with which we take exception. Here’s why.

Many local and regional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) provide internet service to their customers via fixed wireless over unlicensed spectrum.

Despite its name, unlicensed spectrum does not mean “illegal” or “unregulated” in the internet world. Instead, it refers to radio frequencies that are open to anyone for any use. It’s the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, for example, and generates billions of dollars for the economy.

The NOFO states, however, that “locations served exclusively by satellite, services using entirely unlicensed spectrum, or a technology not specified by the Commission for purposes of the Broadband DATA Maps, do not meet the criteria for Reliable Broadband Service and so will be considered ‘unserved.’”

It’s our view that the NTIA’s definition of Reliable Broadband Service excludes ISPs who are already providing reliable and dependable internet access to so-called unserved rural and non-urban areas. As such, we believe the NTIA’s definition is unfair and inaccurate, and should be amended.

Here’s some of the reasons we disagree with the NTIA definition:

  • ISPs using fixed wireless over unlicensed spectrum are already providing the best and most reliable services to rural and non-urban areas. With fair access to available funding, they can expand this essential work.
  • Small broadband service providers generate vital jobs and drive sorely-needed economic growth in rural communities.
  • Small and medium-sized operators don’t have the resources to bid for licensed spectrum against large providers.
  • During the pandemic, essential services such as nursing homes, police services, and more were able to operate without interruption in rural and non-urban communities thanks to a dependence on reliable, fixed wireless internet access over entirely unlicensed spectrum.
  • Fixed wireless broadband entirely over unlicensed spectrum in the 57-71 GHz band can provide fiber-like download and upload speeds that exceed 1 Gbps. Fixed wireless entirely over unlicensed spectrum in other unlicensed use bands is often just as, or more, reliable than DSL or cable in the areas targeted by this funding, though this is not accounted for in the NOFO.

“We are surprised and disappointed at the definition of Reliable Broadband Service provided by the NTIA,” said Gerrit Nagelhout, CEO of Aterlo Networks, the company behind Preseem. “Local and regional ISPs have been providing reliable fixed wireless internet access for many years prior to the formation of WISPA in 2004, and rural communities across the US continue to benefit greatly from their services. The data we collect at Preseem proves that ISPs using fixed wireless over unlicensed spectrum provide consistently reliable service, as measured in low latency, customer satisfaction, and reduced churn rates, among other factors.”

“No definition of ‘Reliable Broadband Service’ can be complete without actually including reliable broadband service providers, and we trust NTIA will hear this,” said David Zumwalt, President and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) – Broadband Without Boundaries. “WISPs provide dependable, resilient, reliable broadband to millions of Americans across the country, and have long served and excelled on the front lines of bringing broadband to unserved areas – going where other service providers simply can’t or won’t – enabling their customers to build and expand the reach of their businesses, keep their families connected, and make their lives better. NTIA should clarify its guidance so that the objectives of the BEAD program can be truly achieved, and States provided with the flexibility they need to bring broadband to the unserved.”

While we at Preseem agree with the spirit of the BEAD program—that all Americans have the basic right to reliable broadband internet—we believe that this funding should also be available to those companies who’ve already been tirelessly serving their communities for decades.

At Preseem, we handle data, and the data doesn’t lie. According to our numbers, local and regional ISPs using our product are already delivering reliable, low-latency service that improves the subscriber quality of experience in ‘unserved’ areas. That’s why we stand with WISPA and urge the NTIA to amend their definition of Reliable Broadband Service to include those providing essential internet access via fixed wireless over unlicensed spectrum.

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