Claude’s Blog: Wild and Wonderful Fixed Wireless in West Virginia
It is no secret that the rolling mountains and heavy forests of West Virginia make it beautiful but incredibly challenging to deploy broadband services. Fortunately, WISPA member Micrologic is up to the task. Founded in 1994, Micrologic has 15 employees and 1500 customers in 9 counties surrounding Buckhannon, West Virginia. They, like many other WISPs, started out of a frustration about the lack of broadband in their community and a determination to do something about it.
One of the challenges Micrologic addresses is public safety and network reliability. Up until they came into town, the local 911 call center was resigned to the phone service to the center going out during the winter when the degraded copper lines were wet. During that time, emergency dispatch had to rely on a single 2-way radio to coordinate emergency responses. Then Micrologic came along and that 911 call center is humming away.
They have also provided emergency connectivity to the National Guard and other critical infrastructure providers, putting up new service in hours rather than weeks or months. Often serving as a backup connection initially, they are frequently asked to serve as the primary connection when customers discover that Micrologic’s fixed wireless connection is faster and more reliable than the alternative.
Operating in rural America also means being sensitive to the financial needs of the community. That is why Micrologic offers unlimited 25/3 Mbps broadband for $39.99 a month. While they offer faster speeds, they find that the large majority of customers take the lower speed package because they are able to do everything they want online at a lower cost. “We could build gigabit broadband,” says Micrologic CEO, Emiel Butcher, “but it would be so expensive that nobody would sign up for it.”
Like the typical WISPA member, they have a drive to serve their community and grow their business, but are constrained because of capital and a lack of quality radio spectrum. “Small area licensed spectrum, shared spectrum, and more unlicensed spectrum would be a boon for our customers. The big guys have lots of spectrum in West Virginia, but aren’t using it,” said Butcher. “There is over 1 GHz of commercial licensed spectrum in Upshur County. And yet I have no service on my cell phone, and I can’t use that spectrum to provide better service to more customers.”
“Something has to change.”