Claude Aiken Praises WISP Industry's Strong Growth and Community Service in WISPAPALOOZA Address
Las Vegas, NV, October 16, 2019 – In a wide-ranging keynote address, WISPA president and CEO, Claude Aiken, heralded the growth of the WISP industry, praising it for its role in bringing broadband to unserved and underserved communities throughout America’s heartland. In Aiken’s view, the service provided by WISPs presents a host of possibilities for the companies, their customers and the communities they serve.
WISPAPALOOZA is WISPA’s annual convention, bringing the entire WISP community together for five days in Las Vegas to see and experience the latest in technology, get policy and regulatory updates, learn how to better run their operations, and generally network with industry brethren.
On top of their customer growth, WISPs experienced a number of significant wins and/or positive regulatory trends over the past year. Policymakers are waking up to the fact that the WISP model of broadband deployment is a powerful way to quickly and cost-effectively bridge digital divides. And they have gone about helping WISPs achieve this by, among other things, opening up the CBRS band for flexible, shared use; proposing to open up the C-band for sharing with WISPs; proposing to expand use of the EBS band beyond its current restrictions; working to update OTARD rules to better enable WISP access to state, local and HOA infrastructure; and proposing $20 billion in RDOF subsidies through tech-neutral, CAF II-like auctions.
Still, challenges remain.
Access to spectrum – be it unlicensed, lightly licensed and licensed – is an ongoing concern for all WISPs. Numerous industries want spectrum, but it is scarce, putting immense pressure on regulators to identify and then release that spectrum for new uses. The movement to 5G and widespread calls to get all Americans online to eradicate the digital divide have amplified the intensity of this search. WISPs, who are generally small businesses, must play within this complex, competitive environment, working to ensure meaningful access to new spectrum in order to serve their markets and grow.
Access to capital is another perennial challenge. Many WISPs pride themselves on building their networks without the help of government subsidies, maximizing private capital and debt. With $20 billion in FCC RDOF support, as well as hundreds-of-millions of dollars in other federal funding in the offing to expand rural broadband deployments, they must now more nimbly maneuver in an atmosphere which, if not properly managed, can result in overbuilding of their service territories by government-subsidized providers.
Finally, the cost of regulation for small WISPs is a continual hurdle. As the WISP model of broadband deployment grows, their role in meeting important policy prerogatives has become more prominent, too, bringing with it more and more regulation. Much of that regulation, however, imposes real and significant costs for small WISPs – not only regarding the cost to comply, but in terms of opportunity costs. “Right-sized” regulation can help WISPs meet the needs of their businesses and customers, while also ensuring compliance with public policy objectives.
“At the end of the day, the WISP story is about private risk and service to communities left in a digital desert,” said Aiken. “WISPA is here to help WISPs meet those challenges so the businesses they run and the communities they serve can grow and benefit in our digital economy.”
WISPA’s approximately 800 members are composed of fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and the industry that supports fixed wireless broadband, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components needed to run a successful business. Our members, and WISPs, in general, provide broadband access to over 4 million residential and business customers, often in exclusively rural areas.