Member Spotlight: Wisper ISP and Joink
by Claude Aiken
This past week I was able to get out of DC and see what fixed wireless broadband access looks like in the rural Midwest, courtesy of two WISPA members: Wisper ISP and Joink.
Wisper serves tens of thousands of customers in rural Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Oklahoma, but it will be significantly expanding its operations over the coming decade as it uses $220 million in federal “CAF II” funding to reach thousands of homes that do not have broadband today. Wisper was started years 15 years ago by Nathan Stooke, an entrepreneur who was frustrated by the lack of connectivity in his rural community. He maxed out credit cards and started an internet service provider without any subsidies, grants, or loans. Times were hard, and he did not take home a paycheck for three years after the business started.
Headquartered in Mascoutah, Illinois (pop. 8,000), Wisper uses grain legs, water towers, utility poles, and even houses to mount radios that dot the landscape, linking farmhouses, schools, and hospitals with high-speed broadband. I got to see how Wisper trains their technicians to perform quality installations and experienced first-hand the rigorous safety procedures needed to ensure that tower climbers come home safely every night.
Later, I headed to Terre Haute, Indiana to see what Joink was up to. Joink is building a world-class fiber network in Terre Haute and beyond, and has provided fixed wireless in urban, suburban, and rural areas since 2001 without state or federal high-cost support. Joink has given digital opportunities to many Hoosiers whose only broadband service choices, if they were lucky, were expensive mobile data plans or unreliable DSL. In many areas, Joink is the only terrestrial high-speed connection, often saving residents from having to drive 10 to 15 miles to a WiFi-equipped library or fast food restaurant so their children could do homework. Joink is currently testing hybrid approaches using fiber-fed millimeter wave to deliver hundreds of megabits per second to homes and businesses on fixed wireless. By utilizing a mix of technologies to deliver service inside and outside the town, Joink is able to meet the needs of both downtown and rural customers through a local business that meets customers where they are.
Both of these providers told me that access to spectrum is the lifeblood of affordable rural broadband. Without it, Wisper and Joink would be unable to take advantage of cost-effective fixed wireless technology to serve many Americans who otherwise would have no choices for broadband service . I deeply appreciate both companies taking valuable time out of their day to show me how important fixed wireless broadband is to rural America, and how critical it is to ensure that our rural communities do not fall behind in digital opportunities.