"We are now deploying a basic 3 Mbps/down and 1 Mbps/up service to rural residential clients who previously barely had phone service, much less dial-up Internet. Of course, we have the ability to deliver much more where needed, such as 40-meg connection to hunting plantations," Conner said. About $40 per month will buy a 3 Mbps connection.
SGRITA has acquired the 700 MHz license for its territory and purchased 2.5 GHz spectrum from the local school system, frequencies needed to deploy a multipoint service on top of the wireless Ethernet network. Engineers are testing RF equipment from IPWireless, which gave SGRITA a TD-CDMA solution to test that has an upgrade path to LTE. The system is being tested in the 2.5 GHz band, but can be used in the 700 MHz band as well. Conner said SGRITA's goal is to have a system that will use the same platform to work between 2.5 GHz and 700 MHz.
"The 700 MHz band will be our big load carrier for deployment to rural houses, which are typically 5 miles apart from each other," Conner said.
The SGRITA project is in the black and is projected to remain that way. SGRITA itself is a government agency that is mandated to be self-sustaining. The revenue it receives from services flows back into the project to expand services. SGRITA's plan is to have full deployment over the 2,000 square miles of its area within the next two to three years.
If SGRITA scores some of the $7.2 billion in federal broadband stimulus money, it can complete the project in just six to nine months, Conner said. SGRITA is also working in tandem with other counties developing their own broadband plans so that 21 counties in all could be blanketed with broadband access with help from stimulus money. In addition, other counties are mimicking SGRITA and going after state funds.
For Conner and the rest of the people involved with SGRITA, getting rural folks caught up with connectivity isn't enough. For these counties--some of the poorest regions in the country--SGRITA has the vision of making them some of the most connected regions in the world.
"We want to make it so that if this region were a country unto itself, it would be the highest ranked in the world in terms of broadband connectivity," Conner said. "We're not catching up. We want to be No. 1 in connectivity."