02 Secure Wireless hunts for federal loan for rural LTE

02 Secure Wireless, a Florida-based cell tower company, said it is hoping to get a $33 million federal loan to deploy an advanced LTE network to 500,000 customers in 65 cities and towns across rural parts of the South.

The company wants a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which has distributed broadband stimulus grants. 02 said that in August of this year, the Washington RUS office assigned the company a Government Field Representative, which has preliminarily approved all 65 cities and towns for RUS funding. 02 hopes that once it secures the loan it can "construct the most technologically advanced LTE network presently available," capable of download speeds of 25 Mbps.

Daniel Baldridge, the head of investor relations of 02, said he expects the company to receive the loan by year-end. Once it receives the loan, it can start constructing the network, which will serve customers in under-served or un-served markets in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Baldridge said he expects it to take around a year from the time 02 gets the loan to when its network will be operational. "It's all going to take some time to get going," he said. He declined to comment on what spectrum 02 is using, what specific kind of network technology it will use or what vendors the company is partnering with. He directed those questions to 02 CEO Val Kazia, who he said was unavailable for comment. An RUS spokesman did not immediately have a comment on the loan.

02 was founded in 2003 and is based in St. Augustine, Fla. As of Nov. 1, the publicly traded company had a market value of $1.97 million, and had 493 shareholders as of June 30. Under a recent merger with Earthcom Services, the company is currently being structured to provide flat-rate prepaid wireless services in developing countries internationally.

Interestingly, 02's efforts to launch service come shortly after the collapse of Open Range Communications, which launched WiMAX service in 2009 with a similar goal of providing Internet service to under-served areas. Open Range's service was partially funded with a $267 million loan from the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, Open Range just last month filed for bankruptcy.

For more:
- see this release
- see this 02 Secure Wireless stock page

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