This week FCC Chairman Ajit Pai visited a tower site of Intelliwave Broadband, a small fixed wireless broadband provider serving about 5,000 customers in rural Athens County, Ohio.
Of the particular site that Pai visited, Intelliwave Broadband CEO Chris Cooper said, “We built the site last year to serve the needs of the local community because they were not getting what they needed from Frontier.”
Chairman Pai got connected to Intelliwave through the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).
Cooper said Pai was interested in seeing a fixed wireless installation in a rural area, and he was also interested in discussing whether Intelliwave planned to participate in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). On August 1, 2019, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to establish the $20.4 billion RDOF, which will target at least four million rural homes and small businesses that lack fixed broadband service. The FCC is currently accepting comments on the NPRM, which would conduct a reverse auction that builds on the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction.
Cooper said Intelliwave would be very interested in participating in the RDOF.
The FCC proposes to implement the RDOF auctions in two phases. Phase I would target wholly unserved census blocks; and Phase II would target unserved locations in partially unserved census blocks.
According to Cooper, the FCC wants to make sure the widest numbers of rural providers participate, not just the traditional local exchange carriers. “In rural America it’s really the independent providers stepping into that underserved niche,” said Cooper. “We compete with Charter, Frontier, CenturyLink and AT&T — either where they’re not providing or where the plant has been neglected for so long. We love to compete against the ILECS.”
Intelliwave provides fixed wireless to both residents and businesses in rural communities in an area totaling about 4,500 square miles. The biggest town in its footprint is about 800 homes. When possible, the company leases tower space for its antennas from the big tower companies American Tower, Crown Castle, and SBA Communications. When towers aren’t available Intelliwave puts antennas on taller structures such as water tanks or grain silos.
The company also leases fiber from other carriers to connect its towers and for backhaul. And where fiber isn’t available, it uses microwave hops. “We have fiber injected in various locations…and we probably have about 1,500 miles of our own middle-mile network that is largely licensed microwave,” said Cooper.
Intelliwave uses unlicensed CBRS spectrum, but it’s planning to participate in the CBRS auctions in June.