C-Band can quickly, cost-effectively deliver rural America to the internet

C-Band can quickly, cost-effectively deliver rural America to the internet
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Since the internet came online late in the last century, Americans have used it to communicate with each other in new and exciting ways. Case in point: Not only do we communicate with our friends and family via the Internet, we enable our things to “talk” to each other over the medium, too.

Hello, Grocery Store?  This is the Smith’s smart hub on Main Street. The Smith’s fridge indicates it’s running low on milk and eggs. It requests 1 gallon of 2%, and a dozen large eggs. Please deliver them at 9 a.m. today. Thank you.

Of course, this is for those who have access to the high-speed internet, which can accommodate not only smart home features, but also the dozen or more high-bandwidth smartphones, tablets, PCs and streaming devices in use in the average urban household. For about 20 million Americans — most of whom live in rural communities — that internet hasn’t yet reached them. As a result, they remain tethered to old technology. 

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Which. Is. Sluggish. Shoddy. Antiquated. And, needless to say, inadequate for today’s hyperactive digital economy.

We’re hearing a lot about wireless, 5G broadband as the next new Internet access technology to free us. Indeed, it represents a breakthrough in terms of speed and reliability.  

But deploying it is slow and expensive.     

5G’s design requires erecting at least 800,000 “small cell” antennas nationwide for adequate universal, 5G coverage to occur. That’s three times the infrastructure already in service — a monumental task for an industry to undertake quickly.   

Each one of those 5G small cells must be tethered to the network with fiber optic lines. And that involves permitting, trenching, and stringing fiber to small cell antennas in every neighborhood across the U.S. It’s almost as if it was a wired technology, which offers no real shortcut to new network deployment. 

The upshot of this is that for the 20 million rural Americans who currently lack adequate broadband, 5G won’t soon make it to them. Sparse populations in rural areas aren’t dense enough to justify 5G’s expense.

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No worries, though.

Right now, the FCC is studying a proposal that would help millions of rural Americans get blazing fast Internet almost overnight through the creation of a new licensed, fixed-point-to-multipoint (PMP) wireless broadband service in the spectrum’s so-called C-Band. 

PMP service has the advantage of quickly delivering broadband to customers at 15 percent of the cost of tethered fiber. The architecture is relatively simple: Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) purchase raw Internet access from fiber providers and then beam that via spectrum to customer antennas placed on houses or businesses — and customer antennas communicate wirelessly back to the WISP, creating high-speed, two-way communications.

Spectrum is this critical infrastructure which eliminates the need for individually wiring each home and business. The C-Band’s unique characteristics make it ideal for carrying fast, near-gigabit services over long distances, which is especially good for covering rural areas. 

There is over 500 MHz of C-Band available, but today’s FCC rules allocate it primarily for satellite earth stations. The Commission’s regulations are designed to prevent interference so those earth stations can receive signals sent from satellites 23,000 miles in outer space. 

This protection leaves the spectrum highly underutilized. Ironically, it also presents an immense opportunity. 

With today’s technology, C-Band underutilization means only 300 MHz of the spectrum is truly needed for the earth stations to work. Frequency coordination (used throughout the spectrum) can make this swath even more efficient, enabling sharing with other uses — e.g., fixed PMP services — in a way that doesn’t cause interference.

The FCC should seize this opportunity and repurpose the C-Band so the public can get more out of that valuable infrastructure. For rural communities. To decrease the digital divide. To boost competition.

The FCC should allocate 300 MHz of the C-Band for shared use between PMP services and legacy satellite services. And with the remaining 200 MHz, it should clear it for FCC auction for other wireless services. 

Earth stations would be protected from interference.

New, wireless broadband services would abound.

The U.S. Treasury and the American taxpayer would reap a handsome windfall.

Rural communities would almost overnight get the modern internet they deserve.

And the Smith Farm’s automated inventory system could “talk” 24/7/365 with the cloud, organizing each day’s business affairs.

Hello, Global Market? This is the Smiths on County Road 101. We’ve got 2,000 gallons of milk and five pallets of eggs ready for hauling today. Ready to receive them?

FCC – can you help Farmer Smith make that delivery?

Claude Aiken is president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), the voice of the fixed wireless broadband industry. Prior to joining WISPA, Aiken worked at the FCC, where he served as staff attorney and as advisor to Chairman Tom Wheeler and to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. Follow him on Twitter @ctaiken