A WISP with Vision - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell

January 09, 2007

Mt. Vernon Net's latest initiative was participating in the FCC's Auction 66. It bid on and won a license for exclusive use of spectrum in the 2110-2155 MHz band in a 12-county area around the city. Total population covered: about 335,000. The spectrum can be used for either cellular or fixed broadband, or both from the same tower. Scrivner plans to offer fixed and mobile broadband service.

"We haven't decided yet which platform we'll use," he says. "The advances in cellular EVDO [1x Evolution-Data Optimized] with Revision A may make it more viable than mobile WiMAX."

The decision won't be made immediately. Scrivner doesn't expect to begin building out the network until 2008. It will not be a slow, organic process this time like the growth of the company's existing networks, but "a large-scale deployment," he says. That, presumably, will require additional funding, which may explain the delay.

In the meantime, Mt. Vernon Net continues to be a thriving concern. It supports 11 employees, nine of them full time—and it has been profitable since year one. A key differentiator, Scrivner says, is that the company offers more than just bandwidth.

"We deliver specialized services that [customers] can't get through commodity service providers," he says. "They can call us up and get someone to come out and build them an advanced networking solution as opposed to just turning on the bandwidth."

The Wireless Community Citizen

Where Scrivner finds the energy for his other activities is anybody's guess. He helped form WISPA to provide an interface between the WISP industry and the FCC, and now serves as its president. "It took us a year with the involvement of about 100 people and [the expenditure of] a few thousand dollars to get everything in order," he says. Today WISPA is a certified 501(C)6 non-profit trade association with about 500 paying and non-paying individual members and 65 companies represented, about 60 of them WISPs.

The association is active on a number of fronts. The most important issue as far as Scrivner is concerned is keeping up pressure on the FCC to free more spectrum for use by WISPs. "There is more unused spectrum in the U.S. than spectrum that is used—by a factor of 20 times," he says. "An easy example is TV channel spectrum. In most places, no more than 20 percent of [the spectrum] is being used. And it's ideally suited to the delivery of broadband service."

The technology exists to ensure that broadband service providers using the spectrum would not interfere with television signals, Scrivner says. After an intensive lobbying effort, not just by WISPA but by heavy-hitters such as Cisco, Microsoft, and IBM, the FCC agreed to make the spectrum available for use by WISPs after 2009, when the transition to digital television is complete.

We Need Regulatory Relief

"I'm glad that we're making headway," he says. "But making headway and having access to spectrum are two different things. We still operate under what I consider a very backward policy."

The power output restrictions on wireless equipment used in unlicensed bands is another problem for rural WISPs. They have to contend with greater distances and, often, more interferers, such as trees. The power output restrictions mean they have to deploy more radios and antennas to reach customers, which reduces their ability to build profitable businesses.

"I'm making money," Scrivner says. "But I'm also telling 30 percent to 50 percent of the people who call us that we can't get them signal."

Another problem is rival service providers interfering with each others' networks in the unlicensed bands, reducing service quality for customers and making it more difficult for any of them to make a go of it. "We need to be able to transmit at higher power and we need some access to exclusive use of spectrum without spending billions of dollars on licenses," Scrivner argues.

He admits he may not have widespread support yet for his visionary solution to the latter problem. Scrivner's idea is to assign rights to unlicensed spectrum much as the U.S. government distributed land in the west in the late 19th century. "If you settle this 40 acres and work it and grow things and maintain it for so long, the ground becomes yours," he says of the land rush.

The same could be done with spectrum. Service providers could apply for rights to build a tower and offer service in an area, and perhaps pay a fee. Then if they prove they're offering a good service that is in the public interests, they eventually get permanent exclusive rights to the spectrum in that area. The registration process could all be done online, he suggests.

It sounds like a fine idea, although it obviously wouldn't work in areas where there are already multiple service providers sharing spectrum. But we're quibbling. At least Scrivner has a vision, has ideas, solutions—and the energy and commitment to make them heard.

Story courtesy of ISP-Planet.

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