Publishing via WiMax

By Adam Stone

May 18, 2007

A Quad Cities newspaperman also runs the local wired/wireless ISP.

Gerald Taylor wants to take it to the next level.

Since the early 1990s, his ISP has successfully attracted, first, dial-up customers, and then DSL subscribers. Now he is teaming with Nortel Networks to establish the next logical beachhead, a WiMax network.

The twist? Heading up an ISP is something of a secondary line of work for Taylor. In his day job, he is publisher of Moline Dispatch Publishing Co. (MDPC), which produces daily newspapers on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the Mississippi River. The ISP, Quad-Cities Online, is a service of that publishing company.

The two lines of business dovetail nicely, as Taylor sees it.

For years, the newspaper industry has had its own delivery system independent of rising postal rates – i.e. kids on bikes – and the business has thrived. The job of an ISP just extends that role. “Looking ahead, we saw that being able to deliver on an electronic platform instead of just a ground-up-tree platform was going to be important to us down the line,” Taylor says.

Thus, in the mid-1990s, the publishing company spawned Quad-Cities Online. While that body has been able to attract subscribers, its first foray into wireless was less successful. Since 2000, the company has taken space on 11 rooftops, deploying line-of-sight systems in unlicensed spectra. “But this part of Illinois and Iowa is extremely rolling -- it’s full of ravines and such, not just flat cornfields like people suppose,” Taylor says.

With its line-of-sight solutions plagued by geography, Taylor has turned to WiMax, striking a deal to build out a network using Nortel’s 4G WiMax technology. The deal hinges on a partnership arrangement with local Black Hawk College.

The college will provide spectrum to the ISP, which in turn will grant 30 percent of the network’s capacity back to the college, Taylor says. The college also gets an upfront lease fee of $85,000 and ongoing yearly payments that start at $70,000 and increase annually. The FCC has long allowed educational institutions to lease out their Educational Broadband Service or EBS spectra for commercial purposes.

The partnership between the ISP and the college is “critical,” according to Regina Moldovan, Nortel’s senior manager for WiMax marketing. “They each have their own special interests and angle in how they plan on using the technology, so it all kind of works together,” she says.

“I think we are going to see more and more of these types of situations,” Moldovan says. “It seems like all the big spectrum owners are these big companies, but there also are a lot of smaller players that have the spectrum, and they are joining forces with other industries or other types of companies.”

The Quad Cities region encompasses a number of municipalities, including Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. Together, they comprise a population of about 370,000 people, including about 120,000 households and 10,000 to 14,000 businesses.

Taylor’s publishing business may give him a leg up in trying to sell wireless services into the community. With his papers hitting more than 100,000 doorsteps a day, he has a natural vehicle for promoting his wireless offerings. Still, his projections are modest -- just 1,000 subscribers in the first year -- though he believes the number most likely will run a good bit higher than that. With three towers and three sectors on each tower, the system should be readily scalable, he says.

Looking beyond individual subscribers, Taylor preaches the gospel of economic development. If you build broadband wireless, he says, businesses will take an interest in your region. Broadband alone might not be enough to drive a corporate relocation, but in these days of increased mobility, WiMax offers a powerful plus, especially for companies looking to keep down their telecom costs.

“The ability to have that Internet cloud over the area, to have an alternative to the phone companies and the cable companies -- we are hopeful that that is going to bode well for the region in terms of people wanting to bring jobs here,” Taylor says.

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