Wireless Broadband Could Spur Rural Business VoIP

I was listening to a roundtable discussion by some wireless Internet service provider (WISP) executives, together in Washington D.C. to lobby the Federal Communications Commission and Congress in hopes of loosening up more spectrum that they can use to provide their services, and hopefully to also prompt major changes in the way funds from the Universal Service Fund are doled out.

The executives, leaders of the trade group the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), represent companies that provide Internet services to rural and semi-rural communities, primarily using unlicensed pieces of the radio frequency spectrum. There are about 700 such companies who are members of WISPA.

One of the arguments the WISPA folk made, which I found most interesting and highly relevant to VoIP services to both small businesses and residential customers was that currently the U.S. Government is plowing billions of dollars into subsidizing plain old telephone service (POTS), over wires, to rural communities. Indeed I’ve written many times over the years about the thousands of dollars, and on occasion even tens of thousands, spent to bring traditional analog phone service to  remote parts of the country.

WISPA’s argument is that it is far more cost efficient to provide that service wirelessly, using VoIP phone service over the broadband they can deliver. They also cite the ability to use mobile VoIP over the rapidly-deploying 4G technology called Long Term Evolution (LTE). However big incumbent landline and cellular companies, including both phone companies and multiple system operators (MSOs, commonly known as cable TV companies), aren’t interested in doing any of that in rural areas, they argue. Instead they’re content just to provide highly subsidized POTs (distances are so long that any real broadband just won’t work over copper or coaxial).

If the WISPA folk, who say there are 28 million rural homes and small businesses in the U.S. that can’t get broadband, are successful, it will open up a new world of possibilities for business phone service, such as that provided by Phone.com, that could well stimulate small business growth in rural areas.

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.