Claude's Blog: Gigabit Wine Country

This past week I was in Walla Walla visiting PocketiNet, a WISPA member who is deploying a mix of gigabit fiber and fixed wireless to underserved Washington State. I sat down with Todd Brandenberg (pictured at left), CEO of PocketiNet to talk about what they’re doing.

They have 40 employees at 3 offices in Washington State, all of them located at airports. “That’s because we have a number of employees who are pilots, and it helps us get from office to office more easily,” said Todd. “It also helps us cover our roughly 37,000 miles of territory a little easier.”

Started in 2000, PocketiNet has roughly 6000 customers in southern Washington State and northern Oregon, all on fiber and fixed wireless broadband. They’re proud of being a local company that is able to focus on customer service and high-speed connectivity, in many instances doing better than their cable competitors in smaller towns. PocketiNet got going on personal savings, and considered taking on a loan from the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, eventually turning it down because of the terms associated with it.

“We didn’t need it, and we’re very proud that 100% of our profits go back into our infrastructure,” said Todd. “We’re laser-focused on quality. All of our work is done in-house. We don’t contract out any of our customer service or installations.” And given that PocketiNet is located in Washington wine country, a discussion about broadband would not be complete without what the company is doing for precision agriculture. “We are excited about what we’re doing at the cutting edge of agriculture. We live in wine and apple country, and our connectivity is enabling things like microclimate forecasting and advanced soil nutrient analysis.” But still, major barriers like regulatory burdens remain. The city just passed small cell regulations, which should lower the barriers to infrastructure deployment.

“But it doesn’t, because it sets up a regime that puts requirements designed for cellular companies on us,” Todd remarked. “And things like requiring installers who run ground wires to have an electrician license put a huge burden on us and slow down deployment.”

PocketiNet is committed to putting their customers’ best interests first and continuing to deploy broadband to the unserved. But one big thing would make it a lot easier.

“We looked at participating in the recent millimeter wave auctions, but it makes no sense to auction spectrum that travels a couple thousand feet off at PEAs unless you’re trying to shut out smaller competitors from participating in the auction.”   

“Spectrum always helps,” Todd told me. “But we need small area licensed spectrum and unlicensed spectrum.”