WISPs Must Be a Significant Part of Any Plan to Boost COVID-19 Connectivity, Bridge Digital Divide

Today, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the state of broadband amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  The following statement may be attributed to Christina Mason, VP of Government Affairs for WISPA:
Washington, DC, May 13, 2020 – Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that our broadband networks are an essential survival tool for Americans – in good and bad times.  It doesn’t take a legislative hearing to see just how important that connectivity is to our livelihoods.  Nor to know that more needs to be done to get all Americans, no matter where they live or their ability to pay, online.

Millions of Americans lack the basic connectivity which would allow them to access the Internet.  Not only are they in traditionally ignored rural areas, but they live in urban pockets, too.  This divide is unacceptable, especially now.  Policymakers have poured billions of dollars over a period of decades into getting all Americans connected.  From access charge cross-subsidies, to open markets, to RUS grants and SBA loan guarantees, to Stimulus dollars, to Universal Service programs, to state and local initiatives, etc.  Yet the digital divide still yawns. 

Small local innovators, such as WISPs, are part of the solution.  They serve six million Americans in areas that have been left behind because they are deemed un-profitable.  They do this mostly on their own dime – now, today – quickly, cost-effectively using technology that meets the evolving expectations of the marketplace.  Yes, even “future proof” fiber and gigabit connectivity.  With a little help from Uncle Sam, WISPs could do more to get and keep Americans online.   

We will come out of today’s trials a stronger Nation.  The need for resilient and ubiquitous connectivity will always remain, however.  Today’s crisis must not be used as an opportune sidestep to limit solutions and artfully push out local marketplace participants already meeting community needs.  This benefits only the powerful – not the meek, the disadvantaged or the unconnected.  Americans demand an all-of-the-above approach instead.    

We pledge our support to work with Congress on this important national challenge, and to demonstrate that WISPs and other small local innovators must be a significant part of any plan to eradicate, once and for all, the digital divide.

WISPA’s approximately 850 members are composed of fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and the industry that supports fixed wireless broadband, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components needed to run a successful business. Our members, and WISPs, in general, provide broadband access to over 6 million residential and business customers, often in exclusively rural areas.
Mike Wendy