Industry, Good Policy Is Closing the Digital Divide

The FCC released data yesterday revealing that the digital divide is closing.  According to 2019 broadband deployment data, those living in areas without access to terrestrial fixed broadband fell to 14.5 million, a 46% decrease from the end of 2016.  The following statement may be attributed to Louis Peraertz, VP of Policy for WISPA:

Washington, DC, November 13, 2020 – The digital divide is a real and lingering challenge.  But work done by the broadband industry, including WISPs, has clearly reduced the gap and brought more Americans online.  That work continues, and we’re excited to be part of the positive growth and change.

The FCC’s findings are not an accident.  Undoubtedly, the evolution of technology is a big component of the delta.  It’s cheaper and faster than ever to create networks to serve rural and urban customers.  But, beneficial policies have had an enormous effect in reducing the divide, too.  Chief among them is the liberalization of support for non-traditional providers, as can be seen in the FCC’s CAF program, which allows companies like WISPs to bring broadband where it wasn’t. 

Other important trends are moving the needle, too.

According to WISPA’s data, WISPs have been organically growing at approximately a 15% clip annually.  Today, they serve about 7 million subscribers in areas which legacy providers have chosen to neglect or avoid due to cost constraints.  Though many WISPs provide fiber connectivity, too, the WISP model is faster and less expensive to deploy than wired alternatives.  It delivers access in a matter of days instead of months, or longer.  This deployment is further amplified by the fact that WISPs are not tethered to regulatory regimes that hamstring investment.  Fostering innovation without permission allows companies to more nimbly extend services to those who need it.

We congratulate the FCC for helping providers shrink the digital divide.  This, and other of its efforts – such as opening up the CBRS and 6 GHz spectrum bands for commercial use – will further ensure the divide continues to close.

WISPA’s 1000 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