VLOG: Matt Larsen - WISPs and Their Culture of Community Empowerment

In ’97, I decided I wanted to start up an ISP.  I had no money.  I was living in a trailer house out in the country, working at a feedlot.  And my dad got like three of his friends together and they got me enough seed money to get a T1 line and 10 dial-up lines, and we started an internet provider with that.  I sold my first ISP, and during that time they did more with wireless, and then they sold to another company.  My non-compete expired, and that was in 2003.  And then 2004, I decided to start over, but I said I’m just going to do wireless.  We can do so much with the equipment now.  What’s been really crazy is how much the fixed-wireless gear has evolved and things that we would never dream of, we’re capable of now.  My first ISP we had a T1 line to feed it.  1.5 meg.  And now, the minimum speed that we offer our customers is 25 megs.
So, we are building out our first fiber town.  We bought an abandoned cable plant and we’re now overlaying fiber into the town.  The nice part is still having fixed-wireless.  I love the hybrid idea of doing fixed-wireless and fiber.  They’re actually very complementary.  You get a big backbone into town and you can start with fixed-wireless and get service to everybody really quickly and cost-effectively, and then transition them to fiber later on.   
A lot has happened from when I started out.  I had three towers around Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and now we’ve got 300 spread out across three states, and I’m not the only one.  There are a lot of people out there that have done just incredible things, incredibly valuable service to the community and the people that they serve.  And to put that competitive pressure on companies that were just ignoring rural America.
The biggest difference between I think the bigger national ISPs and what you see with the fixed-wireless and a lot of the independent, alternative ISPs you see out there – and I’m going to include a lot of the fiber guys out there as well – is I think a lot of the new generation of fiber and fixed-wireless ISPs are more about empowering communities and creating new opportunities and building.  I think it’s a big difference in culture.  So, on one side, with fixed-wireless and a lot of independent fiber providers, you have this culture of empowerment, of trying to make communities better.  On the other side, with a lot of the other entities, it’s a culture of extraction.  And it’s not just the big corporates.  It’s also, there’s a lot of players out there that are really focused on extracting as much money as they can out of these communities or extracting as much money from the government programs as they can.  And so, I think when you take that, you compare the two – the culture of empowerment versus the culture of extraction – long-term [the culture of empowerment] will win out.