We have seen a significant uptick in interest and investment in fixed wireless broadband over the past few months. Approximately 30% of US households in remote and rural communities still lack access to high speed broadband, and availability of fixed terrestrial broadband services in rural America continues to lag behind urban and suburban areas at all speeds.
High speed internet access via DSL, cable and fiber is still cost prohibitive in rural and remote areas, and is available is only where providers can deploy these networks profitably. Fixed wireless broadband is a key technology enabler in rural areas where communities are small and housing density is low.
Approximately 2,000 WISPs currently fill this gap by providing fixed wireless broadband services to more than 4 million households in small towns and rural communities in all 50 US states. Although the WISP industry is still highly fragmented, consolidation among WISP has been accelerating, as Rise Broadband acquired 100+ smaller operators since its founding in 2006. Rise Broadband is the largest US WISP with approximately 200,000 subscribers in 16 western states. SpeedConnect, the next largest WISP, serves 50,000 subscribers in 10 mid-west and southern states. Although the majority of these subscribers are being served using proprietary technologies in unlicensed 5GHz spectrum, the use of LTE technologies in licensed spectrum is growing.
Until recently, the largest US telecom and wireless network operators had not shown much interest in using fixed wireless technology to deliver fixed broadband to rural communities. But six of the leading telcos accepted more than $1.4 billion in funding in the second phase of the FCC Connect America Fund (CAF-II) to bring broadband to an estimated 3.5 million households and businesses in rural uncovered areas. Verizon opted out of the high-cost broadband program, while CAF II funding was accepted by CenturyLink, AT&T, Frontier, Windstream, FairPoint and Consolidated.