Is FirstNet the Solution For Connecting Rural America?
There’s a lot of interest from citizens, states, counties and the federal government to bring broadband to rural America. The biggest issue is: “How do you make it feasible?” broadband public safety advocateAndrew Seybold asked rhetorically. “Everyone seems to be focused on fiber to the home,” which is “not economical” in many cases, he says. Many organizations don’t consider microwave for backhaul or wireless solutions, he said during a Wednesday webinar organized by the International Wireless Communications Expo. The topic was “Alternative Wireless Sites for Increased Coverage.”
He’s high on the FirstNet project, the nationwide broadband communications network for first responders being built by AT&T. FirstNet “is required to cover America,” plus it has enough spectrum for both first responders and citizens, Seybold said.
Other carriers can join in, he says, however cooperation and coordination need to happen between local governments and FirstNet. That way, an advocate for rural broadband coverage on a county or small regional basis can determine if there would be any coverage gaps and identify ways, such as state or federal grant money, to fill those.
Fiber or microwave backhaul is needed for rural areas, according to Seybold and cell sites “don’t all have to be” costly 100-foot towers. Pico, micro and small cells can be deployed.
Both FirstNet and AT&T have said they’re interested in speaking with counties, according to Seybold. But there’s a limited amount of time to implement this type of rural buildout. “If we’re going to work with them we have to get started now,” he said.