Two Solutions Proposed to Remedy “Bandwidth Exhaustion”

In Halifax County, residents are suffering from “bandwidth exhaustion,” seeing internet speeds hovering below two Mbps compared to the 30 Mbps national average. This is a reality for much of rural America, especially in Halifax County where 30 percent of residents have no internet access at all and another 62 percent insufficient service, according to a 2016 survey by the state-sponsored Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), reported The Roanoke Times.

However, there is hope for improving the wireless black-hole. Two separate projects are in the works: one new plan by Microsoft and another, more traditional effort by county officials.

Microsoft wants to kick off its rural wireless revolution in Halifax County with the TV white spaces technology, hoping to deliver internet to two million rural residents by 2022. The Microsoft Airband Initiative, according to senior director Paul Garnett, is an experimental network that’s only open to about 170 specific households at this point – but that number is going to grow.

How does it work? The Roanoke Times reported The Airband Initiative proposes to expand broadband access to rural communities using a combination of TV white spaces (the unlicensed frequencies between television channels) fixed wireless and satellite, Inside Towers reported.

The antennas can hone in on one at a time without mixing signals, according to The Roanoke Times. The unlicensed frequencies between television channels can carry a lot of data, long distances. Microsoft’s plan is to use those frequencies to broadcast internet to rural America, starting with connecting 1,000 homes in Halifax and neighboring Charlotte counties by early next year. Inside Towers notes that Microsoft’s plan hinges on the FCC leaving one UHF “white space” channel in each market for this purpose after the television repack. NAB is opposed, saying TV won’t have enough spectrum.

Additionally, county officials are moving ahead with a wireless broadband plan that relies on fixed wireless, offering a more immediate solution. Halifax County board of supervisors voted in October to contribute a total $103,000 for phase I and is now seeking grants for future expansions, reported The Roanoke Times. The county is partnering with SCS Technologies, a local internet service provider, to take advantage of the small amount of fiber already in the ground as the backbone to the project, supplementing with antennas and connecting to existing towers.

According to SCS CEO Clay Stewart, he plans to offer connections in Halifax County beginning at 10 Mbps for $35 a month. And after four buildout phases are complete, he hopes the network will reach 70 percent of the county.

November 14, 2017               

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