Small Towns Home-Growing Broadband for Data, Net, VOIP

A recent publication from Yankee Group examines success and failure factors of rural broadband initiatives. Most bring VOIP to public service facilities.

The race is heating up between telcos and cable operators to wire up broadband customers, providing "triple play" service of voice, data and video on demand. This competition story, whose Nov. 16 installment features SBC and Comcast, is being played out in thickly populated residential and commercial centers.

Further from the metro hubs, rural counties and cities are looking to their own resources and government initiatives to fund broadband buildouts for data and voice. A recent "research advisory" from the Yankee Groups Lindsay Schroth, "Wireless Broadband Finds a Home in the Country," examines this trend, its success factors and issues.

Rural broadband initiatives typically start by linking up a towns own facilities: schools, police stations, hospitals, libraries, water plants and the like, says the advisory. "Often, after theyve built up the network, theyll start to act as a wholesale provider for ISPs to come into the region and bring services to businesses and consumers," said Schroth in an interview. "Theres often fiber backbone, created by utilities. They find ways to leverage that, or leverage water towers, other infrastructure."

Small-town broadband solutions are now a mixture of fiber and what Schroth calls "pre-WiMax" transport: a fixed-wireless, pre-standardized point-to-multipoint technology between base stations and outdoor-mounted transceivers.

"Typically, the municipality will have some idea of where to apply for grants for building out broadband networks. There are different initiatives in each of the states," said Schroth. ROI periods are generally longer than those required of enterprises. Information on municipalities currently building out networks is available at

Schroth reports that Yankee Group has seen a lot of municipalities considering Wi-Fi and mesh networking—a technology that creates coverage by routing traffic from one access point to another, instead of point-to-multipoint. "We dont think that will wind up being the technology of choice for them, because this is built as a local area net technology, not wide area," she said. "You need a lot of access points The mesh networks weve seen deployed wind up an operational nightmare, especially for a municipality, which doesnt have a lot of expertise."

Schroths advisory also recommends that rural municipalities develop coalitions among the government and business consumers before launching the service.

The Yankee Group document pays particular attention to Allegany County, Md., where its AllCoNet project created a high-capacity microwave wireless SONET ring connecting large public facilities over unlicensed spectrum. The town was able to put its own water towers, high school, bell tower and airport towers to use in mounting base stations. A second phase scaled the ring to 622M bps, over 400 T-1 lines, and was opened to commercial ISPs at a low fee.

Next Page: N.Y., Connecticut projects.