NICHOLASVILLE, KY—On Tuesday, Commissioner Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) met with Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) and Kentucky Fi owner, John Gill. The two spoke about the essential role small Internet Service Providers (ISPs) play in bringing connection to underserved areas as they stood by one of John’s 60-foot internet towers.
“The small farms and family homes that are spread across rural Jessamine County, Kentucky have been stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Commissioner Carr tweeted on Tuesday. “That’s now changing thanks to John and his scrappy Internet upstart, which is now offering 100 Mbps high-speed service.”
Later in his Twitter thread, Carr noted how ISPs like Gill are facing “federal headwinds” because “the government is poised to treat these customers getting 100 Mbps as if they get 0, then waste scarce [funding] overbuilding them.”
Carr is referring to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, a $42.5 billion program intended to fund the expansion of high-speed internet access and use to unserved areas. The issue lies in the NTIA’s current parameters for areas considered to be unserved, which are areas without access to 100/20 Mbps service and/or relies on unlicensed spectrum.
Gill’s Kentucky Fi provides 100 Mbps service to its customers, but because the network relies on unlicensed spectrum, the NTIA doesn’t recognize Kentucky Fi’s service, thus the potential for overbuilding and the wasting of BEAD funds as noted by Carr. What’s more, ISPs that don’t meet the NTIA’s current criteria, like Kentucky Fi, can’t qualify for BEAD funding.
Gill’s optimism after meeting with the Commissioner
After meeting with Commissioner Carr, Gill says he’s optimistic for the future of fixed wireless providers now that the FCC is beginning to understand their value. “[Carr] was very taken aback by how affordable fixed wireless is compared to fiber,” Gill explained. “I told him the tower we were standing by cost me $2500 and serves 25 customers within a three-mile radius, which is quite the difference compared to the $30,000 – $60,000 per mile rate for fiber.”
While fiber can provide superior speeds and better stability, Gill says wireless is the better fit for rural areas. “When there are only ten homes for every mile, fixed wireless is the better solution,” he explains.
According to Gill, Carr appeared pragmatic when it comes to providing internet to rural areas. “Carr is an ally for not just fixed wireless but the right solution for the job,” Gill said, indicating Carr’s consideration for WISPs using unlicensed spectrum as a viable option in certain circumstances.
Another roadblock for many smaller ISPs hoping to qualify for the BEAD program is the NTIA’s minimum speeds requirement. Gill indicated that the topic came up in his conversation with the Commissioner. “From what I gather from Commissioner Carr, and my personal experience as an ISP, families of four can easily get by on 25/2 Mbps,” says Gill. “You’re not disconnected. Your kids can still play video games and watch Netflix.”
Gill also asked Carr about whether or not the FCC is considering pushing for fining ISPs who report inaccurate Broadband Data Collections (BDC). Intentionally falsifying BDCs is an insidious tactic in the industry that hurts small ISPs. Earlier this year, Ohio-based ISP Ryan Grewell discovered that one of his competitors lied about their network’s service area to the FCC with the intention to block funding to Grewell.
Carr indicated that the FCC will be looking into such cases and intends hold people accountable who abuse the system, according to Gill.
This visit with John Gill and Kentucky Fi is one of many to come for Commissioner Carr as he’s currently embarking on a two-month road trip to meet with providers. And after meeting with Carr, Gill is confident that the FCC is considering fixed wireless as a solution. “I feel like now we’re not overlooked,” he says. “He’s seeing what we’re doing and taking it into consideration.”
Why am I reading this on Vilo’s website?
Vilo Living is a managed mesh Wi-Fi solutions provider that partners with ISPs like John Gill of Kentucky Fi. Gill and Vilo have had a working relationship ever since Gill first met the Vilo team at Wispapalooza 2021. Vilo is committed to being a trusted ISP partner and serving the WISP community. “At Vilo, we care about your business, because your success is our success,” says Vilo CEO Jessie Zhou.
At last year’s Wispapalooza conference, Gill was invited to be a keynote speaker and sported a Vilo hat as he spoke about starting Kentucky Fi in September 2020 and growing from a handful of customers to having coverage to over 900 homes.
“One of the reasons I continue to work with Vilo is that they’re doing so much in the market of listening to us WISPs,” Gill said in his Wispapalooza address. “You tell them what you need and they’ll work to get it to you in the next release. It’s kind of like what we’re doing for our customers when we go to a customer’s house. The customer wants a satisfying product, and Vilo does the same thing for an ISP.”
Vilo Living provides complete Wi-Fi hardware and remote management solutions that empower ISPs of any size to delight your customers, reduce your operating costs, and grow your business. Schedule a demo today!