Rural Wireless in the Spotlight.
By Jeff Goldman, Tue Sep 16 03:45:00 GMT 2003

The FCC's Rural Wireless ISP Showcase & Workshop is just a couple of days away, and the full agenda was announced this morning. It includes remarks by FCC Chairman Michael Powell, panel discussions with Commission members, and presentations by WISP operators from around the country, discussing system configurations, business plans, and community relations issues unique to rural WISPs.

The Washington Post published an article today looking at Roadstar Internet, which supplies wireless access to rural communities in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. In preparation for the WISP Showcase, Powell visited a Roadstar transmitter site based in a barn last week and announced, "This is the face of things to come." But Martin Dougherty, Roadstar's chief executive, isn't quite as optimistic.

Dougherty says more unlicensed spectrum has to be made available if his business is to succeed in the long term. "I'm using it as fast as I can," he said. "Eventually I'm going to run out of spectrum and I'm going to have to tell customers, 'I can't help you.'"

Issues like these are going to be at the forefront at the FCC's meeting on Thursday, but the FCC is already taking notice: Last week, it announced plans [PDF] to amend its spectrum regulations in order to encourage the deployment of rural wireless services.

At the very least, Thursday's workshop will make for a fascinating day. With a little luck, it could bring about increased understanding and communication between WISPs and regulators, and could further empower rural communities across the country to get the broadband access they need.