The Legislative Hat Trick for Wireless ISPs

There has not been a better time to start a wireless ISP (WISP) business. From regulatory easing to funding, the opportunity is ripe for wireless veterans and tech entrepreneurs to join the movement. In particular, there are three recent legislative tailwinds that are enabling WISPs to launch and expand quickly. These include reduced restrictions on radio equipment, the elimination of exclusive deals in multi-dwelling units (MDUs), and government funding.

1. Reduced radio equipment restrictions (FCC)

Last year (March/May 2021), several new amendments from the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (OTARD) became effective. These amendments provide greater flexibility of antennas that are used for fixed-wireless broadband. For example, the antenna needs to be one meter or less in diameter and a mast of a maximum of 12-feet in height from the roofline without requiring permitting. The antenna must also be installed on property within exclusive use, spanning direct or indirect ownership or leasehold interest. In addition to rooftops, exclusive use areas can also include balconies, decks and yards. These rules apply to both hub and relay antennas that can provide fixed wireless to one or more customers at that location. And lastly, there are clauses that make it difficult for local government, HOA or condo associations to refuse or cause delays or additional costs to these fixed wireless deployments.

Together, these rules and amendments essentially enable the backbone for neighborhood mesh networks. And it’s likely not a coincidence that these amendments debuted shortly after the pandemic exacerbated digital divide problems throughout the world. Coupled with the fact that fiber-to-the-premises remains financially unviable in low-profitability areas, the latest OTARD amendments present a golden opportunity for WISPs. This includes multi-dwelling units (MDU) that we’ll discuss next.

2. Elimination of exclusive MDU deals (FCC)

In February 2022, the FCC banned certain types of contractual agreements between multi-tenant building owners and broadband providers. This is important because it prevents exclusive revenue-sharing agreements, which have historically stifled competition and kept prices unfairly high. The new order also requires broadband providers to inform tenants about the existence of exclusive marketing arrangements.

This new legislation will eventually provide relief for consumers living in apartment or condominium communities. The significance of this ban cannot be understated because approximately a third of Americans live in multi-dwelling units. Prior to this ruling, these consumers were subject to monopolistic pricing. But now, increased competition will inevitably bring greater affordability and access to those who need it. In addition to new fiber-to-the-premises options, the opportunity is even more suitable for WISPs due to lower costs and faster time to market. Similar to the OTARD amendments, the latest FCC ruling is also favorable to WISPs.

3. Unprecedented government funding for broadband access

The digital divide problem was already an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the problem became more pronounced when much of the world went on lockdown in the beginning months of the pandemic. From students to workers in underserved areas, getting homework and work done became even more difficult. As a result, the US government launched many funding programs to help bridge the digital divide. This includes the latest infrastructure bill that earmarks $65B for broadband.

Although there are many programs, universal broadband is the theme that runs through most. Therefore, in order to receive funding in the latest BEAD program, each state must prioritize and justify which areas should receive broadband funding. There must also be a five-year plan that outlines how these communities will be served and how long it will take to bridge the digital divide in each state. Just as important, funding will be tied to a minimum of 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload speeds. This helps to ensure that new broadband access will be as relevant as possible even after the four-year deadline to deploy these networks.

WISPs Are Busy Launching and/or Expanding

In fact, many new WISPs launched in recent years after seeing the potential for market disruption. From Andrena to Starry to WeLink, these disruptors are moving as fast as they can to deploy wireless networks with fiber endpoints. And with billions of dollars on the line to expand affordable broadband access, the competitive landscape will likely intensify.

Although we cannot predict the future, the Airwaive team believes that WISPs will play a significant role in bridging the digital divide. In fact, our entire business is built on supporting the launch of decentralized wireless networks to provide greater broadband access and affordability. So whether you’re a new or experienced WISP, Airwaive is eager to support your growth plans. Schedule a demo below to learn about our free network planning and site acquisition tools to help you launch or expand your WISP.

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