Big broadband project muscles out smaller rural providers

HOUGHTON – Steven Fitzgerald is disappointed the United States government isn’t yet including small internet and telephone providers, such as his ShoreWaves Internet company, in the funding program to bring broadband internet to rural areas of the country.

Connect America, a program intended to provide funding to make certain broadband internet is available to all areas of the country, provided about $9 billion for the effort, but Fitzgerald said the funding is not being offered to small companies, such as his.

Fitzgerald said he has more than 300 customers in Sedar Bay, Torch Bay, Liminga and Hancock Township. He’s planning to move farther north into Keweenaw County.

The Federal Communication Commission is focusing its Connect America funding on large companies, such as AT&T, Century Link and Frontier, and not considering small companies, Fitzgerald said. There are about 3,000 small internet providers in the country.

“There’s a lot of us being left out of this funding,” he said.

Even in remote rural areas, Fitzgerald said there is an increasing demand for wireless broadband.

“Internet use is growing explosively,” he said.

Because his customers demands for streaming is growing so fast, Fitzgerald said he recently had to upgrade his equipment to accommodate the demand.

Fitzgerald said he provides fixed wireless internet, which means his customers use it at specific locations, such as home or work.

United States Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, is one of 26 senators, both Democrat and Republican, who signed a letter sent to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler urging him to make certain rural areas are included in the federal government’s efforts to expand broadband services in the country.

Peters said as many wireless providers as possible need to be part of the federal government’s Connect America funding.

“This has to be as dispersed as possible,” he said.

Peters said the focus of the senators urging the FCC to make certain rural areas are covered is with mobile – also called wireless – broadband.

“The future is mobile,” he said. “Wireless tends to have much larger penetration rates.”

Peters said rural areas in the country are seriously lagging behind urban areas with broadband coverage.

“Nearly 90 percent of rural Americans don’t have access to mobile broadband,” he said. “Today everything is mobile.”

Although the letter the senators sent to Wheeler doesn’t specifically mention small providers, Peters said he will look into getting them included in the federal funding program.

“I’m particularly focused on small business,” he said.

Peters said as of Thursday, there was no response from Wheeler to the senators’ July 12 letter.

Fitzgerald said although he has no plans to go to mobile wireless, he’s glad Peters and the other senators are aware remote rural areas need the attention of the federal government.

“I think they’re seeing what the FCC is trying to do with the Connect America fund isn’t developing quickly,” he said.