C Spire-led Consortium Publishes White Paper on Rural Broadband Access

A group of tech firms led by Mississippi-based C Spire proposed one solution to bridging the “digital divide” and helping solve the rural broadband access and adoption problem in the United States lies in partnerships and avoiding a “go-it-alone” or “one-size-fits-all” approach.

In a 23-page white paper released this week, the firms, which also include Telsat, Airspan Networks, Microsoft, Nokia and Siklu, say they believe the best chance for success lies in encouraging partnerships between larger, urban-focused operators and smaller, local firms by sharing costs and expertise to enable “faster and more economically feasible” deployments.

C Spire joined forces with the other tech firms last year to test technology solutions, create and build new business models and provide training resources for individuals and communities in digital skills. The latest white paper identifies four new third-party engagement models for rural broadband that could be “game changers” in helping improve internet access in rural areas.

The consortium has published four case studies that supplement the white paper with real-world examples, including a scattered farmhouse environment, satellite backhaul by an emerging internet service provider, an operator only model and an established wireless internet service provider in a clustered town environment.

“We’re not just interested in technical solutions to the rural broadband challenge,” said C Spire CTO Carla Lewis.  “We believe these solutions also must be financially feasible and make good economic sense.”  Lewis said established and start-up internet service providers, local broadband advocates and infrastructure providers are key players in overall connectivity efforts.

Mississippi, with almost 28 percent of its residents lacking any broadband connectivity and less than 18 percent using broadband, is the primary testing ground of the group’s work as nearly half of its 3 million residents live in rural areas.  The state ranks 46th nationwide in broadband access and 47th in urban population.

The broadband “digital divide” between U.S. cities and rural parts of the country is substantial.  According to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission1 report, more than 19.4 million rural Americans still lacked basic broadband at the end of 2017 with profound negative social and economic impacts on the nation’s rural communities.