Sunday 21 July 2019

C Spire: Connecting the Rural Unconnected in USA

C Spire is the United States' sixth-largest wireless provider, operating in the three states of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

C Spire started out in the 1950s as  a local exchange carrier, later adding cellular service. In recent years, it has broadened its scope to include building middle-mile fiber and fiber-to-the-home networks and data centers and also offering a wide range of residential and business services throughout Mississippi and other parts of its service area. Many of these developments were made with the aim to spur on economic development in those areas.

C Spire is based in Mississippi one of least connected and most rural states in the country. 

 In 2017 study from the Mississippi State University Center for Technology Outreach that found the state’s lack of broadband access, and slow internet speeds result in rural counties losing millions of dollars each year in deferred economic benefits.

As a result of these disparities and economic losses C Spire along with Airspan Networks, Microsoft, Nokia, and Siklu formed a group in late January 2019 in order to find new approaches to solving the broadband gap. The group also aims to create new business models that regional fixed and wireless broadband providers, and utilities can use to enhance adoption in rural areas.

The group launched a website to house updates on the consortium’s testing and deployment efforts with broadband technologies including TV white spaces, massive MIMO using Band 41 LTE spectrum, and C Spire’s fixed wireless 5G product. And published a white paper (PDF) with information about the rural broadband access issue.

C Spire’s Chief Innovation Officer Craig Sparks said in a statement that the consortium is on track to achieve its goal of developing a new blueprint for closing the broadband access gap, with work initially focused on the state of Mississippi. 

Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee make up the primary territory served by C Spire
and are fairly rural states, ranked 47, 42, and 33 respectively in terms of urban population. Not surprisingly, broadband access in Mississippi is one of the lowest in the nation; it is currently ranked 46, while Alabama and Tennessee are ranked 40 and 25 respectively. Today, approximately 28% of Mississippians (829,000 people) lack access to fixed broadband. As with the rest of the US, lack of access in the state is much higher in most rural counties. 

The primary challenge to bringing broadband to rural communities is economic. Rural areas are less densely populated. The cost to serve each customer increases as customer density decreases. This results in either a much longer return on investment (ROI) period or a

much higher price for services for the rural neighborhood compared to the denser neighborhood. With fewer customers and less available revenue, competition becomes less common in less populated areas.

 There are also technology challenges, including very rough terrain, power and backhaul availability,and distance limitations to fiber and wireless transmissions, etc. that are a struggle to overcome even with an infinite amount of money. It is entirely possible that some areas of the United States (and the world) cannot be served until those technology problems are solved. Therefore broadband adoption initiatives such as this one by C Spire and their partners is of vital importance. 

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