Zirkel Wireless brings rural Colorado broadband, communications concerns to Washington, D.C.
September 21, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Two representatives from Steamboat's Zirkel Wireless headed to Washington, D.C., this week to give legislators a window into the state of broadband and telecommunications from the view of Northwest Colorado.
Sean Heskett, owner and chief technology officer of Zirkel Wireless, and Jared Alpe, senior field technician, traveled as part of a larger delegation of Wireless Internet Service Providers Association members.
The association is a trade organization with more than 700 members that represents companies such as Zirkel Wireless, which uses fixed wireless technology to provide broadband Internet to Routt County users.
Heskett and Alpe joined other business owners and representatives of the association in sitting down with legislative aides to lay out the regulatory and government issues in their industry.
Heskett said Friday that there were three main issues covered in the meetings and a fourth he raised that pertained to Routt County specifically.
Two of the main topics concerned channels of spectrum being opened for unlicensed use.
Heskett said the U.S. is reaching a pivotal point in its development of TV-band white space, or frequencies that aren't used by TV broadcasting.
Some of the upper frequencies, he said, that were freed up by the switch away from analog TV were auctioned off to large telecommunications companies. But lower frequencies that still are in use for TV purposes might not be fully utilized, according to Heskett.
Broadband Internet could be a secondary use for those frequencies, he said, but instability in regulations has discouraged hardware development and unlicensed uses could be further expanded.
"The rest of the world is opening up TV white space spectrum for these unlicensed uses whereas the U.S. is trying to auction it off," Heskett said.
While this will provide a "sugar rush" of cash for the Treasury, he said, it allows large firms to lock up the spectrum and limits the horizon for innovation. Heskett used WiFi as an example of what's possible when spectrum is opened up for new uses not then imagined.
Heskett said the meetings also addressed the Connect America Fund, which collects money from telephone and broadband connections to fund reaching more Americans with broadband access, specifically in underserved rural areas.
Because Zirkel Wireless does not offer traditional telephone service — Voice over Internet Protocol communications can be used over its broadband connections — it is not eligible for the funds even though its customers will be assessed the fees, according to Heskett.
"What we don’t want to see is unsubsidized dollars versus subsidized dollars," he said about the potential for a firm such as CenturyLink to use the funds to compete directly with Zirkel Wireless.
Heskett said that Zirkel Wireless welcomes competition but that he doesn't want to see public funds used to overbuild against small businesses.
An issue that Heskett brought up that is pertinent locally is the inability to perform fire mitigation around tower sites on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management sites.
The site already is designated for a tower and the development is done, he said, so the towers that carry emergency services, government and law enforcement communication and broadcast signals should be afforded protection.
Heskett said he stressed the importance of Internet connectivity to a growing segment of Routt County's economy in location-neutral businesses.
While there was no specific legislation up for debate that the wireless Internet representatives were in Washington to address, Heskett said, the purpose was to pop up on the radar of legislators, open up the channels of communication and potentially be a resource in the future.