Verizon to Launch 4G Wireless Network in Rural Areas

Published July 1, 2009

Verizon plans to launch a so-called “fourth generation” (4G) wireless network next year in rural areas of the country, which could make government efforts to provide rural broadband buildout redundant.

Tony Melone, Verizon’s senior vice president and chief technology officer, announced the plan at a wireless trade show in April. Only 38 percent of rural American homes use broadband, compared to 57 percent of Americans living in the cities and suburbs.

Vibrant Market

Curt Stamp, president of the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, notes most areas of the country have access to broadband service, and Verizon’s 4G rollout next year will strengthen the network currently in place and expand it—so long as current federal government policies do not change.

“[Telecommunication companies] are providing broadband to 85 to 90 percent of their service territories, which cover many of the nation’s most rural service territories,” Stamp said. “Verizon’s deployment will be a complement to that service, once it is finally deployed.

“It is necessary that [government] policies remain in place to ensure adequate support for those networks as we all work to provide broadband and other advanced communications to all Americans,” Stamp said, referring to fears that federal efforts at expanding broadband service would distort the market and impede buildout.

Bridging Digital Divide

Anthony Pennings, a communications professor at New York University, thinks Verizon’s announcement is good news. He is impressed that the telecommunications company has found a business model to expand broadband Internet to parts of rural America currently without access to fast Internet connections.

“If Verizon makes good on this promise, it will be helping to bridge a widening gap between broadband haves and have-nots in this country,” Pennings said. “The problem has been that building infrastructure for land-based broadband networks is expensive. And companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast [have said] they can’t make profits by offering service in sparsely populated regions because the cost to build these networks is too high and the number of potential customers is too few.”

Auction Win a Plus

The 700 MHz spectrum licenses Verizon bought in last year’s Federal Communications Commission auction are the reason it can feasibly deploy broadband Internet to rural areas. The strong frequency in that area of the spectrum can transmit over long distances with fewer towers than most other frequencies.

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.