WATCH Communications Focuses on Broadband Deserts
Article by Doug LeDuc | KPC News | July 26, 2019
Anton King, executive director of DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership, Inc., was happy to see the county fall within the footprint of Watch TV Co. this spring because of its potential impact on broadband there.
The subsidiary of Lima, Ohio-based Benton Ridge Telephone Co. does business under the Watch Communications brand. It provides broadband, subscription television and other services through more than 400 towers via radio signal, and it soon will use TV white space for that purpose as well, with help from Microsoft Corp.
Their new partnership could be transformative for many homes and businesses in the region because the recent acquisition of Lightning Net wireless internet network assets extended Watch coverage in Allen, DeKalb, LaGrange and Noble counties in Indiana and in Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert and Williams counties in Ohio.
Watch plans to bring the new TV white space broadband to any part of its service area needing it, according to Greg Jarman, chief operating officer. And, King said he knows of DeKalb County areas where the technology could make a big difference “not just for citizens, but for businesses.”
The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as internet connectivity with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.
The commission considers areas with internet access at slower speeds to be underserved. And when Watch looked at its newly acquired territory, it found “a sizable number in DeKalb County that met that (underserved classification) requirement in the rural areas,” King said.
In addition to streaming entertainment video services, faster internet connections can provide access to important services such as video conferencing, e-learning, telemedicine and e-commerce, he said.
“The internet is just as important as a utility in today’s world as power and water and sewer, so the more options we can have for the citizens in the county the better,” King said.
“We find this is an important asset that we can continue to try to improve in our county as we look to grow and take steps in the right direction to improve our quality of life,” he said.
“For business attraction and things like that, it bodes well for many of our communities,” he said. “And it’s very important for those that live in areas that don’t necessarily get all the internet options you get if you live in town.”
With the Lightning Net assets acquisition, Watch service covers most of about 65 counties in Indiana and Ohio and bleeds over into some adjacent counties, Jarman said.
Watch was interested in the Lightning Net assets partly because it already served the southern half of Allen County and some areas west of that in Whitley and Noble counties, he said.
Also, “we won some Connect America Fund dollars to build out that area, and viewed the acquisition to be strategic to expedite the construction on that front,” he said.
Watch will bring broadband to areas that do not have it using fiber optic cabling where that is the most practical and line-of-site radio signal connectivity with a rooftop antenna where that is possible and would make more economic sense.
Microsoft has pushed for the deployment of unused television frequencies, or TV white space technology, to reach areas with the lowest population densities or where line-of-site radio signals would be challenged by trees or terrain.
“North of Fort Wayne and into DeKalb, more heavily forested areas present a problem with the lineof- site,” Jarman said. “The TV white space … allows us to penetrate the trees.
“Kosciusko, Whitley and Elkhart counties, in those areas too, I wouldn’t hesitate to use that technology if the need presented itself,” he said. “Anywhere where we have our service today, we’ll be using TV white space as another means of reaching customers.”
Watch will use TV white space technology to offer service with 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds and customers will need the same kind of rooftop antenna to get it that they would use with the line-of-site wireless service, he said.
“We expect to keep our pricing at least competitive with other carriers in the area, even at those speeds,” Jarman said. “Our mission is to provide an opportunity for people who live in rural spaces to get the same kind of service people can get in the urban areas.”
The Connect America Fund II assigned Watch $52 million after its network expansion to support extending broadband’s reach to unserved and underserved areas, and the company is waiting on the funding to begin that process, he said.
“We’re just waiting for final notification, and we think that’s imminent,” he said. “We’re still in the planning phases right now.”
Watch will use Microsoft data maps to help find customers previously unreached or underserved by internet service providers. Jarman said he believes their numbers have been underestimated in the past.