Business disruption throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread. Subsequently, closing the gap in communication and fostering much-needed conversation about today’s challenges and triumphs with virtual meet-and-greet opportunities has become vital. To allow for productive discussion amidst stay-at-home protocols, FiberLight, a fiber infrastructure provider with more than 20 years of construction experience building mission-critical, high-bandwidth networks, and DE-CIX, the world’s leading Internet Exchange (IX) operator, teamed up to deliver an online happy hour for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs). 

Attendees came from a range of markets, including Texas, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, and the discussion that took place was just as wide ranging. Themes of evolving customer demands, important business adjustments and more presented an interesting overview of what’s happening across the industry in these unprecedented times. 

Chip Robertson, Director of Business Development for Netrality Properties, kicked off the conversation by acknowledging that demands for space and power from customers are on the rise across the board, and the concern over uptime is increasing. Furthermore, he notes, “I think we’re still seeing a lot of the hyperscalers and some of the cloud [businesses] looking to grow and looking at…more of a distributed edge approach.” He continues by observing that they have their budgets in place and are continuing to act on these goals despite the current circumstances.  

When it comes to fulfilling this business growth in the midst of a pandemic, everyone agrees that connectivity is key. This point brings up another topic that has emerged at the forefront of many telecommunications professionals’ minds these days: extending virtual capabilities and connectivity to rural and underserved areas. Right now, people need immediate capabilities in remote areas, and many companies have been seeing a lot of activity over the last eight weeks. To underscore this point, one attendee added, “We’ve got like 300 installs. We’re booked three weeks out. People need the internet.”

This bolstered activity could be a result of government programs that have either recently sprung up or garnered greater attention given the current circumstances. The programs mentioned by attendees included the CARES Act, also known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which is working to deliver fast and direct economic assistance for workers, families, small businesses and more. Attendees noted that there is also funding in the hundreds of millions dedicated to rural broadband deployment, as well as grant money available for telemedicine initiatives. As Ilissa Miller, President of NEDAS, CEO of iMiller Public Relations and Co-Founder of the IND-DCA, observes, “Being able to be an aggregation point for those [underserved] communities is key.”

Marc Dyman, Chief Revenue Officer of FiberLight, noted that they have also seen an increase in sizeable bandwidth upgrades as a result of all the IP consumption. They’re seeing huge demand from healthcare facilities in need of similar upgrades, so teams and crews are still remaining out in the field to cater to those vital players. Fortunately, he says, “We’re still constructing fiber and… have not yet seen any of the big delays.” 

The consensus from WISPs was that reassuring and educating customers about how the industry is continuing to deliver services during this time is vital, both to ensure that virtual opportunities can be delivered and to offer peace of mind. Furthermore, this discussion brought up the idea that opportunities arising in the face of adversity may provide WISPs with a unique chance to take themselves further than ever before. As Ed d’Agostino, Vice President and General Manager of DE-CIX North America, observes, “I wonder if it’s a time for WISPs to take market share… because [they are] more nimble and in a better position to fulfill demand quickly.” 

Overall, some businesses have been lucky to continue somewhat normally — others have been impacted more and have had to dedicate much of their time to finding ways to work productively in the new normal. However, one thing that rings true across the board is that making time for connection and discussion — even if it’s through a computer screen — offers an indispensable feeling of normalcy and community that helps all feel hopeful for the future. 

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