Oct 18, 2022

Nextlink to pour $50M into Kansas, Nebraska rural broadband access

Posted Oct 18, 2022 10:15 AM

Post News Network

On Aug. 31, a little-known but fast-growing broadband company received nearly half a billion dollars from the federal government to expand rural access, including in Kansas and Nebraska.

Texas-based Nextlink Internet plans to deploy a mix of fiber and fixed wireless services across 11 states with funding from the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Broadband Opportunity Fund.

“We are excited to partner with the FCC to deploy gigabit connectivity to households across rural America," Bill Baker, co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. "With significant licensed spectrum holdings to support gigabit wireless plus fiber projects ready to kick-off construction, we are well-positioned to move quickly to connect the unconnected.”

Of the $429 million committed by the FCC, more than $50 million is devoted to expansion in Kansas and Nebraska, creating service for an additional 26,000 customers in Kansas and 14,000 in Nebraska.

"The majority of it is fixed wireless, but fiber is a growing part of our business and will be going forward," said Claude Aiken, Nextlink chief strategy officer. "One of the benefits of fixed wireless is it's quicker and less costly to deploy ... and is relatively easily upgradeable."


Fixed wireless uses an access point — generally located on an existing tower or other high point in a service area — to connect customers who otherwise are unable to get high-speed service via a traditional provider.

Aiken said a typical fixed wireless deployment generally offers 100 MB download and 20 MB upload speeds, although he said the company's technology could offer much higher speeds.

"The technology has really improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the past few years," he said. "We just did a deal with Wise County, Texas, to build out 500-by-100 across 95 percent of the county."

COMING SOON: Legacy broadband providers react to massive FCC award for Nextlink

In 2021, Nextlink and American Tower entered into a colocation agreement, allowing Nextlink to place equipment on more than 1,000 existing towers across 11 states.

"We do a mix of different things with towers. We'll construct our own, we'll leverage our partnership with American Tower where it makes sense .. or find a high point in a community," Aiken said. "Whatever the best solution is to get to the community."

While there is no specific build schedule or timelines yet, the FCC requires RDOF projects to be completed within six years, with requirements that milestones of completion are met after two years and then annually.

Active Nextlink coverage map in Nebraska. <a href="https://nextlinkinternet.com/areas-we-serve/internet-in-nebraska/">Click HERE to see a list of communities.&nbsp;</a>
Active Nextlink coverage map in Nebraska. Click HERE to see a list of communities. 

Nextlink already has offices in both Kansas (Kingman, Goddard, Salina, Great Bend) and Nebraska (Hastings, Norfolk, Lincoln, Beatrice), and Aiken said Nextlink plans more expansion as its service area grows.

Active Nextlink coverage map in Kansas. <a href="https://nextlinkinternet.com/areas-we-serve/internet-in-kansas/">Click HERE to see a list of communities.</a>
Active Nextlink coverage map in Kansas. Click HERE to see a list of communities.

"It's still a little preliminary to say what's going where," he said. "In the near term, it will be where we have existing public/private partnerships. But we're always looking at new areas for growth and folks who really need high-quality connectivity ... where it makes economic sense and where there is a community need."

While the federal fund is targeted at those who lack rural high-speed internet access, Aiken said there is a competitive aspect to the expansion, as well, offering a second option for some customers.

However, Aiken said some providers without the capital to build into rural areas have welcomed Nextlink.

"In having some of those conversations with other providers, there are some folks who are very happy to kind of stay in their existing footprint and service folks in town and not do the hard work of connecting the far-flung farmland and ranchland," Aiken said. "On the other hand, we do compete and offer that second option."

Nextlink currently serves 88,000 homes and businesses across its seven-state footprint and employs 950. In 2017, when the company served only an area on the outskirts of Dallas-Fort Forth, the company employed 150.

"Projecting forward, we anticipate pretty significant employee growth in Kansas and Nebraska," Aiken said, noting the project builds and deployment will be kept in-house "as much as possible."

This is the second major influx of federal dollars to fuel growth at Nextlink. In 2018, the company was awarded $281 million as part of the Connect America Fund Phase II program, which sparked expansion into Kansas and Nebraska.

"We were on track for 40 percent (completion) milestone at the end of 2022 ... but now we are 50 percent done. In Kansas, that actually is at about 60 percent complete," Aiken said.

Nextlink is owned by AMG Technology Investments LLC and currently serves customers in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota. With the RDOF award, the company plans to expand into Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming and Louisiana.