New utility company plans to build bandwidth infrastructure
Mobilitie, a company which builds the infrastructure necessary for high-capacity data transmission, announced plans for construction in the Stevens Point area at the Stevens Point Public Safety Committee meeting Monday, Dec. 12.
Mobilitie, which is listed as Wisconsin Technologies Networking under the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, is now the largest privately-owned utility company in the U.S. after recently being granted public utility status by the federal government.
The utility status was granted due to an exponentially growing need for more data transmission capacity as society consumes more online content with its mobile devices. To meet that need, Mobilitie has launched a nationwide rollout of its data distribution networks.
“(Statistics) show data usage is going up and up. Since the beginning of this century, it’s been moving on an exponential basis. With the data usage going up, we need some way to get it out to the customers,” said Brentt Michalek, Mobilitie permitting manager for the central Wisconsin region.
Everything from police and fire vehicles and water and electrical utilities to smart cars and cellphones are using the wireless infrastructure. Mobilitie projects data usage to grow 650 percent from 2014 to 2018, he said.
How it works: fiber optic cables are connected to a series of main 120-foot towers resembling telephone poles, which are installed near high data usage areas such as schools, universities or industrial parks. From there, the towers transmit data for service providers to their customers. Smaller towers, ranging 30 to 40 feet in height, are installed to fill in connectivity gaps between the main towers as needed. In some cases, “small cells” are attached to pre-existing telephone poles.
Essentially, Mobilitie creates physical network of data towers capable of distributing astronomical amounts of wireless data to smart phones, smart cars, computers and anything else requiring an internet connection and rents bandwidth to service providers like Verizon or US Cellular.
“Think of what we’re doing as a fiber optic line in the sky,” Michalek said. “We’re taking that high-speed data that your carriers can’t get to you, extending it out through the system and bringing it to their customers. We don’t have any user customers, cellular providers are our customers.”
As more and more technologies emerge requiring wireless connections, service providers are having a hard time keeping up. As the demand grows, so must the ability to channel the internet to users, Michalek said.
“Fiber optics are great connecting hard point to hard point, but what we can’t do (with fiber optics) is get (data) to the phones as they’re moving along,” Michalek said.
“When it rolls out, we’ll be 5G ready. The nice thing about our system – unlike anything buried in the ground – the equipment is on the pole so we can swap out the unit for the next range of technology, whatever that might be,” said Michalek.
Because Mobilitie is now a public utility, it can build its towers within areas of municipal, state and federal right-of-ways (where telephone and light poles are typically placed) and has a relatively unusual amount of authority to do so with little say from local government.
“The carriers can’t get (their infrastructure) into the finer point were the data is actually being used because they have to apply themselves to your planning and zoning. They have to go find a piece of property, purchase the lease from the land owner, then go through all the criteria that makes it a conditional-use permit through your permitting process. We are a utility able to fit in the right-of-way and work in to the finer locations. We don’t have the same method. The reason why is because we don’t have the end-user customers. We work with all the carriers,” Michalek said.
“Can you imagine four data carriers trying to fit towers into those same locations? They certainly don’t want to spend all that time and money on each individual pole, they’re going to want to rent space through the fiber optic line we’re already creating,” he said.
“Typically, that’s how it’s been in place over the years (for carriers). You’ll see a lot of cell towers in the city disguised as flag poles. When they applied for permission on private property, the Common Council had oversight on that,” said Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza. “So, there is an extensive process to go through for a carrier to put up a cell tower.
“But Mobilitie has achieved utility status, which means they are on the same playing field as Public Service, Charter and phone companies where they have the ability to use city right-of-way to install their infrastructure, providing us with very little opportunity to put requirements or restrictions on them,” said Wiza.
However, Michalek said Mobilitie takes setting a solid standard of cooperation and communication with the communities it works with very seriously. Because Mobilitie is among the first of its kind, it has a responsibility to set the bar high, he said.
“Mobilitie has been very good working with us to try and get the best possible solutions and working with us to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with potential construction or development,” Wiza said.
“But basically, we have very little say as to where they wanted to build if they wanted to enforce their rights to the fullest. I commend them for being very accommodating working with the city and some of our area businesses we brought in to find the best solutions for our area,” he said.
Right now, Mobilitie is looking at installing the main towers near the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus; in the North Point Drive/Division Street area between the Stevens Point Area Senior High School and Sentry Insurance; and in the industrial area south of the Verso paper mill.