Telecom Review North America: Bandwidth in Underserved America

Bandwidth in Underserved America

There are always carriers that find and excel at their niche in the service provider market, and Conterra is certainly one of those carriers! Conterra Broadband Services (“Conterra”) designs, builds and operates carrier-class, high-capacity broadband networks for wireless backhaul, K-12 schools and other government/healthcare entities across rural America. Privately owned, the Company was established in 1996 by the founders and executives of Vanguard Cellular Systems, Inc., which became one of the first and largest independent cellular companies in the United States.

Telecom Review recently met with Dennis Francis, President, Chief Operating & Technology Officer for Conterra to give our readers a feel for rural development. Dennis has been with Conterra since 2005. He has 32 years of experience as an engineer, senior technical manager and operating manager in major telecom corporations that include Southwestern Bell, Ericsson, Nortel, Vanguard Cellular Systems, AT&T Wireless, US Wireless and Nextel.

Conterra specializes in bringing high quality optical and radiobased networking solutions to areas where it is technologically and economically challenging by offering a ubiquitous, high speed, IP-based network from a single network provider. Their solutions integrate fiber with FCC Licensed Common Carrier Microwave links to create a network designed to meet their clients’ needs.

Conterra currently operates in 25 states and provides wide area networking (WAN) services to over 275 school districts, and hundreds of cell towers, with total sites in service approaching
2,000. They operate redundant NOCs to monitor locations across the country. Mobile Backhaul Conterra builds both fiber and microwave to the rural mobile towers for providing backhaul.

Conterra’s design approach builds upon the networks in place to connect “fiber islands” and augmenting coverage with additional fiber builds or scalable FCC-licensed microwave. Rural markets contain less fiber density (“fiber islands” from small carriers), greater tower distances and higher transport costs. Their unique design approach eliminates the stress points in the rural network to provide fiber-quality service outside the core fiber footprint at the best price. Dennis noted that, some rural fiber is so “rural that it may cost upwards of 50,000
dollars per mile to build”. By integrating fiber and microwave technologies, they provide high quality, cost-effective coverage of hard to reach rural and underserved areas. Conterra
brings to the planning table a rural design experience that can positively impact network costs from 25 to 40 percent.

High Speed WANS for Education

Conterra has been providing high-speed, broadband services to rural and underserved areas of America for nearly a decade. They specialize in bringing unique solutions to complex telecommunications projects in geographical areas where it is technologically and economically challenging to deliver fiber optic networks. They integrate new or existing fiber with FCC Licensed Common Carrier Microwave links to provide ubiquitous wide area broadband services.

Conterra is a national provider of broadband services for K-12 consortia, school districts, and libraries that require bandwidth intensive, carriergrade data, video and voice
transport services. Conterra and its subsidiaries currently provide these services to over 1,100 locations throughout the United States, affording broadband services to more than one million students, teachers, administrators and others.


Conterra is also helping to install distance learning networks in rural areas. As an example a doctor in rural New Mexico may need to get second opinions on x-rays and things of that nature. With this network they can send the x-ray for second opinions. “It can be a typical network except for the end users on that network”, Dennis noted. Some of the Telehealth services provided by Conterra are supported through the Rural Health Care Pilot Program initiated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to facilitate the creation of a national broadband network dedicated to health care, connecting public and private non-profit health care providers in rural and urban locations. One new example is the new Utah Telehealth network. They built one tower on a sacred Indian mountain so they hauled in the construction materials by ATV. It was so remote they needed solar arrays for power, and had to haul in 80 bags of concrete. They had to be very careful to respect the heritage of the land and worked closely with the BLM in that regard.


“Half of our staff has been with us for 15-20 years”, Dennis noted. This depth of experience is a testament to the hard work needed to complete the network projects, and has served
Conterra well. “We think there is great demand for the Telehealth market and our education market continues to grow so we will continue to grow Conterra in a responsible manner”, Dennis

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