Can Rural Internet Services be Subsidized with Advertising?

By Art Reisman

I just read a Wall Street Journal article this morning regarding the lack of home Internet service in poor rural areas. In this story, the children of Cirtronelle, Alabama are forced to do their homework at the local McDonald’s because the local Library closes at 6, and they must use the Internet to complete their school assignments. Internet at home is either not available or it is too expensive.

This got me thinking of an idea that had been bandied around for quite some time with some of our rural WISP NetEqualizer customers. It has been a while, but we actually helped a few operators set up systems with some form of on-line advertising (prior to the great recession). For example, the base minimum  subscription price required for a rural WISP to turn a profit starts at around $40 to $50 a month. So what if a WISP sold a lower grade service, $10 a month, and then required that each time a home user logged on  to the service, that they were presented with a 20 second promo trailer from a local merchant? The Merchant would then subsidize the WISP per showing. Would this be a viable alternative to stimulate rural Internet services?

I am sure many a WISP has tried this, and I suspect the barriers are:

1) The mechanics of redirection and authentication, in other words this requires a much more complex authentication infrastructure than what a small WISP would typical start with.

2) Selling advertisement space, this would be a full time hustle to keep slots filled and paying.

3) Justifying the return on investment to the advertiser.

Comments and/or ideas are welcome!

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