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Vilsack Announces $518 Million in Broadband Grants

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2010 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced 43 new broadband grants across 27 states. Overall, these grants will receive $518 million in government funding and $34.1 million in private investment.

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WASHINGTON, September 13, 2010 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced 43 new broadband grants across 27 states. Overall, these grants will receive $518 million in government funding and $34.1 million in private investment.

“The broadband projects announced today will give rural Americans access to the tools they need to create jobs and access improved health care and educational opportunities,” Vilsack said. “These projects will not only create jobs for the people who will build these networks, the completed systems will provide a platform for rural economic growth for years to come. The Obama Administration understands that bringing broadband to rural America provides a gateway for businesses and key anchor institutions – such as libraries, schools, public safety and community centers.”

The majority of the grants, 23 of 43, given were in support of fiber- to-the-home projects.

There were also eight wireless projects, four WiMax and four based on 3G technologies.

The final 12 projects were general infrastructure projects to build middle mile support and increase connections to public computing centers.

Three of the projects will include some tribal land coverage.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

Fiber

Fiber Providers Need to Go Beyond Speed for Differentiation, Consultant Says

40 percent are unsure of their home internet speeds, said Jonathan Chaplin of New Street Research.

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Photo of Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2022 – Despite fiber’s fast broadband speeds, providers must innovate and offer other benefits – like content bundling – to maintain market share as customers increasingly make purchasing decisions based on non-speed factors, argued Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research, a telecommunications and technology research firm.

“Our message to the cable industry is: Stop marketing on speed, put everybody on the gigabit tier, and start differentiating on everything else,” Chaplin said at a Fiber Broadband Association event Wednesday.

Chaplin also urged fiber providers to prepare to enter the wireless market, saying that wireless and broadband will soon “converge into one marketplace.

“It’s not a major differentiator or driver of consumers’ decisions today, but you need to start working on this as a product category to be ready for it by the time it [is],” he added.

And raw speed won’t be enough to attract customers, Chaplin argued. Although consumers say speed and price are the two top factors when considering internet plans, he said, his research shows that 40 percent are unsure of their home internet speeds.

Typical speeds have greatly increased in recent years, and Chaplin said faster service provides no perceptible benefit to most customers once certain speeds are reached. According to his data, “Increases in speed (above 200 Mbps) really have no impact on the satisfaction of a household with their broadband provider.”

Fixed-wireless uptake shows speed isn’t always king

The rise of fixed-wireless providers, who usually don’t advertise on speed, further demonstrates that consumers are willing to make purchase decisions on other factors, Chaplin argued. In fact, his research shows that many new fixed-wireless customers did not make the switch due to speed complaints.

“If you’re in the fiber business, you’re in a strong position. You’ve got a product that wins in the market today, but you cannot afford to be complacent,” Chaplin said. “The battleground for consumers is going to shift and you need to be ready for shift when it comes,” he added.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a proposal to mandate “broadband nutrition labels,” which proponents say would help consumers understand the details of their internet plans. Researchers at the TPRC 2022 conference in September suggested that such labels should include “interpretive” data to explain the real-world implications of technical metrics. TPRC speakers also echoed Chaplin’s claim increased speeds do not necessarily correlate with higher customer satisfaction rates.

Industry players differ on substantive policy points surrounding the proposal, however, including whether labels should be mandatorily included on month internet bills.

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Fiber

COVID Funds Ensuring NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Funding Adequate: Conexon Executive

‘The way you close the digital divide is you build fiber to every single rural home,’ Jonathan Chambers said.

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Photo of Jonathan Chambers, partner at Conexon

WASHINGTON, October 17, 2022 – Millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, which are currently being deployed by states to extend broadband networks, is helping ensure that new broadband money allocated from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will be sufficient to extend fiber to all homes in America, said a telecom executive on a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

Since many states are using ARPA funding to deploy new networks, fewer than ten million locations will “be left for BEAD after ARPA,” said Jonathan Chambers, partner at rural internet service provider co-op Conexon, referring to the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Since the American Rescue Plan became law in March 2021, federal programs – including the Capital Projects Fund and the Emergency Connectivity Program – and state governments have put tens of billions of ARPA-appropriated dollars towards broadband various projects.

Chambers, whose company builds fiber networks and works primarily with rural electric cooperatives, said he wants to refute the arguments of fiber skeptics by going “to the hardest-to-serve, poorest places in the country and demonstrate you can build fiber there,” saying the company is working to build a fiber network to every home and business in East Carrol Parish, Louisiana.

An argument against fiber builds in rural areas has been the expense required to do so.

The BEAD program will dispense block grants to the states based on relative need. States will issue subgrants for broadband infrastructure and other projects. Pro-fiber advocates like Chambers and FBA President Gary Bolton support using these funds primarily for fiber deployments.

“The way you close the digital divide is you build fiber to every single rural home,” Chambers said.

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Expert Opinion

Paul Atkinson: Why Fiber Trumps Satellite When Bridging the Digital Divide

On the surface, satellite seems like the ideal way to close the rural-urban digital divide.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Paul Atkinson, CEO of Optical Networks of STL

The Grand Canyon in Arizona is 18 miles across at its widest point. The only thing wider is the digital divide between the state’s rural and urban areas. Roughly 99% of urban Arizonans have access to fixed terrestrial broadband services that deliver at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) down and 3 Mbps up, according to the FCC’s 2021 Broadband Deployment Report . Only 66% of its rural residents do.

Arizona isn’t an anomaly, either. Nearly 99% of all urban Americans have access to broadband versus 82.7% of rural residents.

This problem also is a business opportunity, which is why so many vendors and service providers are positioning their technology of choice as the best way to bridge the digital divide. The main contenders are satellite, fiber, Wi-Fi and fixed wireless access that uses 5G cellular. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

For example, 5G FWA requires building hundreds of thousands of base stations in remote areas that might be home to only a handful of homes and businesses — a buildout that likely would take years and tens of billions of dollars. That’s a difficult investment to recoup and make profitable.

That’s simply not a viable business model, as a US Cellular white paper acknowledged: “ Our economics require approximately 500 subscribers to build a new tower, and we can’t assume that everyone will adopt the service. The cost of building and maintaining a tower in rural America can be nearly twice as expensive as building a tower in an urban area.”

Satellite and fiber have emerged as the top two contenders. On the surface, satellite seems like the ideal way to close the rural-urban digital divide because it doesn’t require hundreds of thousands of base stations. But satellite has its share of technological and business limitations, too — to the point that in August, the FCC rejected SpaceX’s application for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) subsidies.

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel questioned whether it was affordable to ‘subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements, especially when consumer would have to purchase a $600 dish.

Rural America’s high-fiber diet

The FCC’s rejection of SpaceX/Starlink is not a setback in bridging the rural-urban digital divide. It’s actually a milestone toward parity because it ensures that an unproven technology doesn’t divert scarce public subsidies from a proven one.

As Gary Bolton, Fiber Broadband Association president and CEO rightly stated, this is a huge victory for 640,000 families who were relegated to Low Earth Orbit Satellite service. They could have been redlined from being eligible for fiber broadband. There is now clarity and a path forward for fiber to bridge the digital divide.

Fiber has already proven its worth in rural America, where it has 23% of the broadband market and the highest customer satisfaction of all internet-access technologies, according to a 2021 Pivot Group study . By comparison, fixed wireless and satellite have only 10% and 6% penetration, respectively. Cable has the largest share of the rural market, but many customers find it lacking: One third say they want faster speeds.

In fact, broadband speed is a decisive factor when people are deciding where to relocate. According to the 2022 RVA Market Research & Consulting study “A Detailed Review: The Status of U.S. Broadband and The Impact of Fiber Broadband,” 47% of the people who moved to a rural area in the past year chose one where fiber-to-the-home service is available. That preference highlights how rural communities can use fiber to attract retirees, young professionals, families, entrepreneurs and other demographics looking to escape to the beautiful countryside.

Fiber’s 23% share of the rural broadband market also busts the myth that as a wired technology, it takes too much time and money to deploy in sparsely populated areas, including those with challenging terrain such as mountains. Another wired technology — electricity — overcame those challenges 86 years ago with passage of the Rural Electrification Act , which funded utility cooperatives that built out transmission and distribution networks to serve farms, ranches, small towns and other rural places.

Today, more than 250 of those co-ops have built or are planning broadband networks, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association . Many have been in service for the better part of a decade — or longer. For example, in 2006, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC launched FTTH in Georgia. In 2019, it deployed a 7,000-foot line up a mountain, using drones to overcome challenges such as deep gorge and 100-foot-tall pine trees. In 2016, Elevate Fiber, a division of Delta-Montrose Electric Association, launched gigabit FTTH in two Colorado counties by overlaying fiber on its 4,000 miles of distribution lines.

Co-ops are just one example of how fiber isn’t just poised to bridge the rural-urban digital divide. It already is. That’s great news for rural Americans, who don’t have to wait on unproven, pie-in-the-sky technologies such as satellite.

Paul Atkinson is Chief Executive Officer of Optical Networks for STL. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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