In our third and final panel of the day, Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference will consider The Future of Funding for Shared Infrastructure.
This session will be moderated by Drew Clark, the Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, in discussion with Blair Levin, the former director of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan.
In addition to founding Broadband Breakfast and serving as executive director of Broadband Illinois, Drew is a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at Marashlian & Donahue, The CommLaw Group. He follows and navigates the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way.
Blair, his guest, is a Policy Advisor to New Street Research. He closely tracks the policy and financial impacts of broadband investment. The former chief of staff of the FCC, he also served as executive director of Gig.U: a project seeking to support educational and economic development by accelerating the deployment of next generation networks, and is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Drew and Blair will build on the discussions that have taken place in Session 1, on last-mile infrastructure, and in Session 2, on infrastructure investment funds.
Of particular concern in this wrap-up session will be the future of funding vertical wireless assets. Cellular towers were once proprietary, before carriers partnered with infrastructure owners.
Will shared infrastructure also take over small cells and 5G? What role will federal funding play in supporting wireless and other shared infrastructure facilities?
Critics Concerned Infrastructure Bill Money Will Go to Satellites, Harm Fiber Builds
The infrastructure bill’s tech neutrality is concerning critics who say money will go to satellite, not enough to fiber.
WASHINGTON, December 7, 2021 – There is concern in the telecom industry that the technology neutrality provision in the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for broadband, would put a chunk of money into low-earth orbit satellites that would eventually lose its ability to uphold requirements for federal funds.
Cartesian, a consulting firm in telecom and technology, conducted a study earlier this year that was commissioned by the Fiber Broadband Association and NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association, and found that SpaceX’s Starlink LEO fleet would run out of capacity within 10 years. LEO constellations are known to require a lot of satellites for coverage and capacity, which makes it an expensive business.
As part of its obligations, SpaceX must offer 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds to 640,000 locations across the U.S. “That is quite a lot of capacity,” Cartesian Vice President Michael Dargue said in a recent interview with Broadband Breakfast. “We wanted to find out whether there was sufficient capacity within Starlink’s planned fleet.”
Cartesian estimated that Starlink could face a shortfall in capacity before the end of the decade in 2028. “Just over half of the RDOF subscribers wouldn’t get the full 100 Mbps that [Starlink committed to],” said Dargue.
The problem for critics of Starlink’s abilities is that Starlink continues to launch satellites into the sky at a blistering pace, which will mean the company will continue to seek an ever-growing share of federal funds. Before the Federal Communications Commission began scrutinizing winners of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the company had been awarded nearly $900 million from the fund for its fleet.
Now there’s concern that the technology neutrality provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in mid-November, as well as the bill’s promotion of satellite technology will mean more money going toward the nascent technology versus more proven technologies like fiber.
SpaceX did not respond to the requests for comment on these concerns. Broadband Breakfast also contacted Ligado and OneWeb to get the LEO perspective but did not hear back. When approached, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association declined to comment.
Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Gary Bolton said in an interview that federal funds coming down the pipe from the infrastructure bill represent a “once in a generation opportunity to get fiber to every American.
“The money is available,” Bolton said. “There is no longer a question of, ‘can we do this on the cheap?’”
A state-appointed task force for broadband in Alaska found that the federal money could allow the state famously known for difficult terrain for broadband builds to have a statewide fiber network.
“LEO satellites are great if I am climbing Mount Everest, or if I’m in some off the grid location and I need to be able to make a phone call or get on the internet,” said Bolton. “That’s great, but if you’re talking about building up the economic development for your community, that’s not so great.”
FCC needs to study Starlink
Dargue said the Cartesian study was explicitly from an “outside-in” perspective, and that the assessment was only able to go off data that SpaceX had made publicly available. The assessment noted, however, that because there is limited information regarding Starlink’s technical capabilities in the public domain, and Starlink’s technical and commercial plans seem to be constantly changing, it is difficult to truly assess the full extent of Starlink’s potential (or lack thereof).
“[The FCC] really needs to do this assessment themselves in detail,” Dargue said. “We did not have access to Starlink’s engineering data and really, if you’re going to make an award of this size, which is over a 10-year period, you need to make sure that the numbers are right. If you get to seven or eight years down the road and it does not work anymore, what do you do then?
“We were quite generous [to Starlink] in some ways,” added Dargue. The assessment assumed that served regions would not have any terrain features that would block reception, so all subscribers within range of a satellite can connect to that satellite. Additionally, the assessment assumed that the throughput of each satellite in the Starlink constellation was 20 Gbps with no pinch-points elsewhere in the network.
“Then, using demand modeling based on current demand and how Cisco and others expect that to grow over the coming decade, we look to see whether there will be enough capacity within the fleet to serve the geographic demand,” said Dargue.
Dargue said this did not mean that consumers would never see their service at 100/20, but that consumer use during peak demand hours would exceed the available capacity. He said that for consumers, this would spell a deterioration in the quality of service, resulting in buffering, scaled down resolutions, and other potential disruptions to internet services.
Proponents of LEOs say technology is important for redundancy
Though the study was not favorable to Starlink and SpaceX, Dargue is not arguing for satellite to be left out of the infrastructure equation. “It’s definitely part of the mix,” he said. “LEO satellites and other constellations are really good at serving very remote locations off the beaten track and in areas where you do not have a cluster of high demand.”
Similarly, proponents of LEO satellites and Starlink, including the Gigabit Libraries Network, have said the technology serves as an excellent way to get redundant connections in case of an outage. It is also crucial is some areas that can’t get a physical connection to the premises.
Render Networks and Irby Ahead of Schedule on Arkansas Fiber Build
The build is also underbudget, they said.
WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Irby and Render Networks are set to deliver fiber to rural Arkansans under budget and ahead of schedule as part of Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation’s effort to connect northeast Arkansas.
On Nov. 24, Render Networks and Irby announced that they are two years ahead of where they expected to be in the project, and are 20 percent under budget.
“At a time when our industry is faced with chronic shortages and costly overruns, we are confidently defying project norms and delivering faster with less resources,” said Irby Vice President of Technology and Communication Geff Smith. “We needed tools that would help us cut through the complexity, and Render delivered the network design into manageable tasks but more importantly gave us the visibility to make informed decisions on the infrastructure whilst continuing to construct in an agile manner.”
Irby serves as the infrastructure distributor in the partnership, while Render’s platform runs a mobile, geographic information system that allows Irby to manage jobs and data to deliver network infrastructure and buildouts. Render is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
As part of the project, more than 3,500 miles of fiberoptic cable have been laid, and more than 10,000 locations have been connected, with an additional 5,000 planned.
“These kinds of rollouts are the great equalizer for underserved rural communities,” said Render CEO Sam Pratt. “We’re delighted that the Render platform and knowhow helped enable CECC, Irby and the construction contractor D&H Contracting to streamline deployment planning, work allocation, oversight and administration – and ultimately deliver much needed connectivity to an underserved community of CECC members earlier than I think anyone thought possible.”
“We knew the need for broadband in our member communities was great so we wanted to do everything we could to accelerate the construction of our fiber network,” said chief operating officer of CECC Jeremiah Sloan.
“We’re now well positioned to not only meet the broadband needs of our members but also continue to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable power by leveraging our fiber network,” he added. “It would have been impossible to realize these achievements without Render’s revolutionary approach to construction management and a strong technology and material partnership with Irby Utilities.”
Render Networks is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
Sen. Alex Padilla Emphasizes Billions in Broadband Funds for California
California also has 18 projects that are part of the state’s $6-billion broadband investment under its California Comeback Plan.
WASHINGTON, December 3, 2021 – Sen. Alex Padilla, the U.S. senator from California appointed to fill the remainder of Vice President Kamala Harris’ term, on Tuesday celebrated a future in which all Californians are connected to broadband.
Padilla, a Democrat, pushed local governments and internet service providers to not only get their fair share of federal broadband funds, but to also “continue to build upon the efforts and experience of truly connecting California families not to just internet connection, but the opportunities and resources that come with it.”
Speaking at a Tuesday event hosted by California Forward and California Emerging Technology Fund, Padilla discussed federal infrastructure funds for California. As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, California is expected to receive around $1 billion in broadband funds for communities.
California’s Broadband Funding
In addition to the 18 statewide broadband deployment efforts announced by governor Gavin Newsom last month, Californians can take advantage of federal funds that will be made available by the National Telecommunications and Information Association.
NTIA Acting Administrator Evelyn Remaley detailed programs from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for which organizations should apply:
- $42.5 billion Broadband Access and Deployment Program. This program, the largest of all the programs administered by the NTIA, is distributed among states, US territories, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico for projects supporting broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption.
- $1 billion Enabling Broadband Middle Mile Infrastructure Program. This program will be targeted at lowering the cost of unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the broadband infrastructure.
- $2 billion added to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Directs funding to tribal governments for deployment on tribal lands. The program also funds telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.
- $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act Programs. Promoting digital equity to ensure that all communities have the same opportunities to obtain the skills and technology necessary to participate in our digital economy.
- The Digital Equity Act programs includes $16 million for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, $1.44 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, and $1.25 for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.
These investments build on the NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (which closed on December 1).
“At the NTIA we are so excited to begin this endeavor to connect every single American to high-speed, affordable broadband,” Remaley said. “Senator Padilla talked about the need, we know it is global, and we are committed to getting this done with all of our partners: our states and communities.”
The California Emerging Technology Fund is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
- Panel Concludes U.S. Relatively Unprepared to Lead Global Push for Web Transparency
- Critics Concerned Infrastructure Bill Money Will Go to Satellites, Harm Fiber Builds
- Rosenworcel Confirmed, Rohingya Meta Class Action, FTTH Builds Increase, WOW! Offers 1 Gig
- FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event
- CaptionCall $40 Million Settlement, World Bank Broadband in Rwanda, Tribal Broadband Money Not Enough
- Render Networks and Irby Ahead of Schedule on Arkansas Fiber Build
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