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Ubiquitous Fiber Infrastructure is Essential to Maximize the Advantages of 5G, According to WIA Report

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Screenshot of Rebecca Hussey from Fiber Broadband Association webinar

August 20, 2020 — The Wireless Infrastructure Association recently published a new report, entitled “Fiber: An Essential Facet of the Connected Community,” which finds that ubiquitous fiber is an essential backbone to 5G connectivity.

WIA’s report (PDF) recognizes that in order to maximize the advantages a 5G rollout has to offer, there is need for a low-latency fiber backbone, from which wireless infrastructure providers can build.

The Fiber Broadband Association hosted a webinar on Wednesday with two of the report’s authors, Rebecca Hussey, managing counsel of utility relations at Crown Castle and Jeffrey Strenkowski, vice president of Uniti Group.

About 11 percent of internet traffic is carried by wireless networks, according to a 2017 report by Deloitte. The other 90 percent of traffic is supported and carried by wireline networks.

Therefore, “the quality and reliability of a wireless networks typically depends on the fiber network supporting them,” said Hussey.

The WIA report notes that 5G wireless networks are the first to use higher frequency millimeter waves, which can only travel about 250 feet, so dense fiber networks close to consumers are needed for high speeds.

“Fiber deployments are an essential facet for providing 5G services across the nation,” said WIA CEO Jonathan Adelstein.

Adelstein noted that while fiber is what underlies wireless broadband deployments, businesses and municipalities face many challenges in deploying it, such as gaining right-of-way access.

The WIA report details further challenges to building fiber, such as the hurdles municipalities face in their pursuits to own their own fiber networks.

In an attempt to bypass existing barriers, the report outlines best practices for municipalities, broadband providers, and other stakeholders to utilize when collaborating to deploy fiber.

The practices the report recommends promote transparency, foster trust, and allow efficiencies that save time and money.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Open Access

UTOPIA’s Projects Proceeding in California and Montana, CEO Says

Both the GSCA and Yellowstone Fiber are using UTOPIA’s techniques to provide open access broadband over fiber.

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Barbara Hayes (left) and Roger Timmerman (right) speaking at Broadband Communities Summit 2022 on May 4

HOUSTON, May 4, 2022 — UTOPIA Fiber’s open access model has found success in California, Montana, and Idaho as it continues to deploy across Utah, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

“Right now, we are working with [Golden State Connect Authority] to identify various pilot areas for the project and have started preliminary engineering work to determine the initial project area,” Roger Timmerman said at the Broadband Communities Summit 2022.

During the press conference, Timmerman also pointed to UTOPIA’s expansion into Santa Clara, Utah, and its completion of its original 11 Utah cities by the end of 2022.

Timmerman was joined by partners Barbara Hayes of the Golden State Authority and Yellowstone Fiber CEO Greg Metzger as they delivered remarks on their joint ventures. The partnership will create the largest publicly owned fiber network in the US, and as it stands now, would span 38 of California’s 58 counties.

“California may be the world’s fifth-largest economy, but our state’s connectivity is decades behind,” Hayes said. “Investing in open access fiber will be transformative for California.”

Both Metzger and Hayes emphasized that their decision to partner with UTOPIA was largely informed by the company’s track record.

“We needed to have a partner who was successful and had done it before,” Metzger said. “For Montana, this is going to be a breath of fresh air.”

Yellowstone Fiber, formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, is a not-for-profit that will replicate UTOPIA’s open access model to provide broadband to the greater Bozeman region; it will own and operate the fiber but will rely on UTOPIA for assistance on the backend.

UTOPIA’s model of open access has long been a point of interest in the telecom industry. While some claim it will be a solution to the digital divide, other assert that it has merely created a “race to the bottom” where internet service providers are constantly pushed to undercut their completion. Timmerman and others have pushed back against the “race to the bottom” assertion, claiming that providers can find ways other than price to distinguish themselves from their competition, such as superior customer service. Additionally, they point to their recent track record as evidence that critics’ concerns that they can maintain a positive cash flow are unfounded.

Though UTOPIA, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, now has positive revenue and has served as a model for open access projects around the country, critics still point toward its more than $300 million in outstanding debt it accrued in its early days, before Timmerman was at the helm.

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Fiber

Municipalities Generally Prefer Not to Own Broadband Builds, Conference Hears

Broadband leaders note cities prefer to partner than to own networks.

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Kenrick Gordon speaking remotely, with Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell in person at Broadband Communities Summit

HOUSTON, May 3, 2022 – During a panel discussion Monday, broadband implementation leaders said local governments are often much more willing to help a partner organization establish a broadband network than they are to oversee construction themselves.

Speaking at Broadband Communities Magazine’s 2022 summit in Houston, Kenrick Gordon, director of the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, said “most local governments don’t really want to own a broadband network” and prefer to partner up and support the build.

Gordon spoke alongside Deb Socia, the CEO of the Enterprise Center, a non-profit infrastructure partner based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is known as the “gig city” for its city-owned gigabit fiber network.

When asked about what makes a bad partner organization for local governments in infrastructure projects, Socia, who formerly led internet-expansion organization Next Century Cities, said those who are not trusted by members of the community will not make effective broadband providers.

Many organizations have the potential to overpromise to community members, for example giving earlier timelines for broadband builds than is required, Socia said. Gordon added it is common that the expectation among some community members is that broadband projects can be built faster than other infrastructure.

Screenshot of Kenrick Gordon, Catharine Rice, Will Aycock, Deb Socia, Joshua Williams and Christopher Mitchell

Socia said trust can be garnered from the public by using a consistent script between all involved organizations, such as utilities and city government offices, so that questions can be answered in the same manner with accurate information.

She also outlined how Chattanooga was able to promote its broadband network on trusted and popular local radio stations, increasing familiarity with it in the community through on-air discussions.

Both Socia and Gordon, as well Catharine Rice, project director for the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, stated the importance of maintaining relationships and partnerships, with Rice emphasizing the need to frequently speak to state broadband offices as they generally are quite interested in working to be helpful and improve how they do their job.

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Fiber

Treasury Department Expects Majority of Capital Projects Funds Will Be Spent on Fiber

“We have put our thumb on the scale for fiber,” said Joseph Wender, director the Treasury Department’s broadband fund.

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Photo of Joe Wender from Broadband Communities

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2022 – The director of the Department of Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund for broadband expansion projects in response to the coronavirus pandemic said Wednesday that most dispensed funds will ultimately go towards fiber-optic broadband projects.

The Capital Projects Fund was established from the reserve of $10 billion dedicated to capital projects enabling work, education and health monitoring when President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act was passed last March.

Recently, questions have arisen surrounding whether Treasury’s 2026 deadline for ARPA funds to be disbursed provides enough time for all projects to receive their necessary federal funding.

Chip Pickering (top) and Joseph Wender

Fund director Joseph Wender spoke on how what type of technology he thinks broadband funds from the program will be directed towards, during a conversation with Chip Pickering, CEO of internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS.

Wender stated that the Treasury is encouraging that fund broadband projects be built with fiber because it is a future-proof technology.

“We have put our thumb on the scale for fiber,” said Wender.

He also stated that working to implement broadband projects using project funds represents an opportunity for governors and state governments to score political wins.

Wender encouraged members of INCOMPAS listening to his conversation with Pickering to be engaged with their state legislatures in the disbursement of project funds and to make sure that not only the most powerful telecom companies have their interests represented by actions of the legislature.

He also confirmed that when entities apply for money from the Capital Projects Fund they do not need to specify the projects they plan to use the money for on their application, and that the Treasury is in constant communication with the Federal Communications Commission as well as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in order to coordinate data necessary to determine where funds should be disbursed.

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