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Gigabit Speeds: Marketing Spin or A Necessity for the Future?

Experts discuss the short- and long-term need for gigabit speeds.



Cambium's Scott Imhoff at WISPAmerica 2021

April 29, 2021—While Democratic legislators advocate fore higher broadband speed standards, some experts condemn the short-term push for gigabit speeds as simply “marketing spin” by fiber advocates.

As the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association’s WISPAmerica 2021 event began its last day of events, a panel of experts in the broadband market convened to discuss the “Path to Gigabit Wireless.”

This event was hosted in the wake of many Democratic legislators advocating for new standards for “high-speed” internet. As it stands now, there is a bill in the house that would push for symmetrical service—when download and upload speeds are equal—and classify anything under 100 Megabits per second symmetrical service as low-tier service. According to this bill, anything between 100 Mbps symmetrical and one Gbps symmetrical would be considered mid-tier.

Gigabit speeds overhyped?

But some, like senior vice president of product management for Cambium Networks Scott Imhoff, claim that the rapid pursuit of gigabit speeds is overhyped. He described a paradigm that he believes will emerge over the next several years as data rates increase, but the actual demand on the networks remains very light. What this would mean for consumers, he explained, is that as they get charged more, their usage may not increase despite having the capacity to do so.

Imhoff believes that at least in part, the push for gigabit speeds is fueled by companies that primarily utilize fiber as a means of broadband deployment.

“I think [100 Mbps symmetrical service] is more marketing spin on behalf of the fiber industry than it is anything else.” Imhoff argued that the opportunities for the average consumer to fully take advantage of gigabit speeds are somewhat limited, and that often, they will be dissatisfied with the service they are receiving for what they are paying.

Some experts are critical of this view, however. Advocates of 100 Mbps and gigabit speeds point out that companies cannot be building infrastructure for the needs of today but must constantly be trying to anticipate the needs of the future.

The conversation has changed

Two years ago, few people could have anticipated how the COVID-19 pandemic would shift the way consumers use broadband. Since the pandemic began, consumer broadband use has risen sharply as more people have taken advantage of opportunities for telehealth and telework, and students have adjusted to use distance learning technology.

Additionally, there are now more devices connected to the internet than ever. As smart homes and cities become more widespread, the demand for greater connectivity is going to become more apparent. Even in rural areas, in the near future, consumers may decide that they want to utilize one of the myriad technologies that are becoming more common place today but did not exist a few years ago.

Whether that is something as commonplace as a Peloton bike that is dueling a consumer’s smartphone, or something more exotic like a companion robot battling a smart fridge; all these devices will be competing for Wi-Fi primacy.

The ways in which consumers engage with the internet have also changed over the course of the pandemic. While download capabilities have typically been higher in the U.S. to accommodate demand, more consumers are now uploading content to the internet than ever before. This discrepancy in service is no more obvious than in the Federal Communications Commission’s own definition of high-speed internet, which classifies it as 25 Mbps download and three Mbps upload; a ratio of around 8:1. Symmetrical service could be one of the solutions to address this shift in consumer behavior.

Imhoff believes that gigabit speeds will become more commonplace in the future but there is currently not sufficient demand to justify prioritizing them as heavily as many consumers do. But if the U.S. is going to build sustainable infrastructure for the next generation of consumers and technology, it would seem as though the effort should be viewed at as more than mere marketing spin.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

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Universal Service

Bill Would Require FCC to Make Rules on Expanding Funding Base of Universal Service Fund

The bill requires the FCC to study and reform the contribution base of the Universal Service Fund.



Photo of the current FCC

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2023 – A bill introduced in both chambers Tuesday would require the Federal Communications Commission to study and make rules on expanding the funding base of the Universal Service Fund.

The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act of 2023 – a previous version of which was introduced two years ago – would require the FCC within one year of the enactment of the bill to solidify rules to reform how the fund is supported and within 120 days to conduct a study on the need to broaden the fund’s base and submit the report to Congress.

The contents of the bill should include the “relative equities and burdens” of the changes on consumers, businesses and seniors, who often bear the brunt of the cost of support because the fund is currently supported by landlines.

The House version was introduced by Lizzie Fletcher, D-TX, Joe Neguse, D-CO, and Angie Craig, D-MN, and the Senate companion was introduced by Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and John Thune, R-S.D.

“Ensuring broadband service in the most remote, hardest-to-serve areas requires a sustainable Universal Service Fund with a sustainable funding formula,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs at industry association USTelecom, said in a statement. “Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) recognize that the contribution mechanism must be reformed to preserve connectivity for rural Americans. Directing the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to expand the contributions base will help secure the future of universal service.”

The bill’s introduction follows an FCC report to Congress that requested the legislative body provide the commission with the authority to change the fund’s contribution base.

The USF, which includes four high-cost programs supporting basic telecommunications services for institutions and low-income Americans, receives roughly $9 billion a year from voice service providers, whose revenue base has been dwindling for years.

The reliance on those providers has called into question the fund’s sustainability. Various experts have proposed different remedies, including expanding the base to include contributions from broadband service providers, large technology platforms, and from the general taxation pool.

Prior to the FCC’s report to Congress, some experts argued that the commission can unilaterally expand the fund’s base. Those same experts warned that Congress may take too long to implement necessary legislation.

On Friday, an appeals court denied a petition that challenged the FCC’s authority to raise funds and subdelegate the work of coming up with the quarterly contribution amounts providers must pay into it. The petition must go through two more levels of appeal.

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‘The Sound of Made in America’: Fiber Makers Increase Production Ahead of Delivery of Billions in Federal Funds

Commerce Secretary Raimondo made stops at fiber manufacturing facilities in North Carolina.



Screenshot of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo at the CommScope facility in Hickory, N.C.

HICKORY, N.C., March 29, 2023 – Network connectivity manufacturers CommScope announced Wednesday an increase in fiber cable output expected to go directly into 500,000 homes per year.

The company said it will concentrate nearly $50 million toward the production to drive broadband infrastructure in rural areas. It announced a new fiber cable called HeliARC that it said is smaller and lighter weight that will allow for faster installation to rural homes.

“We will produce more cost-effective and easier-to-deploy fiber-optic cable, add new jobs and simultaneously strengthen the supply chain in America,” said CommScope president and CEO Chuck Treadway in a press release.

Meanwhile, in Catawba County, N.C., optical communications manufacturer Corning also held an event Wednesday to announce the formal opening of its newest optical cable manufacturing campus, also focused on rural and underserved communities.

Corning noted that its investments in manufacturing will “help meet the rising demand for broadband connectivity driven by public and private.”

Standing in front of warehouse workers with machine whirring, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who is touring the state’s facilities, said “That is the sound of made in America.”

The announcements are being paraded by the White House as a key part of its strategy to not just connect the entire country with high-speed internet, but to ensure that the infrastructure supporting it is made primarily inside the country.

In his State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden emphasized that his administration would focus on ensuring that fiber cables that go toward federally-funded projects will be made in America. Following the address, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a document proposing rules for implementation of the Build America, Buy America provision in the infrastructure bill.

Critics responding to the proposal have said if waivers are not granted for certain parts of the fiber optic cable, it could jeopardize the four-year timeline for builds using money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The money is expected to be allocated to the states by June 30.

Earlier this week, the White House announced the “Investing in America” tour starting Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina, to highlight key components of the infrastructure bill and the semiconductor-focused Chips and Science Act.

On Tuesday, Biden toured a Wolfspeed semiconductor factory in Durham. The company in September announced plans to invest $5 billion over 20 years in Chatham County.

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Barriers to Last-Mile Fiber Include Affordability: Connected America Conference

Industry experts agreed that reaching each individual consumer is the key to a full-fiber future.



Photo of panelists at Connected America 2023

DALLAS, March 28, 2023 — Industry experts at Connected America on Tuesday agreed that reaching each individual consumer is the key to a full-fiber future, noting that factors such as affordability and digital literacy go hand-in-hand with last mile deployment.

“Fiber to the home is truly full fiber — and that means every individual unit, whatever that might be,” said Erin Scarborough, senior vice president for broadband strategy at AT&T. “Connectivity to every single human is really what we’re talking about.”

Universal technology access can empower learning and development everywhere from college dorm rooms to prison educational programs, Scarborough added.

Bringing fiber to multi-dwelling units presents a challenge in that it requires the participation of building owners, said Bryan Rader, MDU president for Pavlov Media.

However, Rader argued that fiber installation ultimately benefits the owners as well as the inhabitants. “If you look at any of the studies in the apartment ownership industry today, the number one amenity is internet,” he said. “And if you don’t have great internet — or fiber internet — residents will actually pick a different address.”

An ideal full-fiber future would include at least two provider options for each household, said Raj Singh, CEO of Velankani Communications Technologies, Inc.

In order to encourage competition and investment, government funding programs should set flexible requirements, Scarborough said.

In addition to expanding broadband access, Scarborough emphasized the importance of actively considering affordability and adoption.

“For every human that or household that doesn’t have access to broadband today, two more don’t subscribe,” she said. “And why is that? Well, it’s likely because of affordability.”

Rader noted that digital literacy is a critical factor in adoption. “Success is connecting the customer, educating the customer, making sure they know how to utilize the fiber — that’s the missing piece,” he said.

Panelists acknowledged the role of other technologies in areas where last-mile fiber deployment would carry an extremely high cost. Achieving universal connectivity will require a “cocktail of technologies” — including 5G and fixed wireless in addition to fiber — as well as partnerships between public and private entities, Scarborough said.

But the experts largely agreed that fiber comes with unique benefits, such as long-term sustainability. Even when the initial buildout costs are high, the goal of careful fiber deployment is to create “a pathway with some foresight that allows you to upgrade, change, absorb things that you didn’t foresee,” said Scot Bohaychyk, solutions manager at Emtelle.

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