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Fiber Should Lead Future of Broadband, But Other Technologies Important Compliments

More experts weigh in on the fiber debate, but point to other technologies as important for the future of connectivity.

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June 24, 2021—Fiber will be the definitive technology that will help supply increasing broadband demands in the future, a Broadband Breakfast panel heard Wednesday, but complimentary technologies also play an important role.

Broadband Breakfast hosted experts on both sides of the border – Gord Reynolds from Infrastructure Ontario and Mark Boxer, applications engineering manager for fiber manufacturer OFS – and discussed how physical infrastructure impacts digital infrastructure.

Boxer said that over the next ten years, bandwidth demands will continue to increase, and that ultimately, fiber will be the primary solution to ensuring that consumers can engage in all the behaviors and activities that they want to.

He also argued that wireless technologies should be used to compliment fiber infrastructure rather than an alternative to fiber, adding more fiber means more flexibility with spectrum allocation, while more wireless would lead to less flexibility because there is only so much spectrum, and jurisdictions need to allocate it differently while every stakeholder is vying for more spectrum.

On Tuesday, experts warned Congress that it shouldn’t go all-in on wired infrastructure, partly because those other technologies add redundancy and resiliency to those hard connections.

Discussions over the past several months have been focused increasingly on the importance and prominence of fiber, which many say is the lifeblood of high-quality networks. In March, Republican South Carolina Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham reintroduced the State Fix Act, which would pledge $20 billion for broadband infrastructure using fiber.

Similar sentiment in Canada’s most populous province

Infrastructure Ontario is an agency of the Government of Ontario and is tasked with facilitating public/private partnerships to build everything from hospitals and highways to telecom networks. Reynolds said IO wants to provide at least 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload – the federal objective — in every region of the province, with a penetration between 80 and 90 percent—most which IO plans to connect with wired infrastructure.

Even though wired connections are the goal, Reynolds said the perfect should not become the enemy of the good, and that satellite and fixed wireless technologies need to be a part of the solution for the hardest to reach areas.

Boxer echoed many of the points expressed by Reynolds, stating that the infrastructure that is laid today must be able to handle the consumer demands of tomorrow. He pointed to how much consumer usage has changed in just the past several years.

“In a residence, if you’re using Netflix, and [Microsoft] Teams, and cameras, you have to add that all up,” he said. “And as we start doing that, we are seeing the potential trends for gigabit services that are needed.” (Some have expressed skepticism about whether fixed-wireless technologies can supply gigabit speeds.)

Speeds need updating

As it currently stands, the Federal Communications Commission considers broadband to be anything that is capable of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, but Boxer said that in his experience, 25/3 is basically unusable for a family and their pattern of broadband consumption.

“There are so many applications now that use our networks and so many of these applications are using two-way traffic that the higher speed levels become very important,” he said, adding “[OFS has] been on the record in some of the 100/100 proposals that have taken place [to adjust the definition of broadband].”

The Fiber Broadband Association has said that the current speed standard is inadequate, while others have said the speed debate is getting in the way of connecting the un(der)served.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the June 23, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Roads, Bridges and Broadband: How Physical Infrastructure Impacts Digital Infrastructure”

Though poles and fiber are perhaps the most obvious aspects of infrastructure associate with broadband, telecommunications companies must consider many different features adjacent to broadband. The conversation regarding physical infrastructure begins before telcos can even break ground. Indeed, mapping, “dig once” policies and the physical terrain around roads and towers are all aspects that need to be considered before internet deployment can begin. Join Broadband Breakfast for a session exploring the unique ways that roads, bridges, and other pieces of physical infrastructure shape the deployment of digital infrastructure.

More about Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 at Broadband Communities Summit

Panelists:

  • Mark BoxerApplications Engineering Manager, OFS Optics
  • Gord Reynolds, Vice President of Commercial Advisory & Strategy, Infrastructure Ontario
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Mark Boxer is a Technical, Solutions and Applications Engineering Manager for OFS. In this role, he assists customers deploying fiber in a wide variety of network design scenarios around the world and analyzes trends in telecommunications markets that drive new product innovation. Mark has a BME degree from Georgia Tech, and has spent his 30+ year career in the fiber industry including varied roles in manufacturing and applications engineering for fiber-based products and markets.

Gord Reynolds is currently the Vice President of Commercial Advisory and Strategy at Infrastructure Ontario leading a variety of initiatives to improve utility coordination and accelerate the delivery of broadband across Canada. Prior to this, Gord was the Managing Director of Capgemini’s Canadian Utilities Practice and the Global innovation leader for the Power & Utility sector. He was also a member of Capgemini’s Global Sector Council and spent 8 years as the Global lead for Capgemini’s Smart Energy Services and Digital Utilities Transformation initiatives for the Energy, Utility and Chemicals sector.

Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. In addition to representing public and private providers on broadband issues, Drew is actively involved in issues surrounding interconnected Voice-over-Internet-Protocol service, spectrum licenses, robocalling including STIR/SHAKEN, and the provision of video franchises and “over-the-top” copyrighted content.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Fiber

Public–Private Partnership Model ‘Most Effective Way’ to Address Digital Divide: AT&T Rep

The company’s president of broadband access and adoption initiatives lauded AT&T’s public-private partnerships.

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Screenshot of Jeff Luong, president of AT&T’s broadband access and adoption initiatives

September 28, 2022 – Touting its fiber build in an Indiana county, an AT&T representative said Wednesday that public–private partnership models for broadband expansion are the “most effective way” to bridge the digital divide.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas, Jeff Luong, president of the telecoms giant’s broadband access and adoption initiatives, said broadband builds should incorporate multiple revenue streams and allow local communities to adapt to their own unique circumstances.  

Luong said his preferred model blends public funds with private funds and the localized expertise of community leaders with the technical expertise of companies like AT&T. He said that AT&T has contracted to build fiber networks using the public–private partnership model in several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas.

Luong highlighted his company’s partnership with Vanderburgh County, Indiana, where AT&T is building a fiber network. The deal was struck last year and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. AT&T will own and operate the network, investing $29.7 million to the county’s $9.9 million. The county’s contribution comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

And while he acknowledged the importance of federal investments, Luong emphasized the role of private investments in expanding broadband.

“The bulk of network investment comes from the private sector,” he said. “The upcoming federal [Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment] program has $42 billion to spend on broadband over four plus years. Let’s not forget the top three mobile carriers have [a] combined capital expenditure of more than $50 billion in just this past year,” he said.

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Open Access

In Video Session, Christopher Mitchell Digs Into Community Ownership and Open Access Networks

The conversation dealt with open access networks, and whether cities are well-suited to play a role in developing them.

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Screenshot of Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

September 29, 2022 – Community-owned, open access networks protect communities against irresponsible network operators and stimulate innovation, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, at a Broadband.Money Ask Me Anything! event Friday.

“AT&T, Frontier, these companies have a history of failing to meet community needs,” said Mitchell. “If I had a choice between open broadband fixed wireless and fiber from AT&T, I’d be really, you know, checking it out.”

“[AT&T] is a company that will sell your data at the first opportunity, it’s a company that will raise your bill every chance it gets,” Mitchell added.

ILSR’s director said that in communities in which local ownership isn’t possible, such as in a town with a deeply corrupt government, there still exist contractual provisions that can maximize local control.

A right of first refusal, for instance, gives communities the option to purchase their local network if the original provider chooses to sell. Mitchell also suggested communities write performance-based contracts that institute penalties for network partners who fail to meet clearly outlined performance benchmarks.

Conversation entered realm of open access discussion

The wide-ranging conversation also dealt with the issues of open access networks, and whether cities are well-suited to play a role in developing them.

 “The cities are the custodians of their rights of way – they need to be, they must be,” said Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast. Because of the cities inherent role as custodians of their rights of way, Clark said that open-access networks provide cities with the opportunity to own the infrastructure portion of their broadband networks, while still offering private companies the ability to serve as network operators or application service providers.

Mitchell agreed that open access networks can be critical to broadband innovation. “We need to have millions – ideally tens of million – of Americans in thriving areas that have open access to kind of see what we can do with networks,” he said.

“Maybe a lot of those ideas won’t work out, but I think we don’t want to foreclose that path.”

In addition to overseeing digital infrastructure projects, communities can promote digital equity by utilizing established, trusted community-based institutions – such as food pantries or faith groups – to boost digital literacy and distribute devices, Mitchell said.

Mitchell added that these efforts must be ongoing: “This is more about building connections now.”

Broadband.Money is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Fiber

New Whitepaper Shows Long Wait Times for Fiber Construction Materials

The Fiber Broadband Association has said there is up-to 60 weeks of wait for materials necessary for fiber deployment.

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Photo of Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, via fiberbroadband.org

WASHINGTON, September 20, 2022 – Covid-19 and other supply chain stressors have contributed to lead times of up to 60 weeks for materials necessary for fiber deployment and operation, according to a recent white paper from the Fiber Broadband Association.

Speaking at a web event Thursday, FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton presented some of the report’s findings. The waiting period for fiber optic cabling is 52–60 weeks, the report says, and lead times for other necessary goods – e.g., 10–20 weeks for cabinets and splitters, 20–35 weeks for multiport terminals, and up to six months for home equipment – are also extended. The report also notes shortages or inflated prices of raw goods such as plastics, resins, steel, aluminum, copper, and wood.

Prices in the fiber broadband industry are also affected by the global semiconductor shortage. For instance, the price of neon – necessary for semiconductor production – has spiked in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which halted production from a major neon manufacturer in Mariupol and another in Odesa.

President Joe Biden last month signed the Chips and Science Act into law, which includes $52 billion to incentivize domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips.

In addition, logistical bottlenecks still plague the supply chains, the report said: “COVID shutdowns continue in waves around the globe, with Chinese ports particularly hard hit this year. In April 2022, up to 20% of the 9,000 globally active container ships were stuck outside backed-up ports in various parts of the world. Almost a full 30% of that backlog was created by shutdowns in Chinese ports alone.”

Supply chain disruptions have contributed to the inflation currently disrupting the broadband industry. To avoid such disruptions, the FBA report recommends a series of strategies, including increased domestic sourcing of materials, supply chain diversification, and the utilization of AI technology.

“AI can help companies make short term, reactive decisions about how to source components, and it can also help them make longer-term planning decisions about where they will manufacture their goods,” the report says.

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