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Supply Chain Issues Delaying Fiber Builds and Concerning Industry Before Influx of New Federal Money

Industry also debated merits of fiber versus other technologies, and speeds.

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Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2021 – Supply chain issues are pushing fiber deployments back and causing concern among industry that await billions in new federal money for broadband, industry participants said at Fierce Telecom’s Digital Divide Summit this week.

“Getting access to fiber, to [customer-premises equipment] equipment – it has been torturous,” Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA Rural Broadband Association said Monday. “I have companies that are now being told it will be 100 weeks to get their fiber builds – [companies] are hoarding fiber like toilet paper at this point.” The NTCA represents nearly 850 independent telecommunications companies.

On the second day of the summit Tuesday, President and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association Claude Aiken echoed concerns regarding the fiber supply chain.

“To the extent that certain folks are focusing solely on fiber – that’s going to impact supply chain for fiber type deployments and potentially make it easier to do higher speed fixed wireless deployments just solely from a supply chain standpoint,” he said. “We have seen a little bit less of a constraint on the fixed wireless side as opposed to the fiber side.”

On Monday, the Vermont Community Broadband Board said it is concerned with the increasing cost of supplies for fiber builds. The board had announced that a public-private partnership purchased $7-million worth of fiber cables at a fixed cost, but that the cooperative it had purchased it from is expected to see costs soar by 35 percent early next year.

Concerns put focus on deployment choice

While some experts at the Fierce conference insisted that fiber should be the first choice for regions trying to close the digital divide with billions coming from the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, others assert that the costs associated with it may be too high for some communities to stomach, and providers must be flexible enough to provide communities with solutions that meet their specific needs.

As such, Aiken condemned the view that fiber should be the sole choice for communities. “If we are trying to close the digital divide let’s keep all the solution on the table.”

President and Chief Operating Officer of Great Works Internet Kerem Durdag made his case for fiber infrastructure, arguing that it needed to be the foundation and standard for the industry.

“At the end of the day, it is fiber, fiber, fiber,” said Durdag. “Because whatever we are doing has to survive for the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years.” He likened this rejuvenation of American broadband infrastructure to the build out of American highway infrastructure that took place in the mid-20th Century.

During the following session, Bloomfield, agreed with Durdag, lauding the resiliency of fiber in the wake of extreme whether that left 74 Kentuckians dead and a swath of the state in shambles. She explained that because there was fiber in the ground, regional entities in Mayfield were still able to use it to support emergency efforts.

She also dissented, in part, pointing to the challenges associated with fiber deployment to remote or topographically challenging environments.

“We have areas of the country that are served by large, nationwide providers that cannot make a business model on rural because rural means you have fewer subscribers, you have the same cost in the plant, you have these extra challenges,” said Bloomfield. “And when they are making competitive investments, they are making them in areas where they are going to have a hard [time getting their return on investment].”

Speeds still top of mind

Aiken also emphasized that asymmetrical internet speeds often eschewed by fiber providers provide a better value for customers, and that the symmetrical speeds are unnecessary.

“Every single use case that we have seen, thus far, from time immemorial, on the internet has been asymmetrical. Now granted, the upstream is becoming a slightly larger component, Aiken continued, “but still, the use case is still highly, highly asymmetrical. So, if you’re trying to get the biggest bang for your buck, asymmetrical is the way to go.”

Aiken argued that even for consumers who have access to gigabit services, they usually are using fewer than 10 Mbps, even at peak hours. Vice President of Access Networks Solutions for Harmonic Richard Rommes also argued that higher connectivity speeds command a disproportionate level of discussion.

“[In] my experience, marketing drives the speeds for customers and there are very few homes out there that actually need a gig currently, but the marketing language is all about one gig,” he said.

The emphasis on faster, symmetrical speeds has been a longstanding criticism levied by wireless advocates. This is at least in part because with the discussion of increasing the definition of broadband and implementing symmetrical standards inevitably comes conversations about making fiber technologies the standard communities should aspire to.

Fierce Wireless’ Digital Divide Summit began on Dec. 13 and will run through Dec. 16.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Funding

Preparing Collaboration Model, Data Collection Suggested Before Infrastructure Money Flows

With infrastructure bill, there is no longer a shortage of funds for states to expand their broadband infrastructure, consultants said.

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Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology and Energy

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – While billions in federal dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are still many months away, work can be done to tie-up some loose ends, including figuring out internet speed criteria and best partnerships for broadband builds, said a consultant Wednesday.

Heather Gold, founder and CEO of broadband consulting firm HBG Strategies, noted on a Broadband Bunch webinar that the $65 billion for broadband from the infrastructure bill won’t be available until next year. But she noted that infrastructure money and existing American Rescue Plan Act funding means states are no longer financially limited in their efforts to expand broadband.

That means internet service providers and states need to be thinking about how to manage this pool of funds, according to Joanne Hovis, president of engineering and consulting firm CTC Technology and Energy.

Hovis said local service providers can get ahead by choosing the right collaboration model for broadband builds. That includes partnerships with electric cooperatives, which can own wood poles on which telecoms attach their equipment, or a partnership with the local government, such as that being done in Vermont.

Hovis also encouraged data collection efforts to make broadband service prices publicly available and easily accessible knowledge, and advocated for competitive bidding processes for broadband grants that result in benefits for as many service providers as possible.

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Funding

NTIA Official Says Rural Broadband Funds Do Not Disqualify Area from New Broadband Monies

While NTIA will interpret grant funding under the law, it’s up to states to determine where to allocate money.

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Justin Perkins and Scott D. Woods on a Zoom video call

January 19, 2022 – The federal government agency charged with the task of doling out the $42.5 billion of broadband infrastructure funding hasn’t ruled out the idea of letting grant applicants use the money allocated to them from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover areas that will also be covered from grants given to projects from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The Commerce Department’s Scott D. Woods said the “policy team is working on [this]” and to “stay tuned” to further announcements. As a general rule, areas don’t “have federal assets for the similar purposes in the same area,” but there are “nuances to that.”

Woods is the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the agency’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth.

He made the remark during a recent “Ask Me Anything” interview with Broadband Breakfast Reporter Justin Perkins. Broadband Breakfast is a sister publication to Broadband.Money and is a privately-run media and conference company headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Grant applicants concerned about this specific issue should submit questions about it for the record in comments they should submit to the NTIA, Woods said. All comments are due February 4, 2022.

The Federal Register notice and instructions on how to file comments is here.

More information, including the NTIA’s  scoring criteria for grant applications, will be found in the Notice of Funding Opportunity coming out in May.

Doug Dawson, an influential broadband consultant of CCG Consulting (and blogger) wrote a blog post early January implying that RDOF covered areas wouldn’t be eligible for IIJA grant funding.

During the AMA, Woods took questions from the Broadband.Money community and discussed IIJA’s compatibility with RDOF, expectations for state plans, private-public partnerships, and the role of the community.

While the NTIA will be interpreting the terms of the grant funding as laid out in the IIJA, it’s up to the states to determine where to allocate the money.

The “state plans…ultimately have to reflect the needs of the unserved [and] underserved communities,” Woods said.

Perkins also emphasized how important it is “for the communities to give their input sooner rather than later, so that the NTIA can develop regulations that are really going to reflect the needs that these broadband programs are asking for.”

Despite the expedited timetable laid out in the IIJA, Woods said that states should be ready to submit rigorously-planned proposals to the NTIA when they ask for federal funding for their five-year broadband plans.

Some states don’t have any formal broadband offices in place, but most already have some basic organizational structures. Woods said that the NTIA is there to help states that might need more hand-holding through the grant application process.

Role of public-private partnerships

Woods also discussed the importance of private-public partnerships.

These partnerships will help with infrastructure, as well as “equity, inclusion, [and] adoption,” he said.

Public-private partnerships are built on “trust and transparency,” said Woods.

“There’s a lot of work to do, as well,” said Woods. “Trust is based on your words and your actions.”

One community member asked when the NTIA will announce its decisions on its $288 million for broadband infrastructure program, a separate broadband program funded under the 2021 appropriation bill. Woods said to check NTIA’s website, and that these announcements will be coming “soon.”

Woods also emphasized the importance of the role of the community to the forthcoming years-long broadband buildout. Everyone need to “provide information, to provide data, to provide feedback on what’s needed in the community.”

Instead of favoring one technology over another, such as fiber over wireless, the NTIA is going to “leave it to the states…to adopt what best works for them and their communities.”

“There’s a role for all technologies,” he said.

A version of this piece was originally published on Broadband.Money on January 19, 2022. You can find out more about Broadband.Money‘s past and future events and AMAs here. Don’t forget to come and participate in our discussion on Friday over who should receive IIJA money, in your opinion, and our Friday, January 28, 2022, Ask Me Anything! event With Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO @ SiFI Networks.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Ookla Fourth Quarter Report Puts T-Mobile as Fastest, Most Consistent Wireless Provider

T-Mobile ranks fastest mobile provider, improving on third quarter performance.

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T-Mobile president Mike Sievert

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2022 — Metrics company Ookla reported Tuesday that speed test data from the fourth quarter of last year show that T-Mobile was the fastest and most consistent mobile operator, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is the top device in terms of popularity and download speeds, and Google is the top manufacturer when it comes to download and upload speeds.

The latest report, for the months of October, November and December, showed T-Mobile’s median download speed was 90.65 Megabits per second, while runner-up AT&T had a median download speed of 49.25 Mbps and Verizon came in at 44.67 Mbps. The District of Columbia had the fastest median mobile download speeds in the United States with 100.38 Mbps, with T-Mobile being the fastest mobile provider in 42 states.

T-Mobile also had a significant jump in terms of 5G performance, said the Tuesday report. In the third quarter, T-Mobile’s median 5G download speed was 135.27 Mbps, while Tuesday’s report shows their median 5G download speed was 187.12. Verizon came second with a median speed of 78.2 Mbps and AT&T was third with a median speed of 68.82 Mbps.

In the United States, the fastest popular device manufacturer was Google. Google’s median download speed was 60.82 Mbps, Samsung’s was 52.80, and Apple’s was 52.76.

However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max was the most popular and fastest device overall, with a median download speed of 90.58 Mbps and the iPhone 13 Pro following closely behind at 89.61 Mbps.

In the report, only Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were mentioned as internet providers, and Apple, Google, and Samsung were the only device manufacturers included.

Each month, Ookla collects data from Speedtest users to report the internet speed at their location, and the data from those tests are used to generate their quarterly reports.

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