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Leaders of Broadband Industry Trade Groups Are Bullish on Fiber, With Some Caveats

Fiber networks have a unique capacity to keep broadband prices low for low-income communities, proponents say.

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Photo of David Grossman of CTA, Shirley Bloomfield of NTCA, Matt Polka of ACA Connects, Gary Bolton of FBA (left to right) by Drew Clark

NASHVILLE, June 16, 2022 – Leaders of the broadband industry concurred that because fiber delivers fast, affordable broadband connectivity for generations, almost all new broadband deployments will be delivered with the technology.

Speaking on a panel on the closing day of Fiber Connect on Wednesday, however, this group of trade association leaders differed with each other on how quickly cable and wireless providers would pivot away from those technologies and to all-fiber deployments.

Bringing rival groups together, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the rural broadband telecom association NTCA and the cable industry group ACA Connects, Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton said the purpose was to “unite everyone in the industry to do things for generations to come.”

Fiber networks are uniquely positioned for investing in the future as they have capacity to support higher speeds without replacement or upgrades to the infrastructure, Bolton said. That can keep costs low for customers in future generations. He was not contradicted on the essence of those points by this cohort of trade group leaders.

He also said that fiber will help solve the affordability barrier that exists for low-income families, and the future investments were essential as demands for speed will increase.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, agreed that the Biden administration’s decision to favor fiber in broadband investment was appropriate.

“There is still some competitiveness among technologies,” she said. “Even after the [Notice of Funding Opportunity] on the [Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program], I still got some kind of snarky comments from other folks in the industry” who believe that it is not right to push fiber everywhere.

ACA Connect leader differed slightly with the everything-must-be-fiber approach

America’s Communications Association Connects CEO Matt Polka differed a bit with Bolton’s everything-must-be-fiber approach.

Cable industry providers have demonstrated during the pandemic “the ability to keep this country connected with broadband with capacity to spare because of the prior investment that occurred in the four to five years before that.”

Cognizant that he was speaking at Fiber Connect, Polka said, “there is a bias toward fiber.”

But he instead urged that “whatever the technology is needed in that community, we will find a way to” provide it, he said.

“Oftentimes [Internet Service Providers] will increase speeds to customers without raising prices,” added Paul Breakman, vice president of business and technology strategies at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Giving customers more speed makes the cost of broadband come down everywhere.

“That’s the kind of thing that we can do with this [fiber] technology with greater capacity,” he said.

“We have proved that you cannot, in many ways, survive unless you have broadband in the home,” Breakman continued, adding that affordability is essential for low-income families who need the benefits of broadband connection but could not otherwise afford it.

Reporter Teralyn Whipple contributed to this article.

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Fiber

Google Fiber Says it Welcomes Overbuilding, Competition for Lower Prices and Better Services

Comments were made at the Fiber Connect conference last week.

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Photo of [left to right] David Wade of EPB, Tarryl Clark of NACO Telecommunications and Technology, Jay Winn of Lumos/NorthState, Robert Conger of ADTRAN, and Linda Hardesty of Fierce Telecom, by Drew Clark

NASHVILLE, June 21, 2022 – A representative from Google Fiber said Wednesday at the Fiber Connect conference that the company is encouraged by competition in the fiber space because it leads to partnerships, lower costs for consumers and greater coverage.

Jessica George said that more partners and more people working in the broadband space will encourage more competition, which will drop prices and increase speeds.

She added that Google has been a long-time proponent for overbuilding, where providers build their infrastructure in areas already covered. More competition in the fiber space promotes overbuilding, which ensures greater coverage and connectivity for consumers in that area, she said.

Jay Winn, chief customer officer at fiber provider Lumos Networks, added that Lumos’s strategy is to be “first with fiber” by connecting all homes and businesses in its territory to fiber – at the cost of occasional overbuilding.

Ultimately, the conflict lies between companies that oppose greater competition in favor of protecting their territory and those that encourage competition in favor of creating more opportunities for their consumers, said George.

“What do [ISPs] really believe makes this industry, makes our world, makes our communities better?” asked George.

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Fiber

AT&T Says Gigabit Download Speed Demand Continues to Grow

‘We’re projecting a 5x increase in data consumption from 2021 to 2025.’

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Photo of Next-Tech’s Jimmy Todd, Reed Nelson of Frontier, Trent Fellers of Windstream, Ashley Church of Google Fiber, Chris Altomari of AT&T, and Moderator Stephen Hardy of Lightwave by Drew Clark (left to right)

NASHVILLE, June 15, 2022 – The demand for gigabit-speed fiber connectivity continues to grow, said company representatives during a Fiber Connect conference session on Tuesday, as some companies are testing download speeds beyond what’s currently available.

“We’re projecting a 5x increase in data consumption from 2021 to 2025,” said Chris Altomari, vice president of broadband network product management for AT&T. “There’s no evidence that suggests it’s going to slow down in the next couple of years.”

The comments come after AT&T announced Friday that it has reached 20 Gigabits per second symmetric speeds on its network in a test. The company said in a press release that the speeds were achieved with “minimal infrastructure upgrades” and runs on the same fiber optic cables that it currently uses.

“Fiber is the answer and multi-gigabit speeds are the answer,” Altomari added. “I’m seeing the need for multi-gig and maybe not just the need, but reliance.”

The comments also come after an official from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the agency, which is handling $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure funds to give to the states, has a preference for fiber infrastructure versus other technologies, such as wireless or fixed-wireless.

Ashley Church, a general manager at Google Fiber, added that fiber demand is increasing as customers find innovative ways to use the internet that require the faster speeds that fiber can provide. “The internet has become what it has become because of these increasing speeds.”

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Fiber

NTIA Official Acknowledges Clear Preference for Fiber in Infrastructure Deployment Program

Attendance at the fiber show jumped from 2,041 attendees last June to 2,854 registrants as of Friday.

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Photo of Andy Berke by Drew Clark

NASHVILLE, June 13, 2022 – A Biden administration official working on broadband infrastructure deployment said Monday that he wasn’t afraid to explicitly state that the U.S. Commerce Department favors fiber over other technologies.

“You will see that we have clearly expressed a preference for fiber,” said Andy Berke, who enjoys the title of “Special Representative for Broadband” at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Commerce Department agency responsible for broadband funding.

“Fiber is future proof. If we put something in the ground, we know we are only going to have to put in the ground once.”

Berke was speaking at the kickoff of Fiber Connect here, the trade show of the Fiber Broadband Association. Attendance at the show jumped from 2,041 attendees last June to 2,854 registrants for this year’s conference as of Friday.

Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton used his welcoming remarks to take a victory lap for the association.

‘If it’s not fiber, it’s not broadband’

“The market and our government have finally come to the conclusion that if it’s not fiber, it’s not broadband,” referring to the technology-specific tag line of his trade association.

Following the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, Bolton said, his group went to work crafting the a “playbook” for deployment of broadband that was issued jointly by the Fiber Broadband Association and NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association.

Issued in March, Bolton said that he and NTCA are working to update the playbook based upon specific guidelines released by the NTIA in the notice of funding opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment. Those were released in May.

“While the NTIA NOFO was a huge victory for fiber broadband, the fight is far from over,” Bolton continued. “The rules are in our favor, but we need to work diligently with every state and every territorial broadband office and state policymaker to make sure that the nation’s broadband infrastructure is built with future-proof fiber.”

As mayor of Chattanooga, Berke touted the gigabit city

Berke, who hails a few hours down the road from Chattanooga, Tennessee, came on stage soon after Bolton finished.

As mayor, he led Chattanooga to become the first city in the country to offer symmetrical gigabit per second broadband service — available via fiber-optics — to every resident.

That service was offered by EPB, a subsidiary of the city’s municipal power provider.

Questioned about whether the agency was “starting to see some pushback about the preference for fiber,” Berke said that BEAD funds won’t go exclusively for fiber builds.

“The geography of Alaska and the density of Alaska are a lot different from Rhode Island,” Berke replied.

In spite of NTIA’s preference for fiber, it will be up to state broadband officers to make final decisions about which technology providers will receive their BEAD sub-grants. “It is not about the technology. At the end of the day, it is about being good stewards of the taxpayer’s money.”

“If we do it once” with fiber, the Biden administration will “save the taxpayers from having to do it again” in future years, Berke said.

U.S. senator from Tennessee makes an appearance

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagarty, R-Tenn., also came on stage and addressed the audience the briefly.

Hagarty, one of 30 Republicans to vote against IIJA in August 2021, acknowledged “concerns” about the measure, but also said that it represented a “tremendous opportunity.”

“The pandemic has underscored how critical broadband access is,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of Fiber Connect attendees in 2021. The number was 2,041, not about 1,500. The story has been corrected.

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