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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.



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.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.


Next Generation PONs Important for Future Capacity Needs on Fiber Networks: Nokia Official

25G PONs are ideal to connect customers to 10G or higher speeds, a Nokia rep said.



Photo of David Eckard of Nokia

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2023 – Providers need to adopt next generation passive optical networks in fiber builds to make the most of federal investments, said David Eckard, vice president of the Broadband Partners at Nokia, at a Fiber Broadband Association event Wednesday. 

A PON service can support multiple clients from a single router by splitting a fiber-optic strand from an optical line terminal. It differs from an active optical network which dedicates each end user their own fiber optical line by an electrically-charged switcher that manages the signal distribution from the fiber line to service the end destinations. Both technologies are solutions for fiber-to-the-home network connections, but PONs are often preferred by providers because of the lower cost of deployment.

The 10-gigabit symmetrical PON, or XGS-PON, and the symmetrical 25G PON are evolutions of Gigabit PON, which only provides 2.5 Gbps downstream and 1.25 Gbps upstream.  

The industry is beginning to face capacity issues with GPONs which are still being widely deployed, said Eckard. He said that more and more services are requiring higher capacity and the demand will continue to increase as applications evolve to fill capacity capabilities. 

Providers need to ensure that they are building the right type of network to support these new applications, he said, pointing to the recently released Apple virtual reality headset set to be released early next year as an example of increasing capacity demands. 

Deploying 25G PONs is ideal for providers that want to provide customers with 10G or higher speeds and ensure future applications will be supported by their networks. He predicted that businesses will be the first adopters of 10G and higher speeds.  

Eckard also said adopting next generation PONs on fiber networks will also ensure that providers get the most from federally allocated programs like the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That money is expected to be allocated to the states by June 30. 

According to network operators, XGS-PON is the preferred standards and networks are being upgraded to meet the standard. 

Nokia is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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FCC Commissioner Carr Criticizes BEAD Fiber Priority Ahead of Funding Allocation

The NTIA has acknowledged a clear preference for fiber in its bipartisan infrastructure deployment effort.



Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in Feb 2018 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2023 – Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, voiced reservations last week about the fiber preference in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s flagship broadband funding program, citing potential time and financial constraints.

The NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, an offspring of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, is expected to deliver $42.5 billion to the states by June 30 for infrastructure that needs to be built within a handful of years. Funding priorities under BEAD will be given to “projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” according to an NTIA document.

“I do think some of the BEAD policies put a bit too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber,” Carr said in an interview with John Foley, managing director of Safer Building Coalitions, at the Wireless Tech and Policy Summit in Washington.

“In the case of fiber, where it could take potentially years to get fiber built out, not to mention significant delta in funding,” said Carr. “It can take anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 to run a mile of fiber.”

He said fixed wireless access can sometimes provide “robust high-speed service” while still remaining within budget.

Despite the NTIA’s clear acknowledgement of a fiber preference in its infrastructure deployment effort, Carr has long advocated for the use of fiber alternatives in rural regions, where high-speed internet is still a luxury in some parts. In 2022, Carr criticized the FCC for rejecting full grants to satellite broadband service provider Starlink and fixed wireless service provider LTD Broadband from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“We should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today,” read the statement. “To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Among the summit’s panelists, former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein also raised skepticism that the program’s intended beneficiaries, those living in rural regions, would see any tangible benefits from a fiber priority strategy.

“Policy makers, I don’t think, are always thinking about how actually consumers are living on the ground,” he said. “The thing that isn’t so obvious sometimes is the affordability factor that not everybody can afford to have a fiber connection and a broadband connection over their handset.”

This isn’t the first time telecom experts raised concern about BEAD’s fiber-focused expansion. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association released a report in February calling fiber-prioritized financing “a bad policy” due to its potential to raise implementation costs and slow down the rollout timeline.

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Utah City Approves UTOPIA Fiber Build

UTOPIA continues to expand open access model builds.



Photo of Bountiful City Hall

BOUNTIFUL, May 24, 2023 – The city council in Bountiful, Utah, voted unanimously to approve the building of a city-owned fiber network by Utah-based service provider UTOPIA Fiber Tuesday. 

The open access fiber infrastructure will be owned by the city but operated by UTOPIA Fiber, which will then lease the fiber to internet service providers. 

City council members expressed their resounding support for the program. We believe that the estimates of take rates are conservative and reasonable when compared to like communities, said City Manager Gary Hill, pointing to neighboring town Centerville that has 49 percent take rate on its city-owned network. 

Bountiful will issue $43 million in bonds to fund the program, announced the city. The debt service for the bond will be paid for using system revenues with any excess revenue invested into affordability assistance, city council members said.  

The initial contract term is 10 years with buildout expected to take 2-3 years. The city anticipates that it will make profit on the investment within four to five years of operation. 

In 2022, at the request of residents, the city issued a request for proposals that were released to potential fiber providers to build and operate a city-owned network. In January, Bountiful officials began contract negotiations with UTOPIA. 

“The purpose of the City’s involvement with fiber is to provide a competitive marketplace for internet service providers through an open access network,” read the city’s statement.  

The announcement comes months after West Haven, Utah announced its contract with UTOPIA Fiber for a city-wide network. 

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