August 30, 2022 –After a nearly 40 percent increase in attendance between the Fiber Connect broadband shows in 2021 and 2022, the Fiber Broadband Association has decided to take its trade shows on the road.
The trade group’s new Regional Fiber Connect conference series is bringing the industry’s technology and community leadership together with events in targeted locations around the country, CEO Gary Bolton and Vice Chair Joseph “JJ” Jones said in a Thursday interview with Broadband Breakfast.
The most recent event on August 23 in Frisco, Colorado, had about 200 guests, Bolton said. Topics were focused around educating the entire “ecosystem” of fiber broadband, and included funds acquisition and marketing strategies.
Noteworthy presentations included Sarah Smith, National Telecommunications and Information Administration federal program officer for Colorado and Wyoming, and Colorado Broadband Office Executive Director Brandy Reitter.
Attendance at the Memphis-based Fiber Connect trade show jumped from 2,041 attendees in June 2021 to 2,854 registrants for the June 2022 conference.
The regional traveling event series was conceived of as a means to reach industry players and community leaders unable to attend the Association’s annual conference. Typically, 75 percent of regional conference attendees are first-timers, Jones said.
Communities must lead the way
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021, provided $65 billion for the construction of broadband infrastructure. This investment, along with state funding, has stimulated unprecedented broadband expansion. Bolton has previously called our time “pivotal” and recent broadband investments “monumental.”
Bolton and Jones highlighted the role of local, community-level leadership in deploying funding to close the “digital divide.”
The next Regional Fiber Connect 2022 event is scheduled to be held in Columbus, Ohio, this November.
Paul Atkinson: Why Fiber Trumps Satellite When Bridging the Digital Divide
On the surface, satellite seems like the ideal way to close the rural-urban digital divide.
The Grand Canyon in Arizona is 18 miles across at its widest point. The only thing wider is the digital divide between the state’s rural and urban areas. Roughly 99% of urban Arizonans have access to fixed terrestrial broadband services that deliver at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) down and 3 Mbps up, according to the FCC’s 2021 Broadband Deployment Report . Only 66% of its rural residents do.
Arizona isn’t an anomaly, either. Nearly 99% of all urban Americans have access to broadband versus 82.7% of rural residents.
This problem also is a business opportunity, which is why so many vendors and service providers are positioning their technology of choice as the best way to bridge the digital divide. The main contenders are satellite, fiber, Wi-Fi and fixed wireless access that uses 5G cellular. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
For example, 5G FWA requires building hundreds of thousands of base stations in remote areas that might be home to only a handful of homes and businesses — a buildout that likely would take years and tens of billions of dollars. That’s a difficult investment to recoup and make profitable.
That’s simply not a viable business model, as a US Cellular white paper acknowledged: “ Our economics require approximately 500 subscribers to build a new tower, and we can’t assume that everyone will adopt the service. The cost of building and maintaining a tower in rural America can be nearly twice as expensive as building a tower in an urban area.”
Satellite and fiber have emerged as the top two contenders. On the surface, satellite seems like the ideal way to close the rural-urban digital divide because it doesn’t require hundreds of thousands of base stations. But satellite has its share of technological and business limitations, too — to the point that in August, the FCC rejected SpaceX’s application for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) subsidies.
FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel questioned whether it was affordable to ‘subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements, especially when consumer would have to purchase a $600 dish.
Rural America’s high-fiber diet
The FCC’s rejection of SpaceX/Starlink is not a setback in bridging the rural-urban digital divide. It’s actually a milestone toward parity because it ensures that an unproven technology doesn’t divert scarce public subsidies from a proven one.
As Gary Bolton, Fiber Broadband Association president and CEO rightly stated, this is a huge victory for 640,000 families who were relegated to Low Earth Orbit Satellite service. They could have been redlined from being eligible for fiber broadband. There is now clarity and a path forward for fiber to bridge the digital divide.
Fiber has already proven its worth in rural America, where it has 23% of the broadband market and the highest customer satisfaction of all internet-access technologies, according to a 2021 Pivot Group study . By comparison, fixed wireless and satellite have only 10% and 6% penetration, respectively. Cable has the largest share of the rural market, but many customers find it lacking: One third say they want faster speeds.
In fact, broadband speed is a decisive factor when people are deciding where to relocate. According to the 2022 RVA Market Research & Consulting study “A Detailed Review: The Status of U.S. Broadband and The Impact of Fiber Broadband,” 47% of the people who moved to a rural area in the past year chose one where fiber-to-the-home service is available. That preference highlights how rural communities can use fiber to attract retirees, young professionals, families, entrepreneurs and other demographics looking to escape to the beautiful countryside.
Fiber’s 23% share of the rural broadband market also busts the myth that as a wired technology, it takes too much time and money to deploy in sparsely populated areas, including those with challenging terrain such as mountains. Another wired technology — electricity — overcame those challenges 86 years ago with passage of the Rural Electrification Act , which funded utility cooperatives that built out transmission and distribution networks to serve farms, ranches, small towns and other rural places.
Today, more than 250 of those co-ops have built or are planning broadband networks, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association . Many have been in service for the better part of a decade — or longer. For example, in 2006, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC launched FTTH in Georgia. In 2019, it deployed a 7,000-foot line up a mountain, using drones to overcome challenges such as deep gorge and 100-foot-tall pine trees. In 2016, Elevate Fiber, a division of Delta-Montrose Electric Association, launched gigabit FTTH in two Colorado counties by overlaying fiber on its 4,000 miles of distribution lines.
Co-ops are just one example of how fiber isn’t just poised to bridge the rural-urban digital divide. It already is. That’s great news for rural Americans, who don’t have to wait on unproven, pie-in-the-sky technologies such as satellite.
Paul Atkinson is Chief Executive Officer of Optical Networks for STL. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
- High Demand for Middle Mile Grants, Local Concerns in FCC Process, Musk Agrees to Buy Twitter Again
- Paul Atkinson: Why Fiber Trumps Satellite When Bridging the Digital Divide
- FCC Targets Spam Call Offenders, Disaster Assistance Requirements, U.S. 23rd in Fiber Development
- Wireless Internet Service Providers Facing Challenges Meeting BEAD Program Requirements: Experts
- Johnny Kampis: Wireless Survey Shows 5G’s Role in Closing Digital Divide
- Lack of Adequate Workforce Expected to Hamper Broadband Industry, Says Panel
Signup for Broadband Breakfast
Broadband Roundup4 weeks ago
AT&T Sues T-Mobile Over Ad, Nokia Partners with Ready, LightPath Expanding
#broadbandlive3 days ago
Broadband Breakfast on October 5, 2022 – How to Reform the Universal Service Fund
Broadband Mapping & Data3 weeks ago
Broadband Mapping Masterclass on September 27, 2022
Broadband Mapping & Data4 weeks ago
FCC’s Fabric Challenge Process Important Part of Getting Map Right, Agency Says
WISP3 weeks ago
Wisper Internet CEO Takes Issue With Federal Government Preference for Fiber
Big Tech4 weeks ago
A White House Event, Biden Administration Seeks Regulation of Big Tech
Funding4 weeks ago
NTIA Middle Mile Director Stresses Need for Infrastructure to Withstand Climate Events
Fiber4 weeks ago
In ‘Office Hours’ Sessions, NTIA Addresses Questions of Middle Mile Grant Applicants