Exclusive Drew Clark Column: Digital Infrastructure Investment on the Horizon

It’s time to consider and look forward to Digital Infrastructure Investment as a part of Broadband Communities Summit.

Exclusive Drew Clark Column: Digital Infrastructure Investment on the Horizon
Photo of FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez at Thursday's event

ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, August 13, 2021 – The evolving spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 is certainly complicating plans of the United States to fully re-open after the worst of the pandemic. While all of us yearn to fully reconnect through in-person business and social events, these new developments reveal the importance of continuing to rely upon broadband connectivity for in person and online events.

This is one reason why we at Broadband Breakfast are so committed to ensuring that the upcoming Digital Infrastructure Investment mini-conference – taking place on Monday, September 27, 2021, at 1 p.m. ET / 12 Noon CT – will come off as both an in person and live online event.

Our event takes place on the first day of the in-person Broadband Communities Summit in Houston, Texas, and will last until Thursday, September 30. As with prior events including WISPAmerica in Texas, Fiber Connect in Tennessee, the Broadband Communities Summit is a landmark event for broadband enthusiasts and operators.

This week I attended Mountain Connect in Keystone, Colorado, where I had the opportunity to catch up with experts in broadband policy and internet technology. Attending in-person reinforced my belief in the need for these sorts of gatherings.

And yet, as if  serving as a reminder of the Delta variant’s spread, the day after the event ended on Wednesday, I received an email noting that one guest has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and notifying all of us who attended that we may potentially have been exposed to COVID.

As someone who has been vaccinated, I remain a strong believer that vaccination – now readily available to all Americans 12 and older – is and remains the strongest method to guard against COVID. And yet there are some who, for good and not-so-good reasons, choose not to be vaccinated.

But for me, the incident underscored the tangible need to continue to conceptualize events and conferences – such as Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021 – as both in person and live online.

Digital Infrastructure Investment structure

As part of DII 2021, Broadband Breakfast will be hosting a series of panels and keynote addresses that will explore how financing and operations work together to construct the future models for digital infrastructure.

The first of the four panels, “Infrastructure Investment Funds,” will parse through the actual investment component. I will moderate a conversation of financial and operational experts as they discuss how the Biden Administration’s infrastructure package will influence investors, the role of equity and debt in funding broadband projects, and the impact that mergers and acquisitions will have on the telecom industry’s growth.

Now that an infrastructure bill has passed the Senate with significant bipartisan support, we are closer than ever to seeing more than $65 billion in federal funds injected into the industry.

“Last Mile Digital Infrastructure” is our second panel. It will focus on the roles various entities will play as open access and adjacent models continue to evolve.

This panel will attempt to answer many questions related to ownership and construction. Who will take on the responsibility of constructing networks? Who will manage and maintain them? And perhaps most importantly, who will own the networks and the infrastructure necessary to run them?

Last mile infrastructure has always been a topic of paramount importance to us. For example, in June 2020, we held a Broadband Live Online event dealing with the fiscal and technological perspectives of last mile efforts around the country.

The third panel, on “Public-Private Partnerships,” will address the panoply of models emerging as municipalities step up to the plate and consider a greater role in broadband infrastructure.

Indeed, municipalities are taking a more pro-active role in seeking to encourage broadband providers to build open access networks. This panel will include private and public sector leaders – including state broadband officials – as panelists investigate how states and cities can impact the way America will build Better Broadband, Better Lives for the future.

“The Future of Shared infrastructure” is the fourth and final panel. During this panel, experts will analyze if and how the deployment of 5G networks will accelerate the sharing of real-estate between cell tower carriers and infrastructure owners.

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