Fixed Wireless Providers Warn About Higher Costs of Fiber Deployment

Broadband experts discussed how fiber costs could harm states' ability to build out their broadband networks

Fixed Wireless Providers Warn About Higher Costs of Fiber Deployment
Elizabeth Bowles, Nicholas Tuccio, and Gabriel Moran

OKLAHOMA CITY, March 6, 2024 – Panelists at the WISPAmerica conference expressed concern Wednesday that the impact of inflation on fiber builds will eat into critical funding from the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. 

Gabriel Moran, government affairs specialty at fixed wireless service provider Tarana, said that “inflationary pressures” will likely cause fiber costs to rise, and encouraged states to pursue projects that use a diversity of technologies.  

Moran said that fiber costs will likely be inflated once every state begins building-out their broadband infrastructure. He pointed to a limited supply of materials and labor as the main reasons why he believes fiber-exclusive projects will prove costly. 

Aristotle CEO Elizabeth Bowles agreed, lamenting that fiber will “soak up all the money.” She added that these projects are an inefficient allocation of BEAD funding. 

Nicholas Tuccio, government affairs specialist fixed wireless provider Next Link, and Moran argued that states should pursue projects that utilize a variety of technologies instead of relying solely on fiber. The trio also gave advice to states on how to best ensure firms do not renege on their broadband promises while pocketing taxpayer dollars in the process. 

Moran praised the state of Kansas for their embrace of diverse broadband technologies. Moran pointed to comments by Kansas state broadband officer Jade Piros de Carvalho in its BEAD proposal, which said the state cannot rely on fiber technology. 

“Kansas is going to have to rely on fixed wireless or some other alternative technology to achieve the goal of universal service,” Moran said. She estimates that at least 25 percent of the broadband serviceable locations in the state will have to be served with reliable, alternate broadband technologies.

Moran emphasized the importance of states prioritizing “universal service.” He said this can be achieved through use of multiple technologies and not just fiber. 

Tuccio agreed that states are starting to see the “reality on the ground” and are moving away from a “fiber-centric” focus in their broadband expansion plans. 

“I’d say that Mississippi does a better job of this than Arkansas in terms of recognizing other technologies,” Bowles said. 

Bowles told the audience that Arkansas is making a “mistake” in believing that fixed wireless is an “unreliable” service that cannot adequately serve the population. Conversely, Mississippi understands that fiber cannot serve the entire state, particularly the Mississippi Delta region, Bowles said. 

Broadband advocates have cautioned that reliance on fiber deployments could increase costs of pursuing broadband goals. In August 2023, the Fiber Broadband Association rolled out a tool to help states calculate costs for fiber deployments. 

The NTIA has established a preference for fiber networks, arguing that fiber networks are “future-proof.”

“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,” FBA CEO Gary Bolton said during a 2022 Fiber Connect event.

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