December 29, 2020 — Smaller internet service providers were critical to fiber growth in 2020, accounting for 88 percent of total capital expenditure, according to the results of the latest annual study of network operators and consumer research, conducted by Mike Render, CEO of RVA LLC, for the Fiber Broadband Association.
According to Render’s study, this year fiber came in second place in terms of home availability, with nearly 54 million U.S. homes being passed by fiber today. When it comes to overall availableness, fiber providers are currently only being beat out by the cable industry.
“This difference did not come from increased adoption, but increased deployment,” said Render, during FBA’s Fiber for Breakfast webinar, adding that the fiber industry is “seeing exciting trends.”
Render’s study reveals that many sectors recognize the importance and necessity of investing in fiber infrastructure.
“Tier 2 and Tier 3 ISPs performed very strong” this year, said Render, detailing that many rural and regional telecos, Wireless Internet Service Providers, electric utilities, and more, decided to embark on fiber deployments. While Tier 2 and Tier 3 service providers accounted for much of fiber deployment in 2020, 67 percent of homes with fiber available to them continue to rely on Tier 1 ISPs.
Render included a graph showing that fiber deployment first hit a peak in 2008, when Verizon set out on a major build. “Fiber deployment peaked again in 2019, as AT&T fulfilled its 12.5 million home build out obligation with the Federal Communications Commission, as a result of the company’s merger with DirectTV,” said Render.
According to Render, fiber deployment rates are down this year, partially due to large, Tier 1 providers, pausing build efforts after hitting deployment targets. Yet, he maintained the belief that a major investment cycle in fiber-to-the-home appears imminent.
“AT&T says they’re going to invest $2 to $4 billion in fiber next year to keep subscriber counts at the right level,” said Render, adding that he believes Verizon and CenturyLink will likely follow suit.
Many providers are starting to see the advantages that come along with fiber, including low operational expenses and the lack of turnaround associated with the technology. According to Render, within the statements of ISPs currently filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, including Frontier, there are many references to the idea that the companies could have avoided the fiasco, had they deployed fiber from the beginning.
Render reminded audiences that fiber broadband is necessary to support current upstream demands, saying the importance of high quality broadband to consumers has never been more clear. He warned of ‘in-home bandwidth rationing’ taking place in houses across the globe, and the incredible loss of productivity that comes with increasingly long online wait-time averages.