Rural America Needs Fiber On-ramps and Fiber Off-ramps

“Think about on and off-ramps” is Joseph Franell’s advice to those building fiber networks that traverse rural areas. Franell, president of Blue Mountain Networks, a provider of high-speed Internet to residential and business to 29 communities in Oregon and Washington, is well-versed in overcoming the challenges of rural broadband presented by low-density, rugged geographic, and extreme weather conditions.  As he alludes to in the above interview, filmed at the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber Connect 2021, obtaining a reasonably priced middle-mile connection to the Internet is another hurdle to providing affordable rural broadband.

Franell suggests the fiber that connects tech giants’ rural data centers to urban internet exchanges could also serve as mid-mile connections for rural communities. This would require secure mid-point connections in the rural communities they traverse, By utilizing excess capacity on existing fiber infrastructure, the marginal costs would be lower than building new networks. Additionally, this could provide path redundancy and improve resiliency for those networks that already have a mid-mile connection.

And in those areas without fiber, Franell argues for a “whole government” approach to eliminating the barriers to deployment. Obtaining rights-of-way, whether over federal lands or private property, can add significant delays and cost to a deployment. He provides an example of how Oregon passed a law that allows the addition of fiber to rights-of-way easements granted to electric cooperatives, as long as there is no harm to the property owner (unlikely, since fiber adds value to properties). He hopes to see this law extended to additional rights-of-ways in Oregon.

Adoption of broadband is another challenge Franell has seen first-hand. Franell provides an example of how one of the barriers to broadband adoption impacted the family of one of Blue Mountain Networks employees.

Interview Highlights

00:24 – The challenges of deploying resilient broadband in rural Oregon

04:18 – What is the plan for digital literacy?

06:08 – Franell discusses the “infatuation with the shiny objects” of 5G and Low-Earth-Orbit satellites.

07:10 – What is the call-to-action to obtain on and off-ramps?

08:39 – Franell recommends using existing rights-of-way as well as taking a “whole government” approach to ease the barriers of rolling out broadband in rural America.

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