Fiber is the Future
“If you think about the future of education, and the metaverse, quantum networking, all this future is enabled by fiber,” states Gary Bolton, President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. Speaking at Fiber Connect 2023, Bolton points out that this is a special moment as various groups unite to bring fiber everywhere and to everyone.
With a doubling of attendees to 4,000 in the past two years, the excitement about the near-term builds and the long-term future was in the air at this annual event organized by the FBA. Bolton emphasizes that this conference is more than building fiber. It is about ensuring that the resulting access to the Internet is affordable and that people adopt it for nascent and future applications, in education, employment, health, and beyond.
In her fireside discussion, Angela Thi Bennett, Director of Digital Equity Programs for OICG of the NTIA, emphasized the importance of digital equity on the various social determinants of health. As the image she shared indicates, reliable broadband is at the center of a person’s life, particularly moving forward. She reminded attendees that we are “Stronger together as we engage in a whole of nation investment” in bringing affordable, accessible broadband to everyone.
Bennett is responsible for the $2.75B in funds intended to promote digital equity and inclusion. Notwithstanding the unprecedented tens of billions of dollars in government monies, the investment in communications infrastructure is different than in past decades. Investment from private equity is even greater than federal funds. As one experienced operator mentioned between sessions, this is different than how cable television was built in that the deals are equity instead of debt.
This is so-called patient capital as the investors are looking at a long-term payback on the creation of new assets, as opposed to purchasing existing assets and operations with an eye to wringing out costs and sometimes sacrificing service.
Speed Is Our Friend
Bolton points out that “speed is our friend” in terms of deployment. As evidenced at Fiber Connect 2023, FBA is actively trying to remove the barriers to rolling out fiber, whether in permitting, locates, or workforce shortages. Delays mean higher costs, which potentially reduce the number of homes served.
NTIA’s Bennett echoed Bolton when she stated that there is an urgency to this huge undertaking. She suggested that people extend grace as getting fiber to the remaining 50%+ of U.S. households won’t be easy. Along those lines, she thanked everyone for the hard, messy work and reminded everyone that their efforts will transform the lives of future generations.
- The National Library of Medicine has an informative summary of the impact of broadband on health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7969595/
- As Bolton references in the above interview, the RUS announced almost $700M in funding on August 21st https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2023/08/21/biden-harris-administration-announces-nearly-700-million-connect
ViodiTV coverage of FBA’s Fiber Connect 2023 courtesy of Calix.
Special thanks to Brett Heier for filming.