Empowering the Fiber Revolution at Fiber Connect 23

by Ron Righter, SVP of Indigo Americas

Fiber Connect 23 logo

Navigating Trends and Challenges in the US Broadband Market

Last week I attended Fiber Connect 2023. Fiber professionals from the USA and beyond, headed to hot and sunny Florida for the leading Optical Fiber Business Technology Event hosted by the Fiber Broadband Association.

There were many highlights, but here are some of the key takeaways from my attendance.

The Fiber Vision: A Glimpse into Tomorrow

Fiber broadband advocates kicked off the event with enthusiasm, highlighting how fiber isn’t just about technology; it’s about the future. Fiber’s potential to create jobs and transform industries is undeniable. The event underscored how the fiber journey has been ongoing for decades, starting with the laying of the first fiber optic cable in 1976, which remains operational to this day. This legacy of durability and adaptability is a testament to fiber’s potential.

Government and Funding: The Crucial Pieces of the Puzzle

Many of the event’s sessions delved into the government’s role in driving fiber broadband expansion. Key Biden administration policies, such as the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act), BEAD (Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program), and IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), were dissected. These policies form the foundation of financial support for the broadband revolution.

AT&T’s Resilient Fiber Perspective

AT&T’s Chief Technology Officer provided historical context, emphasizing fiber’s remarkable resilience. Unlike aging copper lines, which have been in use since 1881, fiber remains waterproof and robust. Its unlimited bandwidth potential adapts seamlessly to technological advances, ensuring a future-proof connectivity backbone. AT&T’s perspective emphasized the undeniable merits of fiber technology.

NTIA’s Role

Challenges and Solutions NTIA’s Director, appointed by the Biden Administration, shed light on the complexities of BEAD funding. While BEAD aims to bridge the digital divide, challenges like permitting, inconsistent acquisition approaches across states, political influences, and historical administrative hurdles emerged. Addressing underserved areas (<100 Mbps) was prioritized, but BEAD’s execution faced hurdles that the political environment could exacerbate.

Equity and Inclusion

Balancing Investment Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion discussions underscored the necessity of connecting all citizens. While Return on Investment (ROI) wasn’t projected for 2023, participants emphasized the potential clarity in 2024. The consensus was that government subsidies must align with private funding and ROI principles. Fiber’s potential to bridge hourly wage gaps between the connected and unconnected population was a poignant point.

Navigating BEAD’s Conditions and Challenges

The Davis Bacon Act surfaced frequently, highlighting the importance of proper wages and domestic manufacturing in utilizing BEAD funds. The example of Adtran expanding its manufacturing in the US highlighted how the fiber ecosystem can generate good-paying jobs and drive economic growth. However, challenges like supply constraints, labor shortages, interest rates, and changing capital dynamics loom large.

Into the Future

What Lies Ahead Anticipating the road ahead, challenges emerged on the horizon. On-shoring requirements tied to BEAD funds, labor shortages, interest rate fluctuations, and evolving capital needs all play pivotal roles. Government regulations and environmental concerns also pose potential roadblocks that demand careful navigation.

Unveiling BEAD Funding Dynamics

Monday afternoon’s breakout sessions provided invaluable insights into the intricate tapestry of government assistance. The scope of ARPA, BEAD, and IRA funding became clearer, while the 56 states and territories race to access BEAD funding was highlighted. Strategies for leveraging local government relationships, like hiring government employees, gained traction. Furthermore, ARPA funds emerged as a pre-BEAD opportunity for counties and states to fortify infrastructure.

Mapping the Fiber Landscape

A comprehensive understanding of the US fiber market emerged from statistical data:

  • 114M households
  • 48M with fiber >100 Mbps
  • 56M commercially viable cases
  • 10M households untouched
  • 22M small businesses, a key focus small businesses contribute significantly to jobs and tax revenue, underlining the urgency of full fiber connectivity.

Quantum Computing and the Fiber

Imperative focus on quantum computing emphasized the need for expanded fiber bandwidth. As the US vies with China’s lead, the geopolitical landscape came into sharp relief. Quantum’s potential benefits to diverse stakeholders—from users to constructors, government, and private equity—underscored the far-reaching advantages of a robust fiber ecosystem.

A Glimpse into BEAD Timetables

Tuesday’s breakout sessions centered on BEAD funding timelines, stressing the importance of completion by December 2030. The states’ high-level plans for BEAD funding were highlighted, with Louisiana and Virginia leading the way. The emphasis on a holistic fiber ecosystem, including construction, OEMs, and ISPs, resonated, alongside the hierarchy of serving unserved and underserved areas. 5G’s declining hype and fiber’s supremacy in bandwidth were emphasized, challenging the viability of alternative solutions.

The Future of Technology

The platform event unveiled the intricate fabric of the US fiber broadband market. It underscored the pivotal role of government policies, the challenges of funding execution, and the undeniable need for a comprehensive fiber ecosystem. As we pursue growth, these insights offer a roadmap to navigate the complex terrain and drive the fiber revolution forward. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards in terms of connectivity, economic growth, and societal transformation are immeasurable.

If you want to find out more about Indigo’s Fiber Design and Support services, download our Free eBook “Secrets of a Successful Fiber Rollout

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