FBA: Pushing the Boundaries for Fiber Deployment

Spotlight on Fiber Deployment | TelecomDrive.com

Whether it is 5G readiness, economic development, creation of jobs, connectivity for schools, work-from-home or modernization of smart grids – deployment of quality fiber is one common thread that connects everything together. Keeping this in mind, Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) has become a prominent and strategic voice for the telecoms industry to expand the boundaries of fiber deployment and realize its full potential for the modern era.  

Gary Bolton, CEO, Fiber Broadband Association speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about global trends in fiberization and how FBA is becoming an important catalyst in enabling fiber expansion.

Fiber plays an important role towards driving connectivity and bridging digital divide. However, we still have so much more to do when it comes to increasing fiberization of networks. What’s the best way to increase fiber deployment for CSPs and telecoms?

Communities around the country have begun to realize that Fiber deployment for broadband connectivity is critical to economic development in terms of jobs, education, healthcare and government services. In fact, a recent study performed by Professor Bento Lobo at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga found that Fiber deployment has resulted in $2.69B of economic impact and created 9,516 jobs for the community.

Fiber Broadband Association

In addition to Fiber delivering Gigabit services, it delivered significant smart grid effects by eliminating 2.11M customer power interruptions—a 43% reduction in power outage minutes on average—providing a total benefit to the community during major weather events amounting to $421.2M.

As these communities see the cost benefits of Fiber, they are beginning to refuse to be left behind on the wrong side of the digital divide. In 2020, 88% of the CapEx investment in Fiber came from small providers.  These communities are looking to the rural electric co-ops, the municipality or alternative service providers to ensure that their community is served by Fiber and Gigabit services. At of the end of 2020, service providers market Fiber to 53.8M homes across the US and 22.5M of those homes are now connected with Fiber.  Government subsidy programs such as the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) recently awarded 180 operators a total of $9.23B to serve 5.22M locations in 49 states and 1 territory. Eighty-five percent of the winning bids were in the Gigabit tier and 99.7% of the awards were at least 100Mbps service level.

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) is focused on driving additional federal and state broadband subsidies for Fiber projects, working to eliminate barriers to deployment and workforce development. We want to ensure that we have trained specialists qualified for fiber deployment, and we are educating communities and service providers with our Fiber Broadband Starter Kit.

Increased fiber deployment also enables digital economies and drives digital society, but a lot needs to be done at the government’s level in order to increase fiber rollouts. How is FBA helping industry stake holders to sensitize government officials on importance of Fiber?

The FBA is the single source and voice of Fiber for federal legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and at key agencies, such as the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  In addition, the FBA is active with advocacy at the state and local levels as communities seek to deploy Fiber for economic development, jobs, schools, work-from-home, smart grid modernization and 5G readiness.

Most recently, the FBA has been active with the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) proceeding, which resulted in 85% of the $9.3B of funding being awarded for Gigabit services. FBA is also actively working with the Biden Administration and Congress on a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill and has been actively advocating for legislation in states such as Arkansas, Idaho and Washington State to ensure that communities can deploy Fiber broadband where needed. In the near term, we are working with Congress on a $80B symmetric Gigabit infrastructure bill.

How important is the quality of fiber when it comes to delivering the right broadband experience? What is FBA doing to promote universally accepted fiber standards?

The quality of Fiber and the ethical production of Fiber is paramount.  The FBA promotes the acceleration of Fiber deployment that are ethically produced by trusted suppliers and conform to the ITU-T G-series Supplement 59 standards.

These requirements are well established international standards with recent efforts that include ITU-T G-series Supplement 59. The standard is a guidance on optical Fiber and cable reliability, which was developed in 2018 for users looking to better understand the aspects of Fiber and cable reliability.

Further, there is an important focus on trusted suppliers. The FBA believes it is important to define this and provide guidance to our companies and customers. We are working with our members to incorporate the trusted supplier concept outlined in the Prague Declaration. This emphasizes the importance of high-quality goods and services, as well as adherence to good corporate governance, socially responsible rules and practices such as safety, environmental and labor standards, and to ensure all suppliers participate in the market using fair trade and market-based principles.

What are some of the key global geographies where FBA is putting emphasis on – and what are your plans to increase your envelope of activities?

The FBA is responsible for accelerating Fiber deployment in North America and Latin America (LATAM).  We are also part of the Fibre Council Global Alliance (FCGA), which includes our NA and LATAM chapters, as well as the Fiber To The Home Council – Europe, Middle East / North Africa, South Africa and Asia.  The FCGA is working on a plan global project for 2021, and we meet regularly to coordinate on global initiatives to accelerate global Fiber deployment.

In light of the ongoing 5G rollouts, how important do you think Fiber deployment will be in order to create 5G winners?

At a recent NTIA 5G industry roundtable, the FBA made the following three key points to illustrate how critical Fiber is to a secure 5G national strategy:

  1. 5G is Fiber – A successful and competitive national strategy to secure 5G relies on ubiquitous Fiber deployment. No community can be left behind.
  2. 5G and Fiber are critical to our nation’s global competitiveness.
  3. Security of supply is fundamental to national security.

Let me provide more color on these three important points and outline some actionable initiatives that NTIA, the FCC, and other agencies, along with Congress and the Administration can take to ensure a successful and competitive secure 5G critical infrastructure implementation.

  1. 5G is Fiber – 5G relies on ubiquitous Fiber deployment.
  • 5G has two key use cases – immersive broadband and mission critical applications. Autonomous vehicles and massive IoT are two examples of this, and both will require gigabit bandwidth and ultra-low latency from very small cell sites that serve 200-1000 feet (as 5G requires more spectrum, more bits/Hz and a ~10x increase in cell site density).

o       As a result, 5G cell sites will need a massive Fiber infrastructure for the front-haul and back-haul of 5G traffic with ultra-low latency.

  • Fiber is the only transmission medium that can carry multi-gigabit traffic today and evolve over time to meet the exponential growth in mobile data traffic.
  • Communities that lack Fiber will perpetuate the digital divide.

o       This holds true for urban and suburban communities—in every community in America.

      Areas without Fiber won’t see 5G, and the digital divide will be exacerbated, rather than alleviated, over time.

Actionable items for NTIA, the FCC, Congress and the Administration

  1. Government broadband subsidies should prioritize Fiber and Gigabit symmetrical service delivery to provide the needed critical infrastructure for 5G with ubiquitous Fiber deployment.
  2. Ubiquitous Fiber deployment:
  3. Maximizes 5G performance
  4. Provides a secure 5G critical infrastructure

iii.     Reduces spectrum demand

  1. Elevates the rural and urban digital divide
  2. An example of Government incentives for investment and future proofing rural broadband is the legislation supporting Gigabit broadband in the 116th Congress which included:
  • H.R. 7302/S.4131 (Clyburn-Klobuchar) – $80B for rural broadband with preference for symmetrical Gigabit networks.
  • S. 4113 (Bennet) $30B for rural broadband with preference for symmetrical Gigabit networks.
  • H.R. 7022/S.4201 (Clyburn-Upton, Portman-Brown) – instructing the FCC to accelerate funding for symmetrical Gigabit providers
  • S. 2866 (Capito, Hassan) – $2.5B of private activity bonds for deployment of gigabit capable Internet access to residential or commercial locations
  • S. 2867 (Hassan, Capito) – 10% tax credit for deployment of Gigabit capable Internet access to residential or commercial locations
  1. 5G and Fiber are critical to our nation’s global competitiveness.
  • Once built, Fiber infrastructure will support U.S. global competitiveness. Virtually all developed countries are charging ahead to deploy this critical infrastructure, and foreign competitors are treating Fiber as a strategic asset by upgrading technology and flooding the market – China is leading the charge.
  • The U.S. is making great strides in deploying Fiber, even though we have a greater number of sparsely populated areas than other countries, but there is much more that industry can accomplish, and the government can facilitate to speed deployments.

Actionable items for NTIA, the FCC, DoD, Congress and the Administration

  1. Invest in R&D for next generation technology. President Biden has proposed “Innovate in America”, which calls for $300 billion in research and development (R&D) investment over four years in future technologies and industries to support America’s technological lead.
  2. Enhance workforce training and education

o       The FBA along with a number of other associations submitted a Workforce Letter to the Administration on 1/27/21 which highlights that – 5G alone is projected to create 3 million direct and indirect jobs by 2025 and contribute $500 billion annually to the U.S. economy. There is a strong need for apprenticeships and training.

III.    Security of supply is fundamental to national security.

  • We must protect our industrial base and ensure safe and secure US networks
  • Having a strong domestic industry requires policies that not only invest in technology but address targeted national policies of competitor countries that undermine market dynamics through unfair subsidies and trade practices.
  • As we have seen in other industries, China’s excess capacity is undermining the health of the optical Fiber industry globally.

o       Currently, they have excess capacity of over 300 million Fiber kilometers, which is nearly enough to supply to current global markets combined.

o       This excess capacity is being dumped in numerous countries/regions, including India and Europe, driving down global pricing and undermining profitability, which in turn can ultimately impact investment in R&D.

Actionable items for the Commerce (NTIA and Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)), Department of Defense (DOD), and United States Trade Representative (USTR)

  1. Ensure level playing field globally. Work with our allies to address unfair subsidies, the root cause of excess capacity
  2. Establish clear criteria for trusted suppliers. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), at the request from the Department of State, has published a list of criteria to assess the trustworthiness of telecommunications suppliers. The criteria complement the work of the Prague Proposal.