Pandemic Makes the Case for Fiber Optics in Broadband Deployment, Witnesses Say
WASHINGTON – Before the pandemic, a rural community’s public library in Vermont always saw its parking lot full on Sundays, even though it was closed. The parking lot was filled to the brim with school children finishing their classwork or adults remotely working,“[making] the most of the Wi-Fi leaking from the [library’s] windows,” said Matt Dunne, the founder and executive director of the Center on Rural Innovation yesterday.
The pandemic has now widened the digital divide between communities with access to broadband and those without, particularly communities of color and rural ones, Dunne charged. An estimated 20% of the rural American population lack access, he said, and 46% of rural Black residents still do not have at-home broadband. His remarks came during a House Committee on Appropriations hearing discussing whether the US needs universal broadband service and what is necessary to close this digital divide.
In the time since President Joe Biden announced his infrastructure funding goals through the American Jobs Plan, there has been a cross-aisle debate on whether broadband should even be considered as infrastructure, like bridges, roads and highways. Today, it seems the tides are turning towards seeing broadband as “important to modern life as electricity and water,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.
All the witnesses before yesterday’s congressional hearing agreed there should be long-term, if not permanent, broadband deployment efforts that begin with the underserved communities, focusing the majority of the funding on deploying fiber optic cable to these communities rather than wireless or satellite solutions. Another area of agreement was the need to utilize public-private partnerships not only to verifiably map out the underserved areas, but to enable states and regions to allocate the funding efforts to where they’re needed the most. And private companies that receive government funding to deploy such solutions need to be held accountable for the promises they make.
Short-term solutions like hotspots and wireless are good “fast responses” to the immediate needs of communities, Dunne said, but they would not meet the “demand for scale.”
The pandemic has accelerated the world’s digital transformation. Typically, people download more data than they upload, so the downstream speeds need to be higher than the upstream speeds. With students learning virtually or even just playing more games online, along with millions of adults working remotely, they are uploading more data than before. And these new forms of work, learning and telemedicine are here to say, the witnesses agreed.
A lot of the prior government funding for broadband deployment was based on “very low broadband speed minimums” that have become “asynchronous,” with the need for high download speeds and low upload speeds, said Lang Zimmerman, vice president of Yelcot Telephone Company.
Requiring high and symmetrical broadband speeds would lead to investment in fiber, as this can handle the higher internet speeds as well as be easily upgraded to take on increased traffic on the network – known as capacity – Zimmerman said. He admitted this kind of fiber deployment is expensive and difficult, as well as full of red tape for land permits and the likes, causing some private actors to abandon past efforts.
But capacity is expected to increase 20% annually, Zimmermann said.
Both Zimmerman and Dunne repeatedly said fiber-based systems are “future-proof,” especially if the U.S. seeks to close the divide between urban and rural communities. At the beginning of last year, “more than half of the [US] rural counties had returned to their pre-recession [of 2008] economy, and COVID-19 only knocked these counties to new lows,” Dunne said. Rural communities make up 15% of the US workforce, “but only 5% of the digital economy jobs,” he added.
Dunne concluded that the pandemic saw “city dwellers” move to “beautiful rural settings,” bringing their jobs with them, thus growing communities and their economies. And this, he explained, was “powered by great broadband.”
“If we do not focus on delivering future-proof broadband, we will be back here in five years and billions of dollars later, discussing once again the inequity in broadband connectivity,” Dunne warned.
In The News
BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile said Thursday that an unidentified malicious intruder breached its network in late... Read More
BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile said Thursday that an unidentified malicious intruder breached its network in late November and stole data on 37 million customers, including addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth. T-Mobile said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and... Read More
A couple of years into the pandemic, Shirley Neville had finally had enough of her shoddy internet service. “It was... Read More
A couple of years into the pandemic, Shirley Neville had finally had enough of her shoddy internet service. “It was just a headache,” said Neville, who lives in a middle-class neighborhood in New Orleans whose residents are almost all Black or Latino. “When I was getting... Read More
WASHINGTON — Seven voice service providers face removal from a key database managed by the Federal Trade Commission if they... Read More
WASHINGTON — Seven voice service providers face removal from a key database managed by the Federal Trade Commission if they fail to demonstrate they’re taking concrete steps to comply with the agency’s anti-robocall rules. The first-of-their-kind FCC Enforcement Bureau orders give the companies until Oct. 18... Read More
BUCHAREST, Romania — An American was chosen to be the first woman to lead the United Nations’ telecommunications agency, the... Read More
BUCHAREST, Romania — An American was chosen to be the first woman to lead the United Nations’ telecommunications agency, the International Telecommunication Union, in its 157-year history after an overwhelming vote Thursday in Romania. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the new secretary general of the agency, received 139 votes... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is looking at ways to help deaf incarcerated people connect better with their families... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is looking at ways to help deaf incarcerated people connect better with their families through improved telecommunications services, including video chatting, in prisons and jails throughout the country. “Incarcerated people face considerable barriers to stay in touch with their loved... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission formally added Pacific Networks Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary ComNet and China Unicom... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission formally added Pacific Networks Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary ComNet and China Unicom (Americas) Operations Limited to its list of companies whose telecom equipment and service pose a national security threat. The commission along with national security agencies created... Read More