New Administration, New Congress, Fiber Potential

The 45th President and his administration are gearing up for the next four years, and so is the fiber industry. Fiber will again be booming. North America experienced record growth in fiber connections to homes in the last three years; 2016 had a year over year growth of 16% and saw 4.2 million homes passed — and, the private providers, municipalities, and other organizations involved in deploying all-fiber networks are setting their sights on ways to accelerate that pace in 2017. Government has both a stake and role in helping the industry and communities achieve that goal. So, what should be the legislative and executive branch’s fiber agenda in 2017? (Don’t worry! We have ideas for the FCC, states and communities too — we’ll address them later in the series.)

Fiber everywhere

Embedding fiber to homes, businesses, wireless sites, and deeper into the network will empower innovations, benefitting families, communities, and businesses all over the country. Consider, for example, the cutting edge wireless technology of 5G. Fiber has not traditionally been the first thing to come to mind when people think about wireless, but it should be. Meeting performance goals touted for 5G networks — high speed and capacity and low latency — will depend on having fiber connectivity to each of the great many small cell sites.

Fiber will also have a role to play in smart, connected cities and in supporting the burgeoning Internet of Things, which is becoming increasingly vital from homes and offices to manufacturing and precision agriculture. Given the sheer number of devices, especially those using video, that are and will be connected to networks, fiber’s importance will only grow as it provides the much-needed capacity to allow those devices to work.

Government has a role

Our industry has a proven record of dynamism and innovation. We’ve made great strides in enhancing technical capabilities, streamlining deployment techniques and adopting new business models. We’re providing more and better services for less cost. Equipment vendors, for example, have developed simple plug-in devices to reduce the need to splice fiber cable, cutting down on labor costs. Construction companies have developed micro-trenching to speed up in-ground installation. Providers have experimented with new models of demand aggregation, worked with communities to streamline permitting processes, and have used their available assets to benefit consumers and the general public.

And, we’re even more excited about what the future holds for the fiber industry. To help drive fiber deployments and bring their benefits to communities, all levels of the government have a role to play.

Here are just three ways in which the federal government can help providers and communities invest in fiber:

1. Advance policies which cut down deployment times

Fiber deployments are major construction projects, requiring expeditious access to right of way and connectivity to poles, ducts and conduit at reasonable and non-discriminatory prices. The Federal Communications Commission has worked to revise its policies to ensure timely access to these critical network inputs, but the Fiber to the Home Council service-provider members still encounter substantial problems when seeking access to these assets, particularly utility poles and conduit. All too often, pole and conduit owners drag their feet and attempt to impose conditions on using the poles, such as fixing pre-existing pole violations from attachments already on the poles. So, the Commission and states need to do more. Further, Congress could help by codifying these timelines, making sure that fair and reasonable cost-based nondiscriminatory charges apply and giving the FCC the clear authority to impose fines when the requirements are not followed.

Implementing “dig once” policies are another way to help speed up fiber deployment. Installing an oversized conduit bank within the right-of-way to accommodate future users just once means that there’s no need to tear up the street each time a new provider wants to bring service to an area. “Dig once” policies are a simple, low-cost and popular way to save significant amounts of money for providers and to save local residents from loud, inconvenient traffic disturbances.

A widely supported bipartisan bill to address this issue was held up in the last Congress. In this new Congress, we are hopeful that a similar bill could be reintroduced and quickly passed in order to benefit the industry and the quality of life for impacted communities.

2. Make the federal government a model

Our service-provider members are always telling us about delays in government permitting or government failure to enact regulations that ensure access to key private facilities. One service provider, for example, is still waiting on permits to cross federal property with fiber despite having filed the applications for those permits in early 2014. Another spent over 12 months of valuable time and resources on a project that should have taken just six months because eight miles of a 250-mile fiber route happened to run through land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service; the provider had to wait an additional six months for the Forest Service to approve its application. Another still had to wait years to complete their fiber project, which was projected to traverse tribal lands, as six different agencies within the Department of Interior weighed in on whether or not the service provider could proceed.

Efficient deployment requires more efficiency in our government. Many of the actions that would assist in overcoming some regulatory hurdles have been identified, and we call on Congress to act to implement these recommendations.

3. Maintain a roadmap for accessing federal funding

One of the most pressing threshold issues is the accessibility and availability of information about federal funding opportunities for broadband deployments. This Administration can take steps so that this information is centralized and inventoried, and give an easy-to-use road map of all federal resources available for funding.

Onward

The fiber industry is primed for success. We look forward to working with federal, state, and local governments to help maximize this potential, so that all communities have access to all-fiber networks.