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A broadband fund to bridge the digital divide

by | Feb 2, 2022 | 5G, Broadband, Connectivity

The $1 trillion Infrastructure plan that includes broadband Internet financing might help bridge the digital divide. More than 30 million Americans do not have access to broadband at minimal speeds. These funds are also important for 5G deployments.

This post was produced in collaboration with The5GExchange.com

A story by Diana Blass and Jo Kassis.

Diana is Kurrant Insights’ Editor-in-Chief and video director. She is passionate about technologies that have a real impact on people.

Jo is an IoT-focused content strategist. He creates in-depth reports to keep our readers up to date on the newest industry developments.

The digital divide is a crisis that came into the spotlight during the COVID 19 pandemic. Its one lawmaker are now desperately trying to address.

According to Ben Edmond, CEO and Founder of Connected2Fiber, “building a fiber network is an extraordinarily capital-intensive endeavor. In rural America, where the digital divide is most prominent, the business case is not always a simple one, but the infrastructure bill really does address that”.

The infrastructure bill continues to be a source of debate on Capitol Hill. But if passed, it sets to include around $65 billion in broadband improvement. At the Asia Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) conference, Virginia Zigras, VP Legislative Affairs at Charter Communication asserted that “the broadband section of that package was really written with the goal of 100% connectivity for all”. She adds “something that this bill does, that I think was really important, is that the drafters really focused on funding first areas that lack broadband today: 25 megabits per second download, three megabits per second upload”.

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FIBER AS A MEAN TO ACHIEVE THE PROMESSES OF 5G

Currently more than 30 million Americans live in areas that lack broadband infrastructure for minimally acceptable speeds. Ben Edmond states that this is especially common in rural areas because “Ultimately, when you just take a step back for a moment, the broadband market and the 5G market are depend on the deployment of key pieces of infrastructure. That process is really, expensive. It’s far more expensive in places like New York City, where the cost per foot to build now can be 100 times greater than rural America.”

He adds “this is part of the issue of getting lots of competitors installing broadband in rural America. It’s more about the return on investment when you’re building a mile of fiber and you only have one or two homes that you’re serving. The X dollars a month that a service provider is going to expect takes a really long time to pay that back if they just did it on their own capital.” That makes the funds allocated in this bill critical to the construction of fiber, which some say is a must in achieving the promise of 5G.

Ben Edmond believes it is one of the most fiber intensive use cases there are because “A spectrum that delivers that high bandwidth over the wireless signal can’t go very far. It needs fiber and antennas at a much greater density than the traditional macro network supporting LTE or 3G. And that takes once again, capital to get that deployed: get the fiber infrastructure, get the antennas placed out.” Its why industry insiders are advocating for initiatives to include policies like “build once” in this bill.

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SHOULD BROADBAND BE RESTRICTED TO FIBER?

“Build once” requires construction workers and developers to build conduits as they dig up the land for their projects.

However, some say that broadband doesn’t necessarily equate to fiber and say that fixed wireless is an option in many areas. Sanjay Udani, VP for Policy at Verizon stated at the APAICS conference “That’s where you have 5G being used to connect homes to offer home broadband. Now, in my mind, that’s a game changer, as far as how we deploy broadband to homes as a country. So, I think we need to keep an open mind as far as looking at all the different broadband options and kind of using what we can as opposed to saying, well, it must be this, or it doesn’t really count as broadband.”

Ben Edmond does not share the same view as he believes that benefit to the overall market will come from fiber deployment “it tends to benefit everything else as well. The wireless gets more speed and resiliency and the broadband to the home, the commercial opportunities, the macro tower backhaul… all tend to benefit.”

GREAT CHANGES WILL REQUIRE TIME

Now, of course, the big question, who will get these funds and how do we pay for it? Experts believe telecoms won’t be the winners and said they say infrastructure or providers will be the beneficiaries. They include fiber providers, cloud players and packet gear vendors. The White House also suggested using 5G auctions as a funding method, but that can be difficult as the Department of Defense, who currently uses two thirds of America’s radio waves, says a 5G auction could lead to security concerns.

Clearly, there is a lot to unpack here and even more once the bill passes and when it does Ben Edmond tells us not to expect these changes to happen overnight because “Infrastructure takes time to build, just like building highways and bridges and in other things. It’s a multi-year endeavor to go out and really close the gap of the digital divide and build all the infrastructure needed”. But what is certain is that this infrastructure bill makes a massive headway and accelerate that process.

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Diana Blass and Jo Kassis Photo

A story by Diana Blass and Jo Kassis.

Diana is Kurrant Insights’ Editor-in-Chief and video director. She is passionate about technologies that have a real impact on people.

Jo is an IoT-focused content strategist. He creates in-depth reports to keep our readers up to date on the newest industry developments.

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