The former director for cybersecurity policy at the National Security Council says open access fiber could improve U.S. connectivity and prevent the country from falling behind the rest of the world on Internet speed and access.
“Without a massive investment to build out the country’s fiber infrastructure and a new set of rules to govern its use, the United States risks being left behind,” writes Robert K. Knake, now a Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow, in a recent report for the non-partisan Council on Foreign Affairs.
Knake’s thought-provoking piece calls for a rapid deployment of fiber optic Internet nationwide as part of the current infrastructure bill being debated in Washington.
The Biden administration has proposed $100 billion in spending devoted to U.S. digital infrastructure.
“Like electricity, water and sewer services, high-speed, fiber-based Internet access lines should be considered a utility that needs to be connected to every home,” Knake writes. “Once constructed, this network should operate under an open access policy, overseen and enforced by the government, that allows any ISP to access the infrastructure at reasonable, nondiscriminatory prices to offer its services.”
Last-Mile Deployment Benefits
Knake’s article argues that there will be multiple benefits gained by building out the nation’s last-mile fiber infrastructure, including:
- The Public works project will create jobs in both rural and urban areas.
- Encourage innovation in Silicon Valley and other innovation hubs around the country, especially supporting a shift to remote work that started during the pandemic.
- Gigabit speeds will support emerging technology such as telepresence and augmented reality.
- Support environmental gains made during the pandemic from less travel.
- Make the U.S. more competitive globally with every home and business connected to fiber.
“Fiber is so vastly superior to all of its alternatives in wireless (including 5G) and cable as a data transmission medium that only universal fiber to the home will ensure a network viable for decades of growth,” Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Ernesto Falcon wrote in “America is Still in Desperate Need for a Fiber Broadband for Everyone Plan: Year in Review 2019”.
Mark Boxer, applications engineering manager for fiber manufacturer OFS, agreed while taking part of a Broadband Breakfast panel last month: “Over the next 10 years, bandwidth demands will continue to increase, and that ultimately, fiber will be the primary solution to ensuring that consumers can engage in all the behaviors and activities that they want to.”
Current U.S. Fiber Deployment is Lacking
In March BroadbandNow reported that fiber deployment across the U.S. had reached 32 percent.
That is a sobering number considering that Knake’s article points out:
- China, which was on par with the U.S. at 17 percent in 2013, had now reached 70 percent.
- Countries that approached 100 percent fiber deployment include Bulgaria, Japan, Luxembourg, Portugal, and the United Arab Emirates.
- The U.S. lags many other countries in terms of both households with fiber and fiber penetration rates.
- Compared to countries within the same range of household density, U.S. trailed Mexico (37 percent), Belarus (60 percent), Sweden (90 percent), Lithuania (98 percent) and Latvia (100 percent) in fiber to the home coverage.
The Fiber Broadband Association said in 2019 that “by 2029 we can bring fiber to 90 percent of U.S. households by increasing current spending on all-fiber networks by approximately an additional $70 billion.”
Their report filed with the FCC continued: “We can achieve this objective and ensure virtually everyone has access to future-proof networks through innovative deployment models, government efforts to lower access to essential infrastructure, and efficiently provided government support.”
Open Access in Europe
Arthur D. Little of Germany in a report last July said that in Europe “open access fiber is an ecosystem game changer, not just because it delivers macroeconomic benefits to the country but because it brings in higher valuations to shareholders (compared to traditional telecom entities), delivers better operational efficiency KPIs to telecom operators and provides better customer experience to end users.”
Common themes for successful fiber business models observed were:
- Involvement of multi-party investment from several entities outside the telecom ecosystem, such as energy companies, municipalities, real estate companies and infrastructure investors.
- Commercialization success is catalyzed by open access wholesale models because almost all retail telcos have access to the same underlying wholesale fiber infrastructure, accelerating take-up and improving overall operational economics.
The report said all top five EU countries have seen at least one high-profile open access fiber transaction in the last two years.
In Italy, for example, Open Fiber announced nationwide fiber coverage with a business plan to pass 18 million homes over the next six years.
The report found the following macroeconomic benefits to EU countries with open access fiber:
- Open access fiber pushed fiber coverage across the whole country above 80 percent.
- COVID-19 crisis emphasized that access to high-speed broadband is necessary for a successful digital ecosystem.
- Open access fiber encourages new investments from traditionally non-telecom players such as PE funds, infrastructure funds, and debt lenders.
Open Access Fiber: Five Recommendations
Knake’s article concludes with five recommendations to help American bridge the digital divide:
- The Accessible, Affordable Internet Act should be revised to make open access fiber its central tenet.
- The president should establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth to issue national strategy, track progress, and use all available funds and authorities.
- The secretary of transportation should set a “dig once” mandate for federally funded highway projects.
- Use Commerce Department authorities to develop a complete picture of existing fiber networks.
- Fund independent efforts to monitor Internet speed and quality.
Knake thinks that a national strategy should include a goal of “achieving 90 percent last-mile fiber availability and 50 percent of households using fiber within four years.”
In the Houston area and surrounding counties, PSLightwave has a network which includes 5,500 all-fiber route miles and 1,600 on-net locations.
Contact PS Lightwave today to find out how our network infrastructure can provide your business with last-mile fiber deployment.