Report: Fiber broadband entering largest-ever investment cycle

Jan. 5, 2022
Fiber Broadband Association research reveals more fiber will be deployed in the next five years than all fiber deployed to date.

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) this month announced the results of its 2021 Fiber Provider Study which reveal that fiber broadband technology uptake is strong and is in fact entering its largest investment cycle ever.

The research, performed by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), shows that fiber broadband now passes over 60.5 million homes in the U.S. alone—accounting for a 12% rate of growth in 2021.

FBA said the increase in deployments can be attributed "to the fact that fiber continues to score higher than any other broadband technology—such as cable, satellite or wireless—in terms of capacity, reliability, latency and customer satisfaction."

The association contends that such benefits have created competition among more diverse sizes and types of service providers that are now racing to reach more subscribers with fiber.

Fiber on the move

The RVA study suggests that if all federal infrastructure funding is directed at fiber, there could be more fiber deployed in the next five years than all the fiber deployed to date, enabling the initial U.S. FTTH build to be near completion by the end of this decade.

Gary Bolton, President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, commented:

“It is through research like the Fiber Provider Study that we’re able to educate the industry on the benefits of fiber and the positive impact fiber can have on local communities. When every community can leverage fiber optics for its critical infrastructure, we’ll open endless possibilities for prosperity. The private sector is increasing its understanding of the importance of fiber and government efforts to close the digital divide have never been greater. This momentum is exciting and sets the stage for our industry to finally deliver digital equity to everyone regardless of where they live, work or play.”

The study revealed that 43% of U.S. households and 60% of Canadian households now have access to fiber.

Service provider info

Meanwhile, the study finds that larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and the top five cable MSOs have built nearly three-fourths (72%) of overall fiber broadband access, with Tier 2 regional operators like Windstream, Frontier, Consolidated and TDS making up 10% of the growth.

Unique to the U.S., over 1,200 Tier 3 market players with smaller projects ranging from a single state to three or four states compose the other 17% to 18% of the build. This group includes a mix of rural telcos, private competitive carriers, rural electric companies, smaller cable companies and municipalities.

While there is currently a steady increase in fiber deployments, FBA contends that there are several challenges that the industry will have to overcome before it can complete FTTH builds within this decade.

Key industry challenges addressed

Supply chain and labor shortages were the greatest perceived concern of mid-size and small providers. The FBA has welcomed several supply chain speakers on recent episodes of its Fiber for Breakfast series to offer guidance on how to navigate through the challenges.

Further, to address labor concerns, the FBA cites its recently created Optical Telecom Installation Certification (OpTIC) program to design expert fiber broadband curriculum, fill the existing fiber skills gap and accelerate fiber deployments across North America.

The association contends that fiber providers are also concerned about how to ensure that the vast majority of federal funding goes to fiber. The FBA emphasizes it continues "to conduct research and provide evidence that investing federal money in non-fiber broadband is irresponsible, because fiber-based broadband performance metrics measure the highest for download and upload speed, latency and reliability."

Additionally, the FBA notes it recently announced it is working with the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to publish a Broadband Infrastructure Playbook to assist U.S. state governments in best leveraging infrastructure funding. The playbook will outline the benefits for consumers and communities of directing funds towards reliable future-proof fiber networks, recommendations for best structuring state broadband programs, templates for funding applications, and more.

Mike Render, Founder and CEO of RVA, recently presented the 2021 Fiber Provider Study findings on a December episode of "Fiber for Breakfast." Read the episode recap and listen to the full episode here.

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