October 6, 2008 -- Updating the last mile in America's telecommunications networks with high-bandwidth, direct fiber-optic connections to homes and businesses will deliver substantial environmental benefits in the short term--outweighing the environmental costs of deployment in as little as six years, claims a study released by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Commissioned by the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council, the study looked at the environmental costs of running fiber-optic cables all the way to the subscriber premises, and balanced them out with the sustainability benefits that faster, next-generation connections will bring--particularly with regard to gasoline saved when more people are able to use those connections to work from home.
The preliminary results of the study were announced at the FTTH Council's 2008 Conference & Expo, held last month in Nashville, TN.
"This conservative estimate from a widely respected firm says essentially that supercharging bandwidth in American homes with FTTH, by enabling more telecommuting, is an environmentally sustainable activity that goes 'green-positive' in six years," contends Joe Savage, president of the FTTH Council. "For telecom providers, it means that upgrading to fiber to the home is not only a good business proposition, but it is also a good way to go green."
Using its established Life Cycle Analysis methodology that it has applied globally across other industries, PwC assessed the sustainability aspects of North American FTTH deployments in urban, suburban, and rural scenarios, taking into account a mix of aerial and underground installation of cable. Environmental costs associated with deployment included use of non-renewable energy, emissions of greenhouse gases and acid substances into the atmosphere, formation of photochemical oxidants to produce smog, introduction of harmful nutrients into water, and depletion of non-living resources during the life cycle of FTTH network deployment and operation.
In its methodology, PwC applied only one prospective benefit of deploying FTTH networks, that beyond 2010 an estimated 10% of the working population with FTTH service would telecommute an average of three days a week because bandwidth improvements will make working from home more feasible. This estimate is based on the results of earlier FTTH Council surveys measuring actual FTTH subscriber behavior. Benefits were calculated from savings estimates related to reduced gasoline consumption and savings on road maintenance and construction.
"With the assumption of a future low-carbon economy and increased environmental regulation, FTTH solutions are a key sustainable utility driver," says the report.
PwC did note that there are considerable additional social and economic benefits that are associated with fiber-driven, next-generation networks over the longer term, but are not included in this study.
Network modeling data was provided by FTTH Council members and incorporated approximately three-quarters of existing FTTH deployments in the U.S.
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