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Building America's Digital Infrastructure with Fiber

Legislators are working to determine the future of the US’ digital infrastructure. The largest debate seems to surround the issue of what kind of infrastructure should be prioritized. Many are looking to fiber as the “future-proof” solution that will bring the US into the 21st century, but it will not be an easy (or inexpensive) road to getting the US connected.

In the next few years, it’s estimated that about 50% of households will have access to fiber networks. The Fiber Broadband Association reported that getting that access up to 80% would cost approximately $52 billion; getting the next 10% of homes access would cost $18 billion; and getting the final 10% of US homes access to fiber would cost an additional $70 billion. 

Some experts are worried that the reality of getting fiber to remote markets is slim. If service providers are looking for the best return of their investment, it’s obvious that their first priority are high-traffic, densely populated areas. So as cities and other metropolitan and suburban areas receive their fiber while rural markets go without, the digital divide in America only widens. 

And if a plan can be outlined that will guarantee that fiber will reach these smaller markets, the next concern is that pricing of those plans may be the big issue. This is why AT&T is proposing a well-balanced mixture of technologies to close the digital divide, rather than pushing fiber alone. 

AT&T pledged to up their fiber deployments this year, with plans to add fiber access to an additional 3 million homes. DISH also just entered agreements with four different fiber vendors to help support its 5G network this year.

This issue isn’t simply about getting consumers fast, reliable internet; the importance of building out fiber across the US will be felt in wireless too, as small cells depend on a foundation of fiber. Fiber can handle the 5G backhaul, whereas copper and wireless backhauling options cannot. But from the carrier standpoint, breaking ground to lay fiber just to install the small cell is not a cost-efficient strategy. They would rather choose locations that have existing fiber, so spending infrastructure dollars to expand fiber infrastructure would mean certainly open the opportunities to deploy more small cells. 

Fiber is necessary for the future of 5G, and it is instrumental in closing the digital divide, but it is only one of many pieces that will serve as the cornerstones of America’s digital infrastructure.

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