The latest US government broadband subsidy program could potentially transform the broadband market in rural and underserved areas, but funding will need to pass through state governments, which comes with strings attached.
Fiber buildouts get priority treatment in the latest round of funding, potentially changing technology preferences in the US broadband market.
On May 13, 2022, the US government announced funding for three broadband subsidization programs, totaling $45 billion, aimed to bring internet to all American households and bridge the digital divide. The program will be administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the US Department of Commerce, and distributed through state governments. The biggest chunk of the provided funding goes into the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD funding focuses on broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas, as well as on planning and capacity-building for program administration in state offices. Program implementation will be led by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) broadband coverage maps for identifying unserved and underserved areas (i.e., those with no access to 25 Mbps downlink/3 Mbps uplink and 100 Mbps downlink/20 Mbps uplink services, respectively).
At the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Starlink – with ample financial support from the US and its allies – supplied terminals and active service in the country.
Starlink’s service has proven unparalleled resilience, giving a new set of arguments for further development of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.
Since the beginning of the all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine, Starlink has consistently proven its worth as a critical communications medium. The service has been proven resilient, both in its design and operations. The service requires no ground-based infrastructure aside from a user terminal, allowing users to set up internet access quickly. It circumvents terrestrial infrastructure, which has not only been damaged by the ongoing warfare, but has also crumbled under targeted Russian cyber and physical attacks and sabotage. This part of its performance was expected.
• Despite growing fiber and FWA momentum in their home market, US cable MSOs are still mostly sticking with cable as their current and future network technology.
• This insistence on staying the course is natural, given cable’s “value for money” ratio, but the technological superiority of fiber and flexibility of FWA may increasingly endanger the very core of the MSO’s business.
Recent announcements coming from major US telcos indicate new enthusiasm for fiber and FWA investment. AT&T is forging on with its plan to add 30 million new locations to its fiber network, and has introduced XGS-PON into its network, enabling 2Gbps and 5Gbps services. Verizon has (finally) started offering 2Gbps service on its NG-PON2 network in New York City. Smaller operators like Frontier, Ziply, Vexus Fiber, and Hotwire have mostly jumped on the XGS-PON bandwagon and offer multi-gig services as well.
• With $65 billion in federal funding up for grabs, states in the U.S. will now have to navigate a set of complex regulatory hurdles in order to get projects off the ground.
• Two industry associations plan to introduce a playbook to help speed up this process. In the process, they hope to make the case for fiber as the best deployment option for many rural broadband scenarios.
With visions of government funding dancing in their heads, two U.S. fiber advocacy groups announced plans in December to publish a “Broadband Infrastructure Playbook” next month. The playbook is designed to help educate state governments spending some of the $65 billion in deployment funds allocated in the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden in November.
The two groups – the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association – are preparing the playbook to help demystify the complex and convoluted funding mechanisms laid out by the newly-formed “Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment” (BEAD) program that will require each state to implement its own plan. While final awards will vary widely, each state will receive a minimum of $100 million in funding for broadband infrastructure development. The near-term catch is that every state is required to coordinate with local governments and submit a five-year action plan in order to qualify for funding.
Compared to most other countries (including the UK, many EU countries, Australia, and India) in which the central government directly administers subsidies, or funds wholesale national broadband networks, the U.S. plan vastly overcomplicates matters through its state-by state process. While including state governments into the process may have been necessary for passage, it risks delaying the process of subsidy distribution and broadband deployments and may open the way for more political horse trading and lobbying on behalf of various interest groups. In that context, the Broadband Infrastructure Playbook should be seen with two lenses: 1) as a badly-needed information source to help states navigate a complicated funding process, and 2) as an opportunity for the FBA and NTCA to influence the process in favor of fiber deployments.
The playbook will provide a detailed overview of the statutory requirements associated with the new broadband infrastructure law and offer recommendations for how states should structure their broadband programs. Templates will also be provided to help accelerate the process of creating state funding applications and competitive bidding evaluations.
Specifically, the FBA and NTCA have indicated the playbook will provide recommendations in the following areas:
• Overall program plan, sequencing and timing of activities
• Recommendations on how states can best incorporate federal grant programs
• Key process and information requirements (e.g., in the mapping of underserved areas, the management of the award process and post-award monitoring)
• Organizational structure, scale and distribution of responsibilities
• Interfaces with other state government departments and external bodies
The FBA and NTCA are also calling for both states and broadband network providers to participate in the research for the playbook and share lessons learned from earlier funding programs. The two associations plan to issue the playbook in early 2022 in order to give states the opportunity to have systems in place in tie for the announcement of final funding awards, expected in May 2022.
While the playbook should provide an important tool in addressing the digital divide, the motives of the FBA and NTCA are of course not entirely altruistic. The FBA in particular represents dozens of telecommunications infrastructure vendors eager to break ground on a host of government-funded rural broadband contracts that are likely to extend well through the remainder of this decade. Rural broadband can come in many flavors, notably fixed wireless, and the two groups are keen to steer many of those investment decisions to fiber. The to-be-released playbook can play a vital role in that regard.
Verizon will exceed its 2021 plans of adding 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites that operate at mmWave frequencies.
While mmWave buildout will continue, Verizon signaled that its 2022 5G buildout plans will center around the C-band spectrum it obtained at auction earlier in 2021.
U.S. operator Verizon announced in December it has already exceeded its previously announced 2021 target of building 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites using so-called millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. However, the company also left a clear signal to the industry that it is ready to devote more attention to providing 5G in midband spectrum in 2022 and beyond. Continue reading “Verizon Turns 5G Spotlight to Midband Spectrum in 2022”→
25G PON is market ready and likely to become the technology of choice for operators seeking faster-than-10 Gbps FTTP now and in the near future.
The future of 25G PON directly depends on the magnitude of early operator demand and adoption of advanced use cases requiring 25G-specific capabilities.
The Nokia/Proximus announcement of world’s first 25G PON deployment at the end of May was a significant milestone for the global broadband industry. It primarily showed that the 25G PON technology is market ready and significantly outperforming XGS-PON, which is only now becoming mainstream. It also symbolized the increased importance of Europe as a competitive battleground for fixed broadband, which will only continue heating up with increased broadband investment fueled by national broadband plans and post-COVID recovery funds. Finally, the launch served to validate unique capabilities of Nokia’s Quillion chipset, currently the only vendor solution capable of delivering 25G PON. Continue reading “25G PON Goes Live, Needs More Deployments to Break into Mainstream”→
Subsea cable deployments have represented a small but significant share of revenue for many vendors. However, that is changing as demand for broadband capacity continues to increase.
These vendors are also finding that subsea deployments serve not only as a source of growth, but as an ideal venue to showcase their latest product capabilities as well, particularly in 800G coherent optics.
• Despite the impact of COVID-19, capital spending by US network operators was down relatively modestly in 2020, falling by around 4%.
• 2021 guidance from these operators shows a return to roughly similar levels as 2019. Continued demand for additional network capacity along with new 5G imperatives clearly remain.
An analysis of US operator financial results based on Q4 2020 earnings releases shows that while COVID-19 did slow capital investment, it could have been worse. Thanks to a flurry of activity toward the end of the year, the nine publicly-reported carriers, all of which spent in excess of $1 billion in capex, accounted for just over $67 billion in spending. That was down by approximately $3 billion, or 4.2%, compared to 2019. GlobalData estimates that the big three that account for nearly 70% of total capex – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA – spent roughly $46 billion, down 6.1% from 2019. However, the bulk of the decline was attributable to AT&T. Continue reading “US Operators Signal Higher Capex in 2021 After a COVID-Dampened 2020”→
• GSMA is moving forward with plans for an-in person MWC Barcelona event, though roughly half its normal size and with numerous COVID-19-related precautions.
• Despite moving the date back four months to June 2021, there are still many obstacles to overcome before an actual event will even be feasible.
After the GSM Association (GSMA) made the difficult decision to cancel Mobile World Congress (MWC2020), the largest mobile event in the world, last February, it spent months working with exhibitors on a revised package of discounts to future events. For most exhibitors, the compromise package meant agreeing to forego any cash refund. Instead, these companies agreed to a series of rebates on future events, including a 65% credit on MWC2021, a 35% credit on MWC2022, and a 25% credit on MWC2023.
The event, held annually in Barcelona, was originally scheduled for this week. However, last September the GSMA agreed to postpone the event by four months to hedge its bets, just as Europe was heading into its second wave of COVID-19 infections. The question now is whether even the additional four months will be enough time to carry off a physical event. Continue reading “MWC2021 Organizers Insist the Show Must Go On”→