Findings from the 2021 Fiber Provider Study from US trade body the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) reveal that fibre broadband is strong and entering the largest investment cycle ever.
The research, performed by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), shows that fibre broadband now passes over 60.5 million homes in the US alone—a 12 per cent growth in 2021. The increase in deployments can be attributed to the fact that fibre continues to score higher than any other broadband technology—such as cable, satellite or wireless—in terms of capacity, reliability, latency and customer satisfaction. These benefits have created competition among more diverse sizes and types of service providers that are now racing to reach more subscribers with fibre. The Study suggests that if all federal infrastructure funding is directed at fibre, there could be more fibre deployed in the next five years than all the fibre deployed to-date, enabling the initial US FTTH build to be nearing completion by the end of this decade.
“It is through research like the Fiber Provider Study that we’re able to educate the industry on the benefits of fibre and the positive impact fibre can have on local communities,” said Gary Bolton, President and CEO at the Fiber Broadband Association. When every community can leverage fibre optics for its critical infrastructure, we’ll open endless possibilities for prosperity. The private sector is increasing its understanding of the importance of fibre 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 per cent of US households and 60 per cent of Canadian households now have access to fibre. Larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and the top five cable MSOs have built nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of overall fibre broadband access, with Tier 2 regional operators such as Windstream, Frontier, Consolidated and TDS making up 10 per cent of the growth. Unique to the US, over 1,200 Tier 3 market players with smaller projects ranging from a single state to three or four states compose the other 17 per cent to 18 per cent 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 fibre deployments, there are several challenges that the industry will have to overcome before it can complete FTTH builds within this decade. Supply chain and labour 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. To address labour concerns, the FBA created its Optical Telecom Installation Certification (Optic) Programme to design expert fibre broadband curriculum, fill the existing fibre skills gap and accelerate fibre deployments across North America.
Fibre providers are also concerned about how to ensure that the vast majority of federal funding goes to fibre. The FBA continues to conduct research and provide evidence that investing federal money in non-fibre broadband is irresponsible because fibre-based broadband performance metrics measure the highest for download and upload speed, latency and reliability. Additionally, the FBA is working with the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to publish a Broadband Infrastructure Playbook to assist State governments in best leveraging infrastructure funding. The Playbook will outline the benefits for consumers and communities of directing funds towards reliable future-proof fibre networks, recommendations for best structuring State broadband programmes, templates for funding applications and more.