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Tag Archives: Gary Bolton

Opinion: Wireless Versus Wireline — Winners and Losers

By Don Bishop

Dollar numbers associated with taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects reach into the trillions for everything Congress has under consideration, and settle into a $65 billion figure for broadband telecommunications infrastructure. Where the money goes has the effect of picking winners and losers in business, a normal outcome of federal spending.

Absent money that comes from taxpayers, businesses rely on money from investors, lenders and profits to spend on real estate, equipment and human resources. The way they spend the money makes the difference between success and failure, how well they compete for customers with others in the same line of business, and how much they can grow.

Focus for a moment on the tussle over taxpayer money for overcoming the digital divide, defined as the difference between having broadband internet access and not having it. From the perspective of educators, the digital divide has an adverse effect on students. Students without broadband internet access seem to number the most in low-income homes. Additionally, the digital divide is found in rural homes separated by long distances from the nearest internet access points.

For the first group, money from taxpayers or collected from telecommunications customers under government requirements becomes available to subsidize bill payments made by low-income consumers.

For the second group, taxpayer money would be spent with companies to build additional wireline or wireless infrastructure to extend internet connectivity to rural homes.

Therein lies a choice: Should the connectivity be provided by wireline, which mostly means optical fiber, or should it be provided wirelessly, which mostly means fixed wireless access? Should download and upload speeds be symmetrical and no less than 100 Mbps, which mostly favors fiber, or should it allow a lower upload speed of 20 Mbps, which gives more opportunity for wireless providers to meet the requirement?

Answers might become clearer later in September when Congress returns from recess. Shortly before it recessed on Aug. 11, the Senate passed a bill that included grants for service providers for 100/20 Mbps service. The bill raised the federal definition of broadband from the previous 25/3 Mbps service.

“We were pleased that Congress ultimately agreed to speeds that wireless can meet,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, had argued for 100/100 Mbps service. He said that, at least, the Senate bill acknowledged that the 25/3 Mbps definition of broadband was outdated.

Whom will Congress choose? Our prediction is an outcome that favors wireline, with a small concession to wireless. Many companies that provide wireless service also provide wireline service, so the outcome might not be as divided as it could seem.

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Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.

Fiber Tops Other Choices for Rural Internet, 5G Wireless Connectivity

By Don Bishop

Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.

For total cost of ownership, low noise, capacity, low latency and support for 5G wireless innovations, fiber-optic cable’s advantages place it ahead of other choices, according to Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. FBA is a membership organization dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. Bolton spoke with AGL eDigest on June 9 about fiber’s funding, its advantages and its future.

About infrastructure options that make the most economical sense in the short and long terms, that futureproof the network the most effectively and that ultimately could close the digital divide for good, Bolton said it comes down to doing the right thing — deploying fiber.

When it comes to extending fiber to the home in rural areas, Bolton said, the association has among its members rural utilities that are moving into the market to address their communities that have been left behind for internet connectivity.

“A utility operator looks at things in 50-year and 100-year horizons,” Bolton said. “If you look at any kind of total cost of ownership, for example, on a 10-year basis, fiber wins against any other technology. That’s because people typically look at, first-cost, and they say, ‘Oh, fiber’s little more expensive.’ Then they look at the maintenance costs. For example, coaxial cable is 11 times more expensive on an annual basis and maintenance than fiber.”

Speaking of its technical advantage, Bolton said that fiber-to-the-home is a passive optical network. He said that means it has no active electronics — devices that must be powered.

“It ends up being a futureproof technology, meaning that, once you put the glass in the ground, you have limitless capacity,” Bolton said. “Think about how important it is to be able to have a noise free environment, having an optically pure environment that is a closed network. You don’t have to worry about rain, foliage, and electromagnetic interference that affect other technologies. Fiber gives you all the spectrum you want, with no contention. It gives you a noise-free environment. That’s why fiber optics is the gold standard on every dimension.”

The use of fiber leads to increasing the number of available jobs, to economic development and to economic diversity, Bolton said. He said fiber provides the building block for smart grid modernization and for future services such as 5G wireless communications.

“If you don’t have fiber, then you will not have 5G,” Bolton said. “When you relegate someone to something like low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite, and say, ‘Oh yeah, well, it’s better than nothing,’— No, it’s not better nothing, because if you relegate someone to a LEO satellite, you are relegating them to being on the wrong side of the digital divide forever. LEO satellite isn’t the building block to smart grid modernization, or 5G. You might be able to get a little bit better bandwidth for an interim period. But fiber is the best, short-term and long-term.”

According to Bolton, in the wireless industry, the rule of thumb is, “Get it out of the air and into the ground at the first available spot.” He said that is because consumers want their devices to be untethered, that they want mobility. By way of example, Bolton said that his computer is not connected via an Ethernet cable.

“I’m on a Wi-Fi network,” he said. “At the endpoint, you do have some kind of wireless, but you want to have your fiber as close as possible. That’s the whole thing with 5G — to have tiny cell sites so you have low latency (no delay).”

As internet throughput reaches gigabit speeds, Bolton said, latency becomes king.

“If you don’t have three milliseconds of latency or less, you’re going to get that carsickness feeling, because when you start getting into things like virtual reality, those subtle delays are going to make you nauseated because your brain sees that something’s not right,” he said. “If we’re going to be able to get into these immersive environments, we have to get latency down as to close to zero as possible. Not to mention, driving an autonomous car. I don’t think you want to be going 60 miles an hour and have any kind of latency issues. That might be a little fatal.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to internet connectivity expectations, Bolton said. He said that people have seen that they can perform their jobs remotely, filling, for example, a Silicon Valley job in rural Mississippi, Tennessee, and other low cost-of-living, high quality-of-life rural areas.

“Even more important is health care,” he said. “Telehealth sessions that you can do remotely or even to be able to do remote health monitoring and obtain better patient outcomes when you look at things like dementia, diabetes and congestive heart failure — all these things are going to improve our quality of life as we exit this pandemic.”

This year, the Fiber Broadband Association has the 20th anniversary of its founding. The association will conduct its Fiber Connect 2021 conference and exhibition on July 25–28 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit www.fiberbroadband.org.

“This will be the biggest fiber conference in the world, this year,” Bolton said. “We will be celebrating the evolution of fiber-to-the-home over the past 20 years.”

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.

Federal Money for Rural Fiber Connectivity Certain to Come

By Don Bishop

Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.

Congress has under consideration allocations amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars to be spent for extending fiber-optic cable connectivity for wireless communications and internet access, according to Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. FBA is a membership organization dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. Bolton spoke with AGL eDigest on June 9 about fiber’s funding, its advantages and its future.

Various spending proposals on Capitol Hill for broadband network construction, with an emphasis on rural areas, Bolton said, add up to more than $350 billion. The eventual figure that may flow from legislation that could pass before Congress’ August recess begins could be $100 billion or less, with $65 billion possibly earmarked for broadband expansion.

“The right number from our research and research from CostQuest, looking at what it’s going to take, it’s $100 billion,” Bolton said. “But whatever we end up with, if it’s $65 billion, we’ll make it work. It’s in that range.”

Legislation Bolton mentioned includes the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act (LIFT America Act), the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility Act (E-BRIDGE Act). He mentioned money already appropriated, including $20.4 billion from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and a radio-frequency spectrum auction that awarded $9.3 billion.

“There’s definitely going to be tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars available to get fiber out there,” Bolton said. “There’s going to be more capex than we can consume really quickly.” Capex refers to capital expenditure, which is money spent on assets, as opposed to operations.

In the office of every House and Senate member that FBA representatives visited, Bolton said, broadband was at the top of the infrastructure legislation priority list. He said that President Joe Biden has said he wants to see fiber connectivity extended to every American home.

“The president did come in starting with the $100 billion, which is the right number, if the president wants to get a fiber to every American, which is critical,” Bolton said. “If you think about 85 years ago with President Franklin Roosevelt, getting the Rural Electrification Act passed — that really transformed the country. Coming out of COVID, being able to make sure that you have digital equity and every American has equal access to fiber is critical to be able to have the communications for the future, and the foundation.”

A challenge Bolton identified involves making sure to achieve efficiency with fiber deployment and to ensure that fiber reaches rural communities.

“The FCC’s first Connect America Fund (CAF) allocation was about $2,500 per location for rural America for 4 megabits by 1 megabit,” Bolton said, referring to internet connectivity throughput speeds of 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. “At the last round of CAF auction, there was about $2,300 per location, and that was for 100 megabits, on average, so you get an order of magnitude more bandwidth and lower cost per location. These are the locations left behind, so they are the hardest to reach.”

With money from the FCC’s RDOF, Bolton said, the spending worked out to a little more than $1,700 per location, with 85 percent of the awards providing 1 Gbps of throughput speed.

“What we’re seeing is that providers are willing to put gigabit fiber out with much less subsidy,” Bolton said. “With advancements in deployment techniques and the technology, and as time goes on and we get more and more fiber out there, plus a lot of fiber investment — take Charter Communications, for example. They got $1.2 billion from RDOF, and they are going to couple that with $3.8 billion of their own money; so, $5 billion for fiber in the home. We are seeing a lot of private investment get put together with the federal subsidies, and then we have state money on top of that.”

This year, the Fiber Broadband Association has the 20th anniversary of its founding. The association will conduct its Fiber Connect 2021 conference and exhibition on July 25–28 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit www.fiberbroadband.org.

“This will be the biggest fiber conference in the world, this year,” Bolton said. “We will be celebrating the evolution of fiber-to-the-home over the past 20 years.”

Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.