President Joe Biden’s announcement to allocate $65 billion toward broadband infrastructure is heating up a long-simmering argument among wireless and fiber companies — particularly between the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA) and the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA).
At the center of the wireless/fiber dispute is how much fiber connectivity should the broadband infrastructure funding support. The FBA issued a report recently that says getting fiber to everyone in the country has a price tag of $100 billion. Meanwhile, WISPA argues that there’s too much focus on fiber broadband and symmetrical broadband, calling it a “false economy.”
On June 24, President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators, five Democrats and five Republicans, revelated that they have reached an agreement to allocate $65 billion toward broadband infrastructure as part of a larger infrastructure package that had been under negotiation for weeks.
On June 28, the FBA announced that 172 organizations had signed a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asking Congress to “increase broadband speeds with future-proof fiber.” The 172 signers include leading consumer, local, rural, and education organizations, as well as competitive ISPs (internet service providers) and trade groups representing wired and wireless builders.
A June 28 FBA press release, issued with the letter to Congress, said “As Congress takes steps toward a historic broadband infrastructure package, a new letter signed by 172 organizations is urging policy makers to make future-proof fiber the foundation. Highlighting the need to help local communities address accessibility and affordability gaps, the letter underscores the need to build new networks that address the digital divide and meet the long-term needs of all Americans.”
Mike Wendy, director of communications of WISPA, responded to the letter: “We agree on this: Any new federal program must fund broadband infrastructure capable of enabling businesses to meet the needs of consumers, empower businesses to relocate to any community, provide opportunities for teleworkers and students at the same level regardless of geography, enable anchor institutions to fully provide for their entire communities, and make possible precision agriculture capabilities for agriculture producers to improve efficiencies.
Wendy continued, “Just that instead of restricting choices as they seek to do, we urge that the palette of connectivity options remain open. In other words, we’re just as “future proof” as they are. WISPs provide fixed wireless access and fiber access, too. Policy should work to open the number of viable solutions instead of limiting them. Only then can consumers and communities benefit.”
The letter calling on Congress to Increase broadband speeds with future-proof fiber, including the full list of 172 signers, can be seen here.
Mike Harrington is a contributing editor