The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) announced the results of its 2021 Fiber Provider Study that reveals fiber broadband is strong and entering the largest investment cycle ever. The research, performed by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA), shows that fiber broadband now passes over 60.5 million homes in the U.S. alone—a 12% growth in 2021. The increase in deployments can be attributed to the fact that fiber 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 fiber. The Study suggests that if all federal infrastructure funding is directed at fiber, there could be more fiber deployed in the next five years than all the fiber deployed to-date, enabling the initial U.S. 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 fiber and the positive impact fiber can have on local communities. When every community can leverage fiber optics for its critical infrastructure, we’ll open endless possibilities for prosperity,” said Gary Bolton, President and CEO at the Fiber Broadband Association. “The private sector is increasing its understanding of the importance of fiber 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% of U.S. households and 60% of Canadian households now have access to fiber. Larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and the top five cable MSOs have built nearly three-fourths (72%) of overall fiber broadband access, with Tier 2 regional operators like Windstream, Frontier, Consolidated and TDS making up 10% of the growth. Unique to the U.S., over 1,200 Tier 3 market players with smaller projects ranging from a single state to three or four states compose the other 17% to 18% 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 fiber deployments, there are several challenges that the industry will have to overcome before it can complete FTTH builds within this decade. Supply chain and labor 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 labor concerns, the FBA created its Optical Telecom Installation Certification (OpTIC) Program to design expert fiber broadband curriculum, fill the existing fiber skills gap and accelerate fiber deployments across North America.
Fiber providers are also concerned about how to ensure that the vast majority of federal funding goes to fiber. The FBA continues to conduct research and provide evidence that investing federal money in non-fiber broadband is irresponsible because fiber-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 fiber networks, recommendations for best structuring State broadband programs, templates for funding applications and more.