Remember when fiber broadband was a premium offering available only in select regions? That was when your job involved more copper and coax enclosures than fiber enclosures. For the majority of broadband installers now, those days are long gone. Today, every customer wants – and many of them need – fiber-optic internet, no matter where they live.
The place fiber broadband is most available is in the city. But not everyone wants to live there. And now that working from home is becoming commonplace, more of your customers will be able to move out of town. More than half of Americans work remotely at least once a week, and 90 % of remote workers plan to work from home for the rest of their lives.
Rural connectivity is about more than providing remote workers with service. A high-speed internet connection is a vital resource. It connects people to medical services, community engagement, and educational resources. In rural communities the fiber alternatives for internet typically include:
- Dial-up or ADSL
- Mobile internet
- Wireless broadband
- Satellite internet
With all of these options, rural community members pay more for speeds that can’t compete with fiber-optic internet. This phenomenon is known as the digital divide. And in both the United States and Canada, bridging that divide is becoming a matter of public policy.
The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has identified mobile and fixed broadband as the best means of delivering internet services. The $750 million fund that the CRTC established in 2017 will be used in mobile and fixed broadband projects that improve connectivity in rural locations. The goal will be to ensure that all Canadians have a minimum 50 Mbps download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds and unlimited data. The CRTC will be accepting project proposals in 2019.
In 2016, the Canadian government established a $500 million fund for the construction of backbone infrastructure to provide connectivity to schools, hospitals, and other institutions in rural communities.
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has invested $97 million to improve rural broadband through the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program and the Community Connect Grant Program. Many of the individual projects being funded involve the replacement of copper cable with fiber-optic cable or the construction of new fiber-optic networks. Individual states also have programs in place to supply broadband to rural communities.
The USDA funds will supply 22,000 subscribers with improved internet. With a $97 million investment that is a cost of about $4400 per subscriber. It is unknown at this time how many subscribers the CRTC funding will actually connect.
New technology is being tested that may make fiber deployment to rural areas more affordable. Researchers in Sweden and Estonia have been testing ultra-low-noise amplifiers that have 5.6 times the reach of a conventional amplifier. Amplifiers are installed in fiber-optic networks to boost the signal. Once this technology is ready for use in the field, long-haul fiber deployments will require possibly ¼ of the amplifiers that they do today. It also means that less power will be required to service the networks over time.
Fiber optic internet projects will continue to receive funding because fiber provides users with the fastest internet speeds. Technological improvements such as improved amplifiers will help government agencies and ISPs provide affordable fiber to more North Americans, and soon rural connectivity will be a reality across the continent.