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August 13, 2009 10:00 AM

Fiber Dominates Discussions At FCC Broadband Deployment Workshop

I have to admit suffering from a fair amount of trepidation heading into yesterday's FCC workshop on broadband deployment. As an advocate for fiber, I worried that we'd end up seeing another discussion where the desire to be technology neutral obfuscates a more specific, concrete discussion about what our nation's broadband infrastructure needs.

So needless to say, I was pleased as punch when what happened instead was a conversation dominated by fiber.

Everyone on the day's first panel talked about how more fiber's a good thing, how having more fiber enables better broadband, and how we need a national plan to get more fiber everywhere.

One constant refrain that bled into the following session on wireless deployment is the need for more, better access to middle mile and backhaul networks. Thankfully, these panels didn't beat around the bush and instead declared fiber the technology of choice to power these networks, except in limited scenarios where microwave's a more appropriate choice.

There were clear calls for the need to get fiber laid to every cell tower, how if we want to realize the full benefits of next generation wireless technologies like 4G that T1s for backhaul won't cut it. So if we want better wireless, we need more fiber.

It was also interesting to hear how every wireline technology today touts how it's powered by fiber. Cable guys stress their hybrid-fiber coax networks, with the representative from Cox going so far as to boast that "if you look at the percent of time a bit travels on our network, over 80% is on fiber." Telcos not doing full fiber networks tout their fiber-to-the-node technology, choosing to reference fiber more often than DSL in describing what they offer. So everyone seems to now be acknowledging that the key to our wireline broadband future is getting fiber closer and closer to end users.

Finally, while they weren't able to address the question I posed on this subject directly, I do think there's a growing awareness around the fact that the bandwidth demands of larger institutions necessitates the use of fiber. We can't afford to leave schools, hospitals, businesses, and other institutions stuck paying hundreds of dollars a month for T1s; they need fiber to support lots of simultaneous usage.

What this all leads me to is a new hope that we're going to strip away the fog of technology neutrality and embrace the idea that focusing on fiber has to be at the core of our national broadband strategy. Even if we can't get agreement on whether or not every last home needs a fiber pipe laid all the way to its front door, we should be able to all agree that we need more fiber in middle mile and institutional networks, and that as a core piece of our national broadband plan we also need to be crafting a national fiber plan that can help coordinate the deployment of a nationwide fiber network.

Because the simple truth of the matter is that without a plan to get more fiber available to more people at more affordable prices we have no future as a global broadband leader because the future of broadband will be powered by fiber.

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