Industry leaders agree: Fiber is the gold standard for broadband delivery

May 18, 2021 | By Stephen V. Smith, founder and VP of Broadband Strategies of WordSouth, a content marketing company that helps rural broadband and electric providers tell their stories, market their services, and train their people.

When the pandemic closed businesses, shut down schools and sent the population into quarantine, society’s need for ubiquitous broadband became painfully apparent. As broadband providers, state agencies and the federal government work to close the digital divide once and for all, industry leaders are coalescing around a central message — fiber is the technology of choice for connecting the remainder of America.

This belief has gained momentum thanks in part to the FCC’s December decision to award more than $885 million through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to Starlink, the low earth orbit satellite internet provider. A division of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, Starlink has come under intense scrutiny, with many broadband experts characterizing its claims of speed and coverage as technologically unattainable.

“Giving money to Elon Musk to put more LEO satellites in orbit is literally stranding our federal rural dollars in space because it’s the path to nowhere,” said Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton in a recent episode of the “Rural Broadband Today” podcast. “The only way to improve the performance of a LEO satellite is to darken the skies with more satellites.” Bolton contrasts this “unproven technology” with fiber “that can deliver high quality, low latency and high-performance broadband.”

Kathryn de Wit heads up the Broadband Access Initiative for Pew Charitable Trusts. In an op-ed for The Hill, de Wit characterizes fiber as a way to protect against network obsolescence. “One of the easiest ways for governments to ensure that they are funding networks that will meet future demand is by investing in fiber optic technology,” she writes. “Fiber provides significantly faster broadband connections, greater reliability and a longer life span than other technologies.”

Broadband industry leaders recently used the backdrop of Infrastructure Week to deliver the same message to elected officials and the general public. NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association joined forces with the Fiber Broadband Association to launch the #FiberDelivers campaign. In addition to producing a three-page fact sheet, the group also hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss why fiber is the preferred technology in most cases. “Broadband access is a critical infrastructure issue, and ensuring that all Americans have access to fast, reliable internet will have far-reaching positive effects for urban and rural residents alike,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA. “Many technologies can enable broadband, but fiber provides the best levels of performance — ultra-fast, symmetrical download and upload speeds and low latency.”