As the need to remain digitally connected becomes more important than ever, communications infrastructure is critical to ensuring that businesses and remote workers, students transitioning to digital learning, and consumers engaging with video and other media have access to high-speed, reliable broadband.
The need to modernize and upgrade existing infrastructure and to expand access to rural and underserved areas has become a main concern for the communications industry. Broadband companies and cooperatives are turning to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technologies to help bridge this gap, expand connectivity and improve connection speed across the country.
To support this work, the United States government has made billions of dollars available in funding for projects – more information on funding opportunities can be found below.
Understanding fiber-to-the-home (FTTH)
Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband connections refer to individual fiber optic cable connections for homes or businesses. FTTH connections can transmit multiple types of information including telephone, video and data, and provide a faster, more efficient connection than traditional copper cable.
FTTH connections already exist for more than 20.5 million customers in the United States. With the forecasted need for more robust broadband capabilities nationwide in coming years as new technologies come online, the volume of data transmitted continues to grow, and the demand for fast, reliable broadband increases, FTTH offers a solution to handle today’s communications needs as well as prepare communications networks for the future.
Key considerations for cooperatives and communications companies
For companies providing these services, being aware of changing policies and taking a proactive approach to opportunities to fill customers’ needs for high-speed broadband is key.
Understanding the evolving technological landscape, available products and opportunities for project funding will allow providers to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to winning new business.
Government-funded initiatives for expanding rural broadband access
The United States government and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have made improving communications infrastructure and expanding broadband access a priority for coming years. To accomplish this, they have allocated billions of dollars to funding these projects.
Past funding has included the Connect American Fund (CAF), which awarded 103 companies nearly $1.5 billion to provide fixed broadband and voice services in 45 states. The success of this program has spurred further investment – including the following active initiatives:
- Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
- The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is an initiative from the FCC to help bridge the connectivity gap in rural and underserved communities. Per the FCC, the fund will make $20.4 billion available in several phases for communications companies to bring high-speed broadband to rural homes and small businesses that currently lack this access.
- Bidding for Phase I is set to open in October 2020
- ReConnect Loan and Grant Program
- The Rural Development Broadband ReConnect Program from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides loans and grants for the costs of construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.
- Funds will be made available in phases to cooperatives, corporations, state and local governments and other qualifying entities. A $200 million round of funding was announced in December 2019, with the application period closing on April 15, 2020.
In addition to federal funding, many states also offer loan and grant programs.
For cooperatives and communications companies, these initiatives present an opportunity to engage with customers on projects to improve and expand broadband access in rural and underserved communities utilizing FTTH. With the need for these improvements set to grow in the near- and long-term, a proactive approach can help providers position themselves well and stay ahead of demand.