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Why fiber-to-the-home needs a larger telescope

Bridging the digital divide and bringing fiber-to-the-home Internet access to urban, unserved and underserved communities is a high priority throughout the United States. These high-speed fiber broadband connections have proven that they can transform how people live, work and play. Yet to engineer and deploy a fiber network that supports long-term economic growth for an area, we must look beyond only serving FTTH to maximize the investment and ensure communities are well positioned for the future demands of technology.

Numerous institutions throughout communities also need fiber-based high-speed connectivity. Will schools, healthcare facilities, financial institutions, manufacturing, small businesses and enterprises have the connectivity residents benefit from? What about the IoT-connected devices that are important to farmers and ranchers today? What about serving wireless towers in the area?

When it comes to seeing beyond what's in front of our eyes, astronomers turn to telescopes as a way to collect and analyze data and explore the future. When it comes to fiber buildouts, I believe service providers should think like astronomers and embrace the concept of the large telescope. View far and wide into the future and get a bigger picture of what fiber can accomplish. To do that, here are some tools and concepts important for a holistic view of fiber and what it takes to get there.

Does your view of building out a fiber broadband network include these key considerations?

Robust middle-mile network. The middle mile, the physical fiber optic infrastructure, contains the fiber lines that carry large amounts of data between local and global networks at high speeds. Building the middle mile can be expensive and, because of this, some providers opt to lease from third-party companies.

Nonetheless, owning and operating the middle mile network is important to the customer's long-term satisfaction. The ability to have quality control of the fiber itself and network maintenance, to build in higher-end bandwidth connections and to have multiple points of presence to minimize the possibility of an outage enables you to own and control the entirety of the customer experience. For example, redundant fiber optic ring architecture builds redundancy into the platform, ensuring less downtime.

Supply chain roller coaster. The past few years have been interesting, to say the least, in terms of supply chain issues and problems. However, what it has also done for many other companies and us is forcing us to look further down the road. We've had to plan appropriately and order earlier, tying up more capex and placing larger orders earlier, so we have a more definable inventory delivery schedule to continue building at pace. The new reality is that what formerly was a three to six-month order/delivery window could now be up to a year or more, and we must plan accordingly.

Location location location. Location is important in real estate and when it comes to building out fiber. There's a distinct advantage in having employees live where they're a part of building their local fiber broadband network. Residents understand the local terrain and how it impacts the construction timeline. They have working relationships with local utilities. They understand local practices and code expectations, as well as the demographics and culture of their community.

Government funding options. Developing a fiber network can be expensive. Some companies bypass government funding, choosing not to adhere to the standards, statistics and time frame deliverables these programs may require. Available funding may not cover costs, and future budget cuts are always possible. We recommend first understanding what the long-term broadband connectivity solution looks and feels like for the entire community. Analyze the highest per-household demographic and density, the city's business district and anchor institutions, the bedroom communities and the rural areas. A thorough understanding of funding requirements, eligibility and experience creating feasibility studies and master plans go a long way in successfully leveraging government grant and loan programs.

The telescopic approach to fiber builds

This is an exciting time to be a fiber provider! Recently we held several meetings with city leaders and officials and our operations and marketing teams to explore bringing fiber-to-the-home to a suburban municipality in the Midwest. Although FTTH was the initial goal, we also discussed various solutions that could extend high-speed broadband fiber Internet service and products to the police and fire departments, utilities, municipal buildings, schools, healthcare facilities and outlying areas. Everything – from the homes to the downtown businesses to the family farms – benefits from more bandwidth.

Some of the issues we discussed were the lack of downtime, automatic redundancy built into the network, scalability, employment for the local workforce and plans to manage and optimize the supply chain. We also discussed strategies to reach further out to outlying homes and businesses with the high bandwidth services and products they've been craving. Our willingness to promote the fiber services via local events and generate media attention to help attract residents and businesses to the area was also important in our conversations.

It's essential to view all these different pieces that come together to make up the overall fiber customer experience.

Stargazers and astronomers have long used telescopes to uncover cosmic views the unaided eye cannot see. When astronomers started using NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to explore space, they discovered a new and extraordinary view of the cosmos that's never been seen. As telecom providers, we must also look beyond. Fiber-to-the-home is only one part of an exciting fiber future. When we broaden our vision and explore ways to go further by providing future-proof high-speed fiber optic broadband to the entirety of a community, the future we're talking about is bright.

– Joe Pellegrini, Vice President of New Market Development, Great Plains Communications

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