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As legislators debate how much federal funding should be allocated to improve nationwide broadband availability, Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Gary Bolton estimates a cost of an additional $100 billion above existing funding levels would be required to make fiber broadband available nationwide.

The estimate is based, in large part, on research conducted for FBA in the fall of 2019 by Cartesian that found that an additional $70 billion would be required to bring broadband to 90% of the U.S. by 2029. The remaining 10% would be more costly on a per-home basis.

In an interview with Telecompetitor, Bolton noted that the FBA estimate is in line with a similar estimate from Costquest, the company that did the cost model that the FCC used to determine funding levels for the Universal Service Fund (USF) Connect America Fund program.

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Telecompetitor checked in with Bolton to discuss an FBA white paper that will be released tomorrow to policymakers and “everybody in the fiber community” advocating for fiber broadband.

“Our view is that no one should be relegated to the wrong side of the digital divide based on zip code or census block,” said Bolton.

Bolton advocated for approaching nationwide broadband the same way the U.S. approached the deployment of electrical power decades ago. We didn’t say then that we should only get power to those who were easy to reach, and we shouldn’t say that now regarding broadband, he argued.

When federal legislators began discussing a nationwide infrastructure investment bill earlier this year, Democrats initially recommended $100 billion for broadband, while Republicans recommended $65 billion. Several weeks ago, Democrats reportedly expressed a willingness to compromise on $65 billion as part of broader negotiations. But speculation continues that the Democrats may push through their own infrastructure investment package without Republican support, in which case the Democrats could revise their broadband allotment again.

Bolton and others hope to see a bipartisan solution. Even if the ultimate package doesn’t include a full $100 billion for broadband, he believes network operators and state governments may step up their investment to help close the gap.

FBA’s assertion that $100 billion is the broadband investment level needed comes the same day that ACA Connects, an association representing rural cable providers, released its own broadband deployment cost estimate. Also prepared by Cartesian, that estimate pegs the cost of making “future-proof” networks available to all locations that don’t have 100/100 Mbps service available to them at between $106 billion and $179 billion.

FBA White Paper Highlights

Some highlights of the FBA white paper, titled “The Rural Digital Divide: Fiber Broadband Can Eliminate the North American Rural Digital Divide”:

  • If current growth in bandwidth usage continues at its current rate, the average U.S. fixed broadband speeds would be 1500/599 Mbps by 2030, according to previous FBA research based on data from Ookla.
Source: Fiber Broadband Association Report
  • A recent Jefferies study of U.S. Postal Service mail forwarding requests found that “move out” requests were most likely to originate from urban areas and “move in” requests tended to originate from exurban and rural areas.
  • Data on “market hotness” from Realtor.com found that rural zip codes saw a greater increase in ranking in comparison with urban and suburban zip codes.
  • Approximately 3 million Americans live in an education desert with no physical access to education campuses and where online education is not feasible due to low available bandwidth. More than four in five education deserts (82%) are in rural areas.
  • Research from RVA found that high-speed reliable internet is the second most desired characteristic in a community after safe streets.
  • Nationwide, the 20% of U.S. homes with the lowest average broadband speeds get average download speeds of 4 Mbps and average upload speeds of 1 Mbps, which causes them to lose six hours per person per week waiting for web pages to load, etc.

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