Back in the day, if the Rural Electrification Act had been implemented the way some people would like to see federal broadband programs implemented, rural residents might have been told they could only have 10 kilowatts, observed Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, on a Broadband.Money webinar last Friday.
“It wasn’t like in 1935, FDR said . . . ‘if you’re really hard to connect, we’ll give you a windmill’ or ‘we’re going to do something crazy’ like today we’re going to put a low earth orbit satellite up in the sky – it is absolutely insane,” Bolton observed on the question-and-answer webinar organized by media outlet Broadband.Money.
Bolton has regularly argued that federal funding should not be going to SpaceX because the satellites have a limited life and he reiterated that view today, saying he hoped the FCC would not approve SpaceX’s winning bids in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.
SpaceX is slated to receive close to a billion dollars in RDOF funding to bring 100 Mbps service to 640,000 U.S. homes. In the meantime, Bolton noted that those homes are not eligible for deployments funded through other government programs that have come into being since the RDOF auction because they are supposed to get the SpaceX service.
Bolton argued that fiber broadband should be made available to everyone in the U.S. because it is the most future-proof technology available.
“We don’t want to be able to discriminate based on your zip code,” he said. “To solve societal issues, we have to make sure everyone has more bandwidth than they could ever use.”
A Digital Equity Panacea?
Bolton sees digital equity as the solution to a wide range of society’s ills.
“If you think about everything that’s wrong in society, you can kind of bring it down to digital equity,” he said. “If you think about who’s in prison or even pollution and congestion on roads, if we were to get everyone connected with robust broadband, all those things kind of go away because we’re addressing the root cause, not all the symptoms.”
Putting it a different way, he said money spent on third graders can help avoid spending much more money on prisoners – and spending on broadband can avoid spending to upgrade roadways.
Bolton’s comments are in contrast to comments made by Claude Aiken, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, on a different Q&A webinar recently. Aiken argued that there are some areas of the U.S. – such as areas of Wyoming where ranches are 50 miles apart — where it may never make sense to deploy fiber.
Aiken also argued that it would take years to get fiber broadband to everyone in the U.S. Therefore, he advocated for using some government funding towards fixed wireless as an interim measure.
“It gets fiber as close to people as possible,” he said, noting for example that some providers bring fiber to an apartment building and then beam bandwidth to a nearby apartment that has not yet been connected.
Bolton also argued that fixed wireless providers should be encouraging fiber deployment because as fiber is brought closer to communities, it reduces the cost of deploying fixed wireless, where backhaul often is a key cost.