Today is “Gimme Fiber Day,” an international celebration of all-fiber networks and of the “father” of optical fiber transmission, Dr. Charles Kao. A Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Kao discovered that glass can transmit information across great distances — a discovery that today lets us access the Internet in the fastest way possible. Today, more than 40 million households have access to all-fiber networks, and we are on track to provide connectivity to more than half of all U.S. households by 2025. These all-fiber networks not only provide the best broadband experience today — just ask anyone who has a fiber connection — but, because they are future-proof, they will do so for decades to come. That’s an investment worth making, but we need to do more.
Fiber is the essential element for our future communications networks, even the much-touted 5G wireless and Internet of Things networks. Yet, by leaving so many Americans, primarily rural residents and businesses, without access to all-fiber connectivity, we are depriving them of innumerable economic, social, and educational opportunities – opportunities that are available throughout more urban areas. We need to dedicate ourselves to bridging the all-fiber divide.
At the Fiber Broadband Association, we believe we can bring all-fiber network to virtually all households within a decade. We recently conducted a study showing that it is possible to reach 90% of U.S. households with fiber broadband networks in the next ten years by spending an additional $70 billion. To put this in perspective, the FCC already spends about $8 billion annually to support broadband networks and services in high-cost areas and for schools, libraries, and health care facilities. Next year, the FCC is scheduled to hold an auction to award $20 billion in support for broadband in rural areas. The federal Rural Utility Services and numerous state programs also currently supply funding and current infrastructure proposals in Congress would spend between $40 and $80 billion for broadband. In other words, our aim is achievable. What is required is the will to make this happen.
Bringing high-speed Internet to almost all Americans is no longer a pipe dream. With targeted government support, public-private partnerships, local municipal builds, and private sector innovation, we can build high-speed networks from coast to coast and tackle the digital divide head-on.
Investing in all-fiber broadband and connecting rural communities is an essential undertaking. Beyond granting rural Americans access to all the economic and social opportunities urban consumers have, fiber broadband also produces a huge return on investment: our study in Tennessee found that access to high-speed broadband can significantly reduce unemployment rates, especially in rural communities. Fiber drives 5G networks and smart communities. It enables businesses to think about an endless array of services and products for our future. And it enables America to compete with the world.
Fiberizing America is a national imperative. We need to ensure that everyone is connected to the educational and economic opportunities of the digital age.