FIBER BROADBAND ASSOCIATION: EDUCATION, RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY
In this episode of The Broadband Bunch, we speak with Fiber Broadband Association President, Lisa Youngers.
Lisa shares how the Fiber Broadband Association engages with the FCC, state and federal policymakers as well as communities across the U.S. She introduces a new measure of broadband, The Broadband Experience Index and shares findings from recent broadband research. Lisa also tells us about her passion to sponsor and support women in the fiber industry
ABOUT THE FIBER BROADBAND ASSOCIATION
Lisa Youngers: The Fiber Broadband Association is a member association, the only one in the America dedicated to the acceleration and deployment of all fiber networks. And we’re the voice for Ultra-high-speed wireline broadband deployment. We also have a Latin American chapter of Fiber Broadband Association LATAM, and we have a Fiber Optic Sensing Association affiliate. Fiber optic sensing of course is using the fiber optics technology and a lot of interesting security and monitoring applications such as border safety, pipeline safety, et cetera. It’s a very interesting component of fiber optic technology. So we have that affiliate and chapter. We’re also a part of a Global Alliance with Fiber to the Home Council. And we work with the Global Alliance on issues we have in common – Fiber to the Home Middle East North Africa, Fiber to the Home Europe, Fiber to the Home Asia-PAC and FTTX Council Sub-Saharan Africa. And then of course Fiber Broadband Association in Latin America.
We work with global partners on deploying fiber networks around the world. The Fiber Broadband Association is made up of about 250 members and we have everyone represented in the fiber verse, so I like to call it, we have service providers large and small, manufacturers of fiber optic cable, vendors of all sorts and types, construction firms, engineering firms, municipal networks, electric co-ops and power companies getting into fiber broadband networks. We represent everybody in the fiber space and allow a place for everyone to come together to connect, to bring education about fiber to policymakers, to network, and then to advocate for what our companies need to ensure the deployment of all fiber networks. And we also hold educational workshops on how to build fiber network and then a big annual conference where we bring a lot of people together to talk about fiber networks.
THE FIBER BROADBAND ASSOCIATION AND THE FCC
Lisa Youngers: We participate in FCC proceedings that arise that we have member interest in, and we do try to play into other written comments or advocating and lobbying at the FCC. We also try to be at the table and in a lot of discussions, and I think you’ve probably talk about some of these topics, what we want to make sure we’re visible and we’re heard representing the fiber point of view and fiber is important infrastructure. The fourth utility some people call it and you will probably get to these topics, but you can’t have wireless or 5G or smart cities or internet of things applications. And there are many without fiber being the underlying important infrastructure to support those things. Our role with the FCC could be in a lobbying or an education role. Sometimes we just answer questions about fiber networks.
YOU CAN’T HAVE 5G WITHOUT FIBER
Lisa Youngers: We’re still impressing upon people that you need fiber to make those things work. I think in some sense they do understand it. I think there’s more work to do there. So we try to stay visible and make sure we impress that upon them. Recently, The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about 5G and they said, I’m paraphrasing, that 5G is great and then we won’t need all this fiber optics.
We wrote a response to that and we said, you can’t have 5G without fiber. And I think importantly it is great to be at the table and we get asked to be there and speak for fiber, but I will tell you when I’m in a room. So for example, I was at a smart cities event recently and I was on a panel with 5G experts, smart city experts in-building, and DAS networks experts, building safety experts. And when I just say all of these applications and 5G and the next iteration of wireless are great, but they will all need fiber there is nothing but head nodding and complete agreement from all the experts in the room from all the different segments of the industry. So it is known by the experts in the industry, but it is… There’s certainly work to do to still make… Impress that upon the policymakers. Yeah. You have to consider the fiber.
Pete Pizzutillo: I wonder how much 5G hype has obscured the view in terms of what the actual technologies are? To your point, if you’re going to a small cell architecture, you need fiber for the backhaul. All these things are out there and a lot of the fiber that utilities have already laid out for metering and sensing already is still the fundamental foundation.
Lisa Youngers: I mean that’s exactly right. For 5G as you’re in the upper millimeter-wave band and you need small cells and those antennae become… They propagate shorter distances. You need more antennas connected by greater or by shorter distances. You need more and more fiber for as you said for the backhaul, for the front-haul, the mid-haul to support the… that small cell architecture. So that all demands fiber… You also mentioned in addition… just to be a smart city, there’s a great example, which I’ll just spend two seconds on famously and I’m sure you remember in 2008 Philadelphia was leading in the way they were going to provide for the first time ever free citywide Wi-Fi for all of their residents, it got a lot of press, a lot of attention. People loved this free citywide Wi-Fi is a great thing.
They tried to roll it out ultimately it failed. And in all of the material, we read about the citywide Wi-Fi efforts in Philadelphia and why it’s failed, one of the common themes in sort of that analysis was they didn’t have enough fiber, they didn’t have enough underlying fiber to support a citywide WiFi network. Just the basic underlying infrastructure. To your point, these things do demand the fiber and we try to keep making that point.
THE BROADBAND EXPERIENCE INDEX
Lisa Youngers: Mike Render, of RVA LLC, has done a few things for us. Every year he gives us the numbers about fiber deployment overall in North America.. And I will say we’re going to see 2019 numbers soon. But for 2018 across the US we saw 17% growth in fiber to the home in the US and we saw a 22% growth in fiber to the home in North America just in 2018 and we’ll see the 2019 numbers shortly. Mike also looked at the availability of fiber and what and how that impacts home value as well as MDU value whether it’s owned or rented. And for home prices where fiber is available, we saw a 3.2% increase in home value, for MDU where someone owns, we saw a 2.8% increase in value, and in the MDU rental scenario, we saw an 8% increase in the value of that rental where fiber is available.
We see a correlation, a direct correlation between the availability of fiber broadband and on-home rental or ownership scenarios. So we definitely see a positive increase there. Mike also did a study for us called the Broadband Experience Index and we have filed that at the FCC. So you asked us how we interact with the FCC in addition to filing comments. We’ve also provided studies – real data that they can rely on and their decision-making. And Mike did something for us called the Broadband Experience Index and that’s where we provided an index that looks at a way to evaluate broadband the consumer is getting on more than just download speed. Right now, the FCC relies on download speed and they’re even doing (in dockets that we’re filing on today) they use download speed as a differentiator on the broadband that a consumer is getting.
And we looked at it and through data we were able to collect and data that is readily available as well as some consumer surveys. We determined the consumers look at a lot more than download speed. They also look at reliability, [and] latency. Latency is so important for many applications and it’ll become increasingly important as we move to more Internet of Things applications and 5G applications in the future. The Broadband Experience Index looks at those three things and evaluates them across all access technologies, whether it’s Fiber to the Home or Fixed Wireless or DSL or cable, et cetera and satellites. And took those three important factors, reliability, latency, and then speed, and determined what was the best experience for the consumer based on all the information we collected. We determined that fiber is providing the best in class experience to the consumer.
We encourage the FCC to adopt this more complete Broadband Experience Index as a measure of broadband rather than just download speed. That’s not enough. People need the reliability that they know it works and that it’s going to be on when they need it. And then they need to worry about latency because that goes to the performance and their ability to use their broadband for the things they may need to do for either work, home life, homework, or just basic living things that you would go to broadband for. So we have encouraged the Broadband Experience Index to be adopted.
Pete Pizzutillo: The FCC definition of high-speed broadband is based on upload and download speed and you’re asking for them to adopt more of a robust, user-centric definition.
Lisa Youngers: We participated this year in the FCC proceeding, RDOF – the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund – which is looking at providing dollars to rural areas for the building of broadband networks. And to that end, we told the… we participated in the proceeding and we submitted a couple of studies in that proceeding as well. And that’s going to get to your point about satellites. So first we submitted a report by Cartesian. They did a cost study for us and what would it cost to roll out broadband, even to the rural… Fiber broadband even to the rural areas because the satellite and other industries like to say fiber is too expensive, you should do these other technologies even though we know on a performance basis the numbers are bad. As you just said.
Cartesian did a study for us and they found that we could reach 90% of US homes with fiber over the next 10 years for a cost of $70 billion and that we could do that through targeted government support. More municipal bills or electric Co-ops bills private sector innovation, public-private partnerships, and more innovative deployment methods and let me comment on that $70 billion. While that might sound at first like a big number, it’s very feasible, very doable. We talk about other numbers elsewhere. Congressman Pallone from New Jersey in his Lift America Act in May, which he introduced in May, proposed 40 billion to get broadband out to rural areas. The RDOF, which we are participating in, is a $20 billion fund. The RUS and the FCC already give out millions of dollars at least a year and certainly a lot more over a 10 year period, which is what we’re talking about here.
And even all the presidential candidates right now, obviously we’re in that season, every one of them has broadband in their platform, which first of all, it’s fascinating because you wouldn’t have seen that a few years ago. But even some of the candidates are more specific in their proposals and at least one of them says, we need to get broadband out to everybody. And I propose an $80 billion package to do that. So our 70 billion number, it’s over a decade. And these are numbers we’re already talking about. These are dollars that people are already willing to look at. So let’s look at it in the right way and let’s roll that broadband out in terms of fiber, right. So our Cartesian study, the punchline is we can reach 90% of the US homes with fiber in the next 10 years for $70 billion very feasible, very doable.
Secondly, then in that same proceeding the RDOF, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the FCC said when we give out money we should use a weighting methodology to achieve our goal of utilizing the dollars we do have and to the best way we can.
And you, all of the commenters, why don’t you tell us what’s the best methodology to make sure we’re doing that? We’re capturing the best use of our money and we’re also ensuring that consumers are getting the best experience and the best speeds. So we proposed a weighting methodology in which we found that the FCC and their CAF II auction, by not using the right weighting methodology, disincentivized gigabit providers. And so our weighting methodology would incentivize gigabit providers and we looked at the socioeconomic benefits produced by different access technologies and use cases. So example, telecommuting, remote health, learning, distance learning, e-commerce, video streaming, working at home. All of those use cases bumped up against the different acts of technologies – Fiber to the Home versus Co-ax versus Fixed Wireless versus Satellite. And we came up with a scoring mechanism and asked the FCC to adopt that.
The bottom line is that to ensure the best experience for a broadband customer, to allow them, sort of, to ensure the best experience with these particular use cases. And then looking at, sort of, the different access technologies available, the weighting methodologies should favor all-fiber networks. And so we put in that weighting methodology and will tell you of those that participated in the FCC RDOF proceeding, it was only two of us that put in a weighting methodology.
We’ve asked the FCC to adopt that and certainly, the outcome should be that the dollars more seriously favor the superior quality of a fiber network and therefore meet the FCC goals of utilizing the dollars to the best of their ability to ensure a better experience and a better speed experience for broadband consumers. So we put in the weighting methodology as well. So a lot of studies from us recently, but it’s all, I think to your initial question, how do you interact with the FCC? Well, we put in this research so they can make informed decisions. And then how do we best advocate for the outcome of fiber networks? I think these studies all altogether in lined up so that fiber is the best use of the dollars and ensures the best broadband experience and the most reliable one for the consumer.
FIBER BROADBAND ADVOCACY
Lisa Youngers: We are focused on the digital divide in the rural broadband and community broadband arenas. 19 million Americans lack access to broadband and the vast majority of those are living life in rural communities. So what we are seeing at the association… we’re seeing more municipal networks being formed. We get a lot of questions from state legislators or cities, they want to build their own fiber networks. And then we also see electric co-ops getting into the business of building and providing building fiber networks and providing broadband over those networks. I think in total we see that is driving fiber broadband deeper into our communities and we’re seeing it, we’re seeing it from these small players, which I think is important.
As an association then we try to support them and provide resources and educate them on how to build those fiber networks. But it’s to your very point, how do we close that digital divide? How do we address the homework gap? It also does other things it helps provide or allow for the entrepreneurial work, work from home remote work when somebody can stay in their more rural community and maybe they work for a big company elsewhere, but they’re able to do it remotely. And then also as the Attorney General of Colorado just spoke at one of our events in Colorado, as he said, communities need broadband to stay community. We don’t want to see people move away just because they don’t have access to reliable high-speed broadband.
We are seeing that trend as I know you are of more broadband being that is driving deeper into communities and new networks being built even by smaller players. We follow that of course, more than a half dozen state legislatures last year change their laws to allow municipals or electric co-ops to get into the business of building broadband networks and providing broadband service where they might’ve been otherwise prohibited. So we do track that as state legislatures try to address those laws and make it easier for these entities to get into broadband networks.
Pete Pizzutillo: Where there are legislative obstacles for municipalities or utilities to get into that business, is the Fiber Broadband Association trying to help convert those states or in dialogue with those legislators?
Lisa Youngers: Absolutely. So what we’ll do is as those legislative efforts get underway and as the bills are keyed up and considered more seriously, we will definitely weigh in. That’s exactly right because we are agnostic as to who builds or runs the network. But we just want to see the networks be built and provide broadband further into all of these communities. And so we are on the side of making sure those laws get changed to allow for those entities to provide service.
WOMEN IN FIBER ADVOCACY
Lisa Youngers: The Fiber Broadband Association tries to be responsive to our members but what is so awesome is our members come to us with things they see and things they want to change or things they want support around or ways they think we can best represent our members. And we have a big annual show you talked about. And at that show, we’ve always had a Women in Fiber lunch, and this last year the Women in Fiber lunch kind of exploded. It had grown from 25 people at its beginning to almost 90 people this year and there were great energy and a great set of connections in the room and the participant… We did have a couple of men and that’s fine, but then, the women in the room came to me afterward and said, we want to keep this going.
So, we formed a Women in Fiber group. We have a LinkedIn group where we share a sort of supportive articles and raise topics that are on the minds of the people in our group. But also right now we’re doing quarterly webinars on topics of interest, but we are still in the formation stage and so we’re happy for this to grow and expand and develop into things that the women want. Right now, the plan is that the Women in Fiber group will be run by a steering committee and I have a handful of volunteers from some great member entities that want to do that. We had our first quarterly webinar in October about developing sponsors in your workplace. There is mentoring and then there’s sponsoring and a sponsor can occur at any stage of your career.
And those are people that go to bat for you, your advancement, the great things people say about you… And that can happen at any point in your career. And we all need sponsors. So that was a great session we had a former FCC commissioner and another telecom executive on the line to walk us through what is sponsoring in your career. And then in December, we’re going to talk about it at our webinar… We’re going to talk about avoiding burnout. And that is there are many demands a lot of my members both in their work-life and at their home life. And how do you avoid that becoming overwhelming and how do you avoid burnout? So we’re going to have a life coach with us in our webinar in December and talk about that.
But I think the important takeaway is we’re growing. If people are interested, they should reach out to me and it is still developing and evolving, and it can become whatever the members of the Women in Fiber group want it to become. As you pointed out, I’ve been in telecom and tech a long time and we just want to make sure we’re promoting and supporting women. It’s been largely a male-dominated area, especially as you climb up the ranks and we want to make sure we’re supporting women in this field as well. And this group aims to do that. And as I said, we responded to the members’ interests and the members wanted to form this group. Women in Fiber is up and running and I’m happy to answer questions or if people want to join, they can reach me.
Pete Pizzutillo: I mean I’m exhausted just listening to all this stuff that you’re involved in, so I appreciate your time. From the research and the education, in advocating for communities and citizens and the US – that’s great work so keep it up. How can our listeners find out more?
Lisa Youngers: They should go to our website indeed and we are at fiberbroadband.org and there’s a lot there. I will highlight obviously we have meetings or educational workshops. As you mentioned we have an online fiber-optics magazine called Optics for Content about Fiber and also our fiber broadband starter kit for an entity that wants to build its own fiber network. We are also all over LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn and I speak a lot of places so it’s fun to follow me because you can see all the different places we are at the table, which is great. And Fiber Broadband Association and Women in Fiber are all on LinkedIn and LinkedIn has become a dynamic and interesting place for industry information. So I encourage people to either go to fiberbroadband.org or follow me or the association on LinkedIn.