April 5, 2021

“This is going to be the largest fiber investment year in history.”

The following podcast discusses the Fiber Broadband Association celebrating twenty years as an advocate organization, and how Twenty twenty-one is a big year for milestones in the fiber community and more!

Craig Corbin:

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of The Broadband Bunch. Along with my colleague, Brad Hine, I’m Craig Corbin. Thanks so much for joining us today. Since the turn of the century, one organization has led the way in providing advocacy education and resources to those looking to deploy top-notch networks through fiber-to-the-home, fiber to the business, and fiber everywhere. FBA, the Fiber Broadband Association is the largest trade association in the Americas dedicated to all fiber optic broadband. Our guest today was appointed president and CEO of the FBA in November of last year. With a background of more than three decades in the telecom industry, he had served on the association’s board as vice chairman, treasurer, as well as vice-chairs of public policy and marketing committees prior to taking the leadership role at the Fiber Broadband Association. Our guests served for more than a decade in the role of vice president of global marketing and governmental affairs for ADTRAN and have been highly involved in FCC and congressional proceedings along with international trade issues.

Craig Corbin:

He served as chairman of the Huntsville Alabama chamber of commerce, co-chairman of the Broadband Internet Technology Advisory Group, board member for the Huntsville Botanical Garden Chamber Foundation, president for SORBA Huntsville. He’s an MIT CEO mentor at HudsonAlpha leadership, Huntsville leadership Alabama, and serves on the University of Alabama Huntsville College of Business Executive Advisory Board. Our guests earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University, along with an MBA from Duke University. And in his spare time serves as an adjunct professor in business administration and management science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. It is a pleasure to introduce the president and Chief Executive Officer of The Fiber Broadband Association, Gary Bolton. Gary, welcome to The Broadband Bunch.

Gary Bolton:

Thanks, Craig. That was quite a mouthful there.

Craig Corbin:

I’ll tell you what, I think you need to find something to do in your spare time.

Gary Bolton:

That’s my wife says.

Craig Corbin:

It is such a pleasure to have you on the podcast and, Brad and I have been looking forward to this for quite a while and given the years of service that you have to the FBA and now, being in the role of president, CEO, it’s such an exciting time. And as we get started here, before we launch into our points of conversation, give us a bit of background on what has brought you to this point in your career?

Gary Bolton:

Yeah, I’ve been really fortunate, I’ve had a fantastic career, started out of school with a big company called Northern Telecom. You guys may remember that company. And then luckily was able to get into, in the late 90s, when the whole internet was going crazy, a couple of really fun startup companies. And so I did that until the capital markets collapsed in about ’08. And so I said, “Oh, I need to find some safe harbor.” So I did the corporate gig for a little longer than I expected. Moved down to Alabama and I was fortunate enough to work at ADTRAN and when I got down to Alabama, I’ve never been to Alabama in my life, and I always enjoyed, I was always on the road traveling and it was in the Bay area for the Silicon Valley and up in Ottawa and just spend a lot of time in the road.

Gary Bolton:

And when I got to Alabama, started getting involved in the community, and the community’s incredible here. And, I think Craig mentioned, I’ve been teaching for a decade and I was chair of the chamber and just very involved. And so when I’ve been involved in Fiber Broadband Association for quite some time, and it was pretty vocal on what we need to do, especially with the pandemic and how things were changing. And then, Katie, our chairman called me up in late October and said, you’re going to get a call from our CEO in a couple of minutes saying that he’s going to resign and would you take the job? And I hadn’t planned and hadn’t expected it, but it really has been the greatest thing ever because I’m able to really focus on 100% of my passion and it’s really about communities.

Fiber Broadband and Economic Development

Gary Bolton:

You think about broadband, it’s about economic development. It’s about connecting people. It’s really improving the quality of life and to be able to focus 100% of my time and energy on that mission, that perfectly aligns with kind of my whole background with startups and the internet and all things broadband, it just feels like a place where I can really contribute.

Craig Corbin:

And what a perfect time for that transition for you personally, for the association collectively, given the fact that there are so many people that view fiber as an essential service, that it really is a utility, if you will, behind only electricity in the minds of most. Talk about that, if you would.

Gary Bolton:

Sure. I mean, I think we all are sitting here in the midst of this global pandemic and it’s lasting much longer than anybody ever would’ve thought. So that really has kind of highlighted the critical need for robust broadband. Not only from being able to, for all of us to work from home, as our kids went online school but the university, we basically got a note on Friday last spring and said, “On Monday, all your classes will go online,” right? So just being able to move everything online overnight, and then even, as we’re all isolated, how do we connect with our families? And so all these essential services all rely on robust broadband, but when you think about fiber, it’s not just for broadband connectivity, but it’s really economic development.

Utilities and the Broadband Market

Gary Bolton:

And what that means is jobs. So if you take Chattanooga for example, which is just up the road, they launched, they were one of the first gigabit communities now 10 gig community, and we recently had a study that was completed that showed that their fiber investment generated 9,516 new jobs and had $2.69 billion in economic impact to the community. And so, we’re connecting with people, we’re able to find, be able to create jobs and economic impact, but then also you think about it from a smart grid perspective. And that’s why we’re seeing a lot of utilities come into the broadband market. Matter of fact, in 2020, 88% of the fiber CapEx was done by small providers. So we’re seeing communities of all sizes are stepping up and saying, “We have to have fiber for economic development. We need jobs. We need to be able to provide that to the community.” And if they aren’t able to get their incumbents to deliver gigabit services, they’re either doing it from a municipal network or their rural utility or whatever they can to be able to get fiber out there.

Gary Bolton:

And so then when you think about from a smart grid perspective, Chattanooga saw that by putting fiber in, they were able to have basically over 2 million customer interruptions avoided. They had a 43% reduction in outage minutes on average. They saw a $421 million benefit during major weather events. And it also reduced nearly 2,000 megawatts of demand and over 10,000-megawatt hours of electrical consumption. So, you got connectivity, you’ve got economic development and you’ve got smart grid. And then you think about, what about 5g? And 5g requires a robust fiber infrastructure.

Craig Corbin:

Absolutely.

Fiber Broadband Deployment

Gary Bolton:

If we’re going to start to get the things like mission-critical services, autonomous vehicles, all those things. And so what’s really great about this is the more broadband, more fiber we can deploy, the less demand on other infrastructure. So think about it, if we’re all working from home, we probably don’t need all those highways, right? And if we can get to autonomous vehicles, we definitely don’t need all those highways. So all that infrastructure, all the environmental benefits of not putting so many cars in the highway.

Craig Corbin:

Absolutely. And then some of those metrics, Gary, that you shared just staggering because it all goes back to the fact that it’s based on the concept of fiber optics and that this is sort of the 50th year of fiber optics as we know it. If you would give us a quick overview of what’s transitioned in the last five decades with fiber optics.

Gary Bolton:

Yeah. Thanks, Craig. It’s kind of amazing, and I was in college way back when I was in grad class in fiber optics and we had to do a fiber optic project. And I can remember my professor, I went to him and I said, “Where do I buy fiber optics?” And he’s like, “Well, just go buy a piece of fishing line.” And that kind of just blew it from me because I was expecting a fiber optic screen that’s [inaudible 00:10:16]. You think about fiber optics evolution, that we had single-mode fiber, it was developed in the 80s and so today, one little fiber the size of a piece of hair can deliver 50 terabits per second over five kilometers, or excuse me, 5,000 kilometers. If you wanted to think of copper pairs, it would take 2,400 pairs of copper to deliver 100 gigabits to one kilometer.

Craig Corbin:

Staggering.

Gary Bolton:

The other thing that I love seeing is, you used to always have to worry about the bend radius of fiber, right? Just think about optical light, shining a light down a piece of glass, and now we can practically take a fiber and tie knots with it. So we have this ultra-bend insensitive fiber. So it’s super easy to deploy. We’ve created ribbon fibers. So now you can be able to do mass splicing, plug, and play connector connectors that now, instead of having to do fusion splicing, you can just connect things together. Also, by splicing machines, we can cut down two-thirds of our costs on the cable. The cables come down in price. It’s about three times less expensive than it was 20 years ago. Now, it’s even cheaper than fishing lines. So when you go fishing next time you might just buy fiber optics. [inaudible 00:11:40] cheaper.

Gary Bolton:

And it also has a 40% higher capacity than it did 20 years ago. And it’s 10 times stronger than steel, so it’s not fragile. So, it’s really neat and so connectors, fusion splicing. The other thing that’s kind of neat is we can now use dry water-blocking technology versus this kind of messy gel. So that when you’re going to actually spice your fiber, you don’t have all this messy gel to deal with. And, I like the Google deployments, they use this virtually invisible fiber. So you basically are able to route fiber in the corners of your apartment building and around the walls almost invisible. And when we look at the electronics, we started with a kind of APON and BPON.

Gary Bolton:

So if you think about 20 years ago, BPON was 622 megabits per second. And then we moved to active ethernet, which is a point to point, which is still in use. Then we went to GPON, which is probably the most popular, that’s 2.5 gig. And then now we’re seeing a lot of deployment of 10 gig XGS-PON, which is 10 gigs a metric. And then we’re seeing things like NG-PON2 where you actually take 10 gigs per wavelength and you can add multiple wavelengths together. So they use four-blade vital links for 40 gigabits, but that’s going to eight lightweight wavelengths for 80 gigabits. And now we’re seeing 25 gig is being deployed and even 50 gig PON is in demos. So a lot of things are going on. Deployment, we used to have these aerial deployments that were kind of lashed over our messenger systems, and now we have this all-dielectric self-supporting single pass installation, ADSS.

Gary Bolton:

We also are taking advantage of leverage pole real estate. So, you’re seeing a lot of new legislation that we’ve been working on to allow you to be able to use the supply space to provide opportunities for electric co-ops municipalities to get fiber underground, going from advances from trenching to vibration plow, to horizontal drilling, to micro-trenching, slot cut. So we’re able to even get conduits down to four inches. And I had a Fiber for Breakfast the other day, and we were talking about actually painting fiber on the white line, on the road to get a [inaudible 00:14:11] cross bridges. All kind, I mean, I can keep going on, but it’s just been-

Craig Corbin:

That is so exciting.

Brad Hine:

Wow.

Gary Bolton:

… advancements to really make fiber very cost-effective. And we’re seeing now that we have over 22 million homes across the nation connected.

Brad Hine:

Man, that’s amazing. It truly is amazing. I have a story very similar to you, Gary. When I was in middle school, we had science experiments and one of the kids in the class said, “Hey, my dad works for a telecommunications technology company,” and he brought this 20-foot cable into class and he said, “I won’t show you how cool this is.” And he shines a little flashlight at one end. And the other end, of course, it lit up, it was a fiber cable. Nobody knew what we were looking at at the time. We just knew it was really, really cool, but you think this many years later, you talked about some of the government getting involved with CAF 2, a few years ago in RDOF. How is that helping the digital divide right now? How are we progressing currently with all of that?

Fiber Broadband Helping Close the Digital Divide

Gary Bolton:

Yeah, I mean, so if you think about this kind of population migration, so over the last century, it’s kind of there’s been this mass migration into cities, right? And so now we see that 80% of the US population lives in urban areas. But what we’re seeing is, kind of back even in the 1970s, you starting to see that urbanization trends start to slow and even start reversing. And that was highly accelerated by COVID. And so, we have a Lakehouse up in Lake Gaston on the border of North Carolina, Virginia, and it is gone from summer rentals only to now it’s rented year-round because everybody’s like, “Well, if I’m going to work from home, I might as well be at the Lake or the beach or wherever right? And so we’re seeing that this really a gold rush to places like Chattanooga.

Gary Bolton:

I was kayaking yesterday with a buddy of mine, who’s a builder in Chattanooga, and he says that they basically have 100 people for every home available… or excuse me, there are 100 families competing for every available home. And so it’s just, people are like, “Why am I living in Silicon Valley? And when I can work a Silicon Valley job and live in rural Georgia or Tennessee or wherever, North Carolina.” And so, I think that there’s the whole digital divide and the digital divide, it’s not just rural, you see that in urban areas. So, here in Huntsville, the first thing when schools went online, is I got a call from the superintendent of Huntsville City schools saying, “Hey, we’re going online and all our subsidized housing kids have no way to connect to the internet. And we’re going to roll wifi school buses over their neighborhood.”

Gary Bolton:

And so we went in and put in a bunch of outdoor APs at the school, so the kids could come over to the parking lots and try to do their homework. And it’s really important that we don’t leave that urban digital divide behind. And so that’s why I think that the government is looking at… I was just on a call with Congressman Clyburn today, his office to talk about legislation. And then we’ve seen the recent RDOF auction of $16 billion auction about over $9 billion is being distributed. And so it’s really important that we’re able to build out this critical infrastructure so that everybody across America has full access to robust connectivity.

Brad Hine:

Yeah. What you said was really fascinating because you’re talking about the major areas where people have lived now for decades and decades, and now if you can truly work from home, we’re going to start seeing secondary cities and maybe destination places open up for people to work from. But you mentioned a school model. So now schools are getting involved and they’re starting to be the front on this cause to make sure that kids are connected throughout all their school years and they’re doing this.

Gary Bolton:

Absolutely. So teaching at the university and so I’ve gone hybrid in my classes, where they do online, I did the online lectures and then we meet in person to have discussions. We could do that in Zoom too, but I’m just a big fan of getting together in person. That gets a little more complicated, but all students across the nation have to do things online. And if you’re not able to provide that connectivity, it really puts students and communities at huge disadvantages. We were saying, I had a Fiber for Breakfast the other week, and that was with a rural Georgia operator. And he was talking about not only that his kids have to go to McDonald’s to try to do their homework, but the farmers are having to go to McDonald’s to be able to adjust their precision farming equipment. So all their irrigation is operated through the internet, so if they don’t have robust connectivity to their farm, they can’t really operate their equipment and be able to get the yield production they need to do to be able to compete.

Brad Hine:

Wow. Wow. So as these monies are rolling out, we’re hearing from the general populous, some of it has traditionally been fiber-to-the-home, fiber the ax, I know there’s recent plays for fixed wireless in areas, but how do those commingle? What are some of the identifiers that would tell us what point are you building fixed wireless and not fiber-to-the-home, and then maybe trying to overbuild eventually, and with fiber-to-the-home over the top of fixed wireless, how does that work?

Gary Bolton:

Yes, you’re correct. So, if you talk of RDOF, so the auction was $16 billion, and it was basically set up on four tiers. The tiers that the top-level tier was gigabit, and then it went to 100 meg, 50 meg, and 25:3. And so, that was all. The money you got was based on your waiting. And then there’s a latency factor. So if there’s any delay, so things that didn’t have latency would be wireless networks and satellites and so forth. And so what we saw is that there were 180 winning bidders were announced on December 7th. So that was about $9.2 billion of funds were awarded for a little over 5 million locations across 49 states, one territory. And what we saw is that 85% of the winning bids were in the gigabit tier and 99.7 were at least 100 megs.

Gary Bolton:

So huge win, if you look at kind of the past FCC funding was 4:1 or 10 megabits by one megabit or 25:3 was the last one. So you know that 99.7 were at least a hundred megabits, that’s great news. So of the fiber than the non-gigabit offerings, about 85% of that went to Starlink. So that’s Leo satellite. So if the gigabits tier, we thought that, “Okay, well, about maybe 4.4 million locations were awarded in the gigabit tier. And so we know that about 2.6 million are fiber-to-the-home, that’s great. And then another million went to cable companies, which they could do either DOCSIS, which is hybrid fiber coax or fiber-to-home. But when you look at the density, it doesn’t really align well for DOCSIS. So we believe that most of those will be fiber-to-the-home. And I just saw last week, a presentation from Charter where they’re basically saying all their RDOF and they’re the largest cable company that won, but they’re going to be doing fiber-to-the-home.

Gary Bolton:

So that’s great. So that gets us about 3.6 million homes. And then there were six WISP, Wireless Internet Service Providers that were awarded what they call fixed wireless and fiber. So depending on what that looks like, that’s another 3.5 to 4.4 million RDOF locations, they’re going to give the fiber. And then we saw a bunch of electric, rural co-ops, they won about 900 locations. So anyway, I mean, I think it was a big, big win for fiber, but when you look kind of down into fixed wireless, so there are two kinds of… if I look at it, we have I guess a position we take with the FCC and Congress is fiber first, and we believe that any subsidy that’s being put out there needs to look and see if it can be delivered with fiber first.

Gary Bolton:

And if for whatever reason, you got a Lake or you have some reason that you can’t get fiber across it for the amount of money you have available, only then when you look to other subsidies. And the way this auction operated, it was a reverse auction. So it’s kind of ticking down. And so what we saw is that a lot of money was awarded at very low rates. So if you see that most of the money was given at the other gigabit tier. And so that received about 70% of the reserve, which is great. But if you look at the kind of breaking it down, we saw that almost half, 45% of locations receive less than 21% of the reserve. So if you see that by locations, those reserves, the price per location ended up somewhere between 1% to 70%. So you can imagine at 70% you could probably have enough budget, at 1% and you’re really not getting hardly any money.

Gary Bolton:

And so that really makes it challenging. So are we able to address these locations that were won in the gigabit tier by fixed wireless? And so when we look at fixed wireless, how are they going to be able to deliver that? So, first of all, the fixed wireless, the only way you’re going to be able to deliver that with is millimeter-wave. And so you need to be able to look at that and see, okay, if it’s a millimeter-wave, then all your customers need to be within 500 feet of the tower or antenna. So if you’re going to deliver at 500 feet, that means you need to be able to get fiber to those antennas. The good news about this is that it’s using that RDOF subsidy to be able to deploy more fiber and at Fiber Broadband Association, we have a lot of WISP members because they all are trying to move from wireless to fiber.

Gary Bolton:

The rule for any kind of wireless product is to get it out of the air and into the ground at the first available point. Yeah, because you got to think about when you’re deploying any kind of… you’re trying to communicate over some media, whether it’s fiber or copper or co-ax or air, it all comes down to the kind of what I call the immutable laws of physics. And there are really three things to look at. One and the most important is the noise environment. And so that’s when you’re looking at your signal to noise ratio. And so when you have a piece of glass, it is a noise-free media, and that’s why fiber has so much capacity and why it’s the gold standard on every dimension for broadband. And so, if you think about the old sprint commercials, right, you can hear a pin drop and that’s because of this very low signal/noise ratio. And when you think about wireless, you have a lot of environmental issues, right? So that’s kind of a very noisy environment. You think about copper, you have EMI, electromagnetic interference and so forth.

Gary Bolton:

So all these things have to create these noise environments. And the noisier it is, then the harder it is to get to kind of the theoretical limits. And so the other part of [inaudible 00:26:52] laws is your bits per Hertz. How many bits can you stick in a Hertz? And you do that by building these constellations. And that is only worked. So think about a juggler and you’re trying to juggle, how many balls can you get in the air, right? If you have a nice… you’re the only guy out there and no one’s around, no interference, you could probably put a lot of balls in the air, but if you kind of picture a juggler, then getting into a crowded street and the more people he’s bumping into, he probably can’t juggle that many balls. So that’s kind of thinking about how do you get bits per Hertz in the noisy environment?

Gary Bolton:

And then the third way you can do this just increases the amount of Hertz. And that’s why you see, your dial on the radio back in the old-timey radios. So how much more spectrum can you provide? So you only have so much spectrum, your bits per Hertz are going to be limited by how much interference you have and your interference really comes down to noise. And that’s where you’re having a nice clean, optically pure environment, really get you that maximum signal to noise ratio.

Craig Corbin:

And that’s what everyone wants. By the way, you’re listening to The Broadband Bunch, our guest, Gary bolt, the president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. And Gary, in your last answer, you provided a wonderful segue to the next topic that we wanted to touch on. And that was the low earth orbit or Leo satellites. And a lot of people are familiar to a degree with a Starlink, that’s the Space X and Elon Musk plan that got FCC approval back in November of 2018 to launch a total of 11,943 satellites. So far they’ve deployed, I think 1,023, but that’s not the only plan. You’ve got a Bezos and Amazon with the Kuiper project, they’ve got approval for a total of 3,236 satellites. That’s a lot of satellites up there, but the question is, will they really be able to provide the bandwidth and the performance that people need for connectivity? Your thoughts.

Gary Bolton:

Well, Craig, this is one that keeps me up at night because, if we just talked about fixed wireless, right? And the way that fixed wireless is able to deliver is to be able to get fiber to an antenna, an antenna within 500 feet and you want a clear line of sight and then it really sets you up, Craig, you start to build revenue and then you can then connect that home with fiber eventually, right? So you’re on a path, right? And if you look at all the Connect America funds, that were building Middle mile fiber to the node, you’re getting fiber closer and closer and closer to an end-user. And so there’s not a person on the planet that is in this industry that won’t agree that fiber is the end goal. When you put a satellite up in the sky, you are literally stranding investment in space.

Gary Bolton:

And so, when you look at giving the richest man in the world, another billion dollars to go put more satellites up, or to subsidize the satellites he’s already planning to put up, I guess, is a better way to say that. So we did an intensive study that we submitted to the FCC to help model. What we want to do is, right now the process is this money is awarded, but to be able to bid at the RDOF, you did what was called a short form. And that’s a very quick and dirty say from a quick glance, is this person qualified to bid? And then the due diligence was on the back end of this in the long-form. So once you get awarded, then the FCC will come in and do kind of their stringent due diligence to make sure that this company can deliver what’s promised and they have the wherewithal to do that.

Gary Bolton:

And so that’s, what’s started on January 29th. And so what we want to do is build a model for the FCC because there is no transparency on what space X is doing. And we want them to give the FCC the tools to be able to assess this. And if you think about where these areas that Space X won, which is about 640,000 locations, it’s largely on the East Coast, I’ll call it East Appalachia, but it kind of goes from Alabama up to Maine, and it kind of follows the Appalachian Mountains and then kind of the Pacific Northwest mountains, so kind of Montana up to the Pacific Northwest. And after, what we did is we gave Starlink that’s better than [inaudible 00:31:30], we said, “Okay, we’re going to assume that they’re going to put up all 12,000 satellites. We’re going to assume that every satellite that’s going to do 30 gigabytes.”

Gary Bolton:

And we assumed that there’s not going to be any environmental issues. Everything’s going to be perfectly clear days and everything’s going to work perfectly. And based on that, what we found is that 56% of RDOF’s subscribers are you going to see congestion in a low-demand scenario? And so what that means is if Starlink plans to use those satellites for anything other than RDOF, that those RDOF subscribers are going to become more congested. And so what we saw with even 20% of its capacity allocated to commercial non-RDOF subscribers, only 22% of these RDOF subscribers will have this significant bandwidth capacity to meet their demand over this period. And so when we put this out and we did actually a press release and we did a webinar, we actually saw a huge community outreach.

Gary Bolton:

So we saw people from, anything from astronomers doesn’t want the sky-

Craig Corbin:

White pollution.

Gary Bolton:

… Yes, darkened by satellites. We’ve had advocates that are worried about space trash. We’ve seen NASA and Aerospace Defense Industry. And they basically, the common response to us is we’re being way too generous. We look at, there’s no way they can get 12,000 satellites. The most they can get is 666,000 or 6,670 satellites out there. The most that those satellites can deliver is 23 gigabits. Anyway, you start pairing all this down and it’s going to be much worse.

Craig Corbin:

No doubt about it. You may mention with the space trash and that one quick thought before we move on, but there are currently, I think three times a day, they perform a maneuver called collision avoidance. And that’s when satellites get too close to each other. And estimates are that if Starlink gets as many as they want up there, or the total that you just mentioned, they would be doing the collision avoidance maneuvers eight times per hour. That’s a staggering thought. And then you’ve also got to worry about what happens when they collide and come back to earth. But that’s another story, Brad, I know that you had a question we wanted to touch on, especially given the fact that this is an important year in the history of the FBA.

Fiber Broadband Association’s 20th Anniversary

Brad Hine:

Yeah, Gary, I believe this is the 20th year in Fiber Broadband Association. I know that the vision has been to be the voice for ultra high-speed fiber networks throughout the Americas. You have a LATAM contingent as well as Europe and around the globe. It certainly is, I can’t believe 20 years have passed this fast. I’ve actually attended about 13 of those trade shows myself. So, what can we expect from fiber broadband now we’ve hit the 20th year?

Gary Bolton:

Well, I mean, this is an exciting year. What’s really exciting about it, Brad is that fiber broadband is more relevant than ever, right? We’re at a beginning of a major investment cycle for fiber optics. I believe that this is going to be the largest fiber investment year in history. And because what we’ve seen is not only are basically communities all across the country stepping up to, whether they want to put in a missile network or have their utilities put in a broadband network or whatever they can to get fiber to the communities.

Gary Bolton:

But then we’re seeing all the major operators also, whether it’s AT&T, CenturyLink, now LUMN as well as Verizon all stepping up to start to really amp up their fiber. And then if you look at all the kind of tier two operators that went bankrupt recently, they’ve all emerged from bankruptcy and they’ve shed all the debt off the decks and now they’re deploying. And so what this does, it puts pressure on the cable industry, because the cable industry has been dominating broadband across the country because they’ve had no competition. And so now, when they do have fiber competition, they have to respond with fiber. And so, I mentioned earlier that, Charter, who was one of the largest winners from a cable company to participate in RDOF, that’s committed to fiber-at-the-home. So we’re seeing a lot of investment by… This is finally the tipping point where they’re going to stop rolling out their DOCSIS duct tape and be able to really start delivering fiber-to-the-home.

Fiber Broadband Association Conference 2021

Gary Bolton:

And so I think it’s a really exciting year. The other thing is, you mentioned our conference. We will be doing a live conference this year. I’m working on another press release right now, we’re going to be announcing here in the next couple of days that we will be holding our annual conference at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee from July 25th to 28th. And the reason that we’re doing this live rather than virtual is because of the tremendous investment. There’s such a huge interest and all that would be about the time that the RDOF money starts to get doled out. And we’re seeing a number of communities across the nation, they’re trying to figure out, “Okay, how do I get this?” And we always kick off our on Sunday with workshops. And one of the really popular workshops is our fiber toolbox workshop that helps new operators, emerging new operators and communities, how you get going, all the things you need in the fiber ecosystem, and get them up and going.

Gary Bolton:

We’re also going to be doing some regional events too, for those who aren’t able to travel to Nashville so that we can be able to help them get going. So I think that’s going to be exciting. And then, as I mentioned about all the innovation that’s happened over the last 20 years, I’m going to be putting in a little innovation and where we’ll be able to showcase kind of the evolution of fiber. And so I’m going to break that into six or eight different areas like deployment techniques and the actual fiber itself and electronics and things like that. And I think it’s going to be really neat to see all that innovation.

Gary Bolton:

So I’m really excited. This is a big, big year for us. And I think the good news is it’s going to be a great year across the country and across North America because more people are going to be getting fiber. And really, I think the benefits, not only from economic development, but just quality of life to be able to live and work anywhere you want is going to be amazing.

Fiber For Breakfast Weekly Series

Craig Corbin:

And, Gary, that’s really exciting that we’re going live for a conference and then the regional conferences too, but you also have a weekly show I know that people can gather information and innovative topics and currently what’s going on in our industry through your Fiber for Breakfast weekly series, is that correct?

Gary Bolton:

That’s right. Yeah, we do it every week, it’s at 10 o’clock Eastern, nine o’clock central on Wednesday morning. And so Fiber for Breakfast, what we do is it’s only 30 minutes, so we do about 15 minutes of presentation and about 15 minutes of Q&A. And we had our Leo satellite study webinar hit all-time record and I think it almost blew up, go to the webinar. We’ve been having record Fiber for Breakfast every week. So last week we actually doubled the week before. So our audience is just getting larger and larger. This week is going to be Larry Thompson from Vantage Point. And he’s going to be talking about the [inaudible 00:39:58] was submitted to the FCC on fixed wireless access, when that’s appropriate given the RDOF awards on those long forms.

Gary Bolton:

But it’s really exciting. I’m going to have George Notter from Jefferies Wall Street, to talk about what’s going on in the big fiber investment cycle. I have Chad Rupe coming in, who’s just stepping down as the RUS administrator, and going to talk to him about all the… he’s a real passionate about rural broadband and what they did at RUS and USDA and what he’s planning to do in the future. Just this great. It’s just, that’s my funniest day of the week is to be able to spend 30 minutes and listen to operators or commissioners at the PUC and what they’re doing, or guys on Wall Street and why people are investing in fibers. It’s just really fun for me. So hopefully it still looks like our audience is enjoying it as well.

Craig Corbin:

Absolutely. And, Gary, we’ve always been told that fiber should be a regular part of our diet. It should certainly be a part of our listening diet as well. And for those that have never been able to join, I strongly recommend it. It’s a phenomenal gathering, greatly appreciate that. As we begin to wind down our visit and it’s been fantastic, we always like to look at what our guests do outside of work or finding a humorous story or something. But I would just look back at the bio and all the many things that you’re involved in and one entry was of note and that you serve as president for SORBA, Huntsville. And for those who don’t know SORBA is the Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association. Tell me about your off-road bicycling.

Gary Bolton:

Yeah. So, again, I’m fortunate to live in kind of the mountain bike Mecca. So, North Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and this kind of we have amazing mountain bike trails. And so, we have been building out, guys, we have hundreds of mountain bike trails, all super technical here in Huntsville. So we are an organization. SORBA is actually 43 chapters across the Southeast. It’s part of an international mountain bike association that’s called IMBA. And then, for Huntsville, we have, gosh, probably about 500 members and just been building out great mountain bike trails and to put on race series and so forth. So I’m kind of an avid racer. I’ve been racing my whole life on, whether it’s swimming or I used to do a bunch of Ironman kind of stuff, and then cycling and then more recently it’s really focused on mountain bike racing and whitewater kayaking.

Craig Corbin:

That is awesome. And now we’ve learned something about you, Gary, that we didn’t know before today.

Gary Bolton:

Yeah. My wife likes to say that, if I don’t feel like I’m about to die, then I’m not having fun.

Craig Corbin:

Too much. Brad, I know that you have appreciated this visit. I can already say, I want to put out the invitation for a return engagement to The Broadband Bunch.

Gary Bolton:

Oh, that’d be awesome. I really enjoyed it. It was always fun for me. I love, I mean, I’m having so much fun at the Fiber Broadband Association. We just built out an amazing team and we’re really focused on some great research. Right now we’re looking at kind of the future of work is one of our research studies we’re taking a look at, just lots going on and I think it’s so incredibly important to everybody. I don’t think there’s anybody here on the planet where broadband isn’t a critical part of their life.

Craig Corbin:

That is awesome. And, Gary, we thank you so much for what you do now leading the Fiber Broadband Association. Cannot wait for Fiber Connect, it’s going to be fantastic. Brad, I know it’s been a great visit. That’s going to wrap up this edition and we thank you for letting us be a part of you.

The previous transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch.