Diana Eisner

Broadband Deployment: Smoothing the Nation’s Path to 100 Percent Connectivity

Our nation is approaching the final stretch in achieving the long sought-after goal of universal broadband connectivity. Nearly 98 percent of American homes now have access to high-speed internet, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission. But the closer we get to 100 percent, the greater the challenges and costs of reaching those final far corners of our nation.

Fortunately, Congress and the Administration have stepped up with a $65 billion commitment to help finish the job. These resources join the nearly $80 billion of their own capital broadband providers commit each year to U.S. digital infrastructure. These public and private dollars are essential. But there is more we can collectively do, particularly at the state and local level, to help clear the path to not only connect unserved communities, but also upgrade existing infrastructure to ensure all Americans have full access to the digital future.

Alongside the demands of this capital-intensive work, broadband providers and their community partners face many complexities and obstacles along their deployment journey. This infographic helps visualize some of the most common barriers that add time and costs to the overall project.

From accounting for every brick on a cobblestone street in an historic district to facing up to two-year delays in the delivery of equipment and supplies amid global supply chain disruption, these obstacles can delay and, in some cases, derail a provider’s ability to connect a community. Luckily, providers have experienced professionals who help navigate this deployment maze. When met by local partners equally committed to getting the job done, these barriers can be reduced to manageable speed bumps.

There are numerous decision points with potential for friction. Among the most common:

  • What technology can most efficiently deliver reliable, high-quality internet to the most people?
  • What public resources (typically, federal infrastructure funds) are available to help overcome the upside-down economics of deploying costly infrastructure in sparsely populated areas?
  • What relationships—from local vendors to community partners—can help advance the project?
  • Can we access the supplies and equipment needed amid supply chain disruptions?

If everything goes smoothly, the engineering process designs network and creates maps of the deployment areas. Then the permitting process starts – sometimes in a streamlined way where stakeholders work together to keep the project moving forward, sometimes in ways that can delay deployment by 120 days or more.

From here the complexities—and openings for further delay and project cost hikes—continue. These additional steps include acquiring access rights for infrastructure (railroad tracks, highways, bridges) and private property (landlord permissions, HOA rules, wiring inside building), negotiating utility pole attachments and carefully navigating rules that seek to protect and preserve historic districts.

Now it’s time to break ground. But even the construction window requires extra thought. Does the provider bring out the excavator to dig and lay the fiber or do they climb the poles? This is an ongoing debate across many cities. While everyone wants broadband, there can be significant NIMBY concerns to address when it comes to erecting new utility poles or digging trenches through a neighborhood.

Once the build is complete, broadband providers can finally connect customers to the power and promise of fiber. While the process seems simple: homeowners order the service; providers set it up.

But for multi-unit buildings, permission from the landlord or homeowners’ association is required – and can take an additional six to nine months.

The road to universal connectivity is a winding one, but that doesn’t stop our nation’s broadband providers from turning on the GPS and working with communities across the country to connect each and every home and business one step at a time. We won’t stop until the job is done.

Diana Eisner is Vice President, Policy & Advocacy of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.