Also in today's roundup: High-speed projects get rolling in Leicester and Wells; fiber drives telecom investment in France; global broadband market sees significant growth; and cable's upstream is still working overtime in the COVID-19 era.
With ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations throughout the US and world calling attention to police brutality and systemic racism, civil rights leaders took an opportunity this week to point to yet another crucial space that needs reform: broadband access.
In an editorial in Essence written by Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network; Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; Maurita Coley, president and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council; and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks the authors cite systemic barriers around affordability and digital literacy as among the factors causing broadband inequality. Indeed, they write, "an astonishing 34 percent of Black adults, 39 percent of Latino adults, and 47 percent of those on tribal lands do not have a home broadband connection. This compares with the 21 percent of White adults who do not have broadband at home."
The authors call for a number of necessary reforms, including for the Senate to pass the HEROES Act, already passed by the House, which appropriates $5.5 billion to address the digital divide during the pandemic; and for the FCC and federal lawmakers to work together to broaden awareness of the existing Lifeline program that enables lower-income families to get connected with a free smartphone (thus far only 7 million of the 38 million eligible households are participating, which the authors attribute to lack of awareness of the program). Long term, however, the authors say lawmakers must address affordability:
An affordable broadband option will help ease the burdens on people who struggle to make ends meet. Research shows that low-income families can only afford to pay around $10 a month for broadband, which is roughly the price point of many Internet offerings targeted toward low-income consumers. We must expand these offerings and remove barriers to participation.
The high cost of high-speed Internet undercutting high demand was also reflected this week in a new report added to ResearchAndMarkets.com's offering. The "Broadband Internet Services Global Market Report 2020-30: COVID-19 Implications and Growth" notes that the global broadband Internet services market is "expected to grow from $263.4 billion in 2019 to about $355.6 billion in 2020," driven by consumer demand. However, it adds, the "high costs of fiber optic cable restrain" the broadband services market overall.
In good fiber news, CityFibre broke ground on Leicester's £80 million ($98.95 million) full fiber network this week in the UK. In a press release, CityFibre said the network will bring "almost all residents and businesses in the city within reach of the future-proof network and gigabit-speed broadband services." Construction on the CityFibre initiative is expected to take five years.
And over in the south-western English city of Wells, Truespeed kicked off a full-fiber build as well, which is expected to be complete by the year's end. In a press release, Truespeed said: "The goal is to connect people who have signed up to Truespeed's service within 2-3 weeks of their building being passed by the network ... Truespeed hopes that its low latency, full fibre network will help Wells to bounce back faster from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic."
These builds are welcome news, with FTTP still available to only 12% of UK premises.
Arcep released its annual status report on the French telecoms market this week, showing record investment in 2019 driven largely by operators' spend on fiber deployments. Indeed, fiber was the main driver of France's telecom investment for the third straight year. In a release about the report, Arcep noted that increases in investments went "hand in hand with a decrease in operators' revenue (-1% in 2019) and virtually unchanged prices for residential fixed and mobile services in Metropolitan France over the course of 2019." By the end of 2019, it said, 18.3% premises were eligible to subscribe to a fiber plan, representing 4.8 million additional lines deployed that year. Further, 7.1 million households subscribed to fiber by the end of 2019, representing a year-over-year increase of 2.3 million.
Back in the US, even as stay-at-home orders loosen up, the cable upstream is still seeing little relief. According to the NCTA's COVID-19 Dashboard, while peak downstream usage on US cable networks is up 6.6% since March 1, national peak upstream usage is up 25.1%, driven largely by videoconferencing. As Light Reading's Jeff Baumgartner writes, this may change operators' plans going forward: "Peak usage trends during the pandemic, and the likelihood that some percentage of people will continue to work at home, are expected to cause some cable operators to accelerate plans to beef up the capacity they have dedicated to the upstream.
"Today, most cable operators have upstream built out from 5MHz-45MHz, but industry engineers tell Light Reading that discussions about mid-splits that would push the upstream to 85MHz or a high-split to 204MHz continue to heat up."
(Until we solve that, I personally am willing to sacrifice my attendance at the next Zoom happy hour... for the good of the industry.)
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