Kathleen Skelton

The digital divide is a popular term we hear from both government officials and local communities. The official definition of the digital divide is the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. A key part of the solution bridging this divide is fiber optics.

 According to the Federal Communications Commission, there are at least 19 million Americans, potentially more, who do not have access to broadband and despite the federal government allocating billions of dollars each year to connect Americans throughout the US.

Two areas of concern are the maps the federal government uses to determine who has or needs service and then the accuracy of that service identified as complete or adequate.

Both issues have taken on a new urgency over the past year during the pandemic lockdown, emphasizing that having adequate broadband access is no longer a luxury but an essential utility. As schools and offices across the country shut down this past year, the internet has become as necessary to daily life as electricity and running water.

At Fiber Optic Center, Inc. (FOC), we have been an international leader in distributing fiber optic components, equipment, and supplies for three decades. As the preferred choice for many of the world’s fiber professionals, we are leading initiatives to advance technology, improve lives and benefit the environment. Our technical experts are developing innovative manufacturing floor and field solutions to support the eradication of the divide.

The digital divide is a popular term we hear from both government officials and local communities

Local Discussions

On March 11, 2021, the town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts’ Town Meeting included a fifteen-minute presentation, specifically on these topics. Fairhaven shares a harbor with our headquarters’ city of New Bedford, and both are known for their whaling and fishing heritage. Broadband has become a critical focus for Fairhaven. Located on the South Coast of Massachusetts on the Atlantic Ocean, residents are not able to work and educate their children remotely without a stronger and more reliable internet service.

Some of the key discussion points in their town meeting presentation included:

  • Identifying differences between technologies
    • DSL, Starlink, other satellite technologies and 5G
  • Considering how society categorizes connectivity separate from utilities (water, sewer, electricity)
    • Question: Should it be categorized as a fourth utility?
    • Question: Is this infrastructure an essential infrastructure?
  • Exploring the limits of fiber
  • Investigating the impact of splitter technology
  • Understanding ISP in the cloud

Link to the video presentation can found in FOC’s Press Release covering the town meeting:
https://focenter.com/press-release-foc-reports-on-the-broadband-article-presented-at-the-march-11th-fairhaven-massachusetts-town-meeting/

This subject of considering a town owned and operated fiber broadband network might not have garnered a fifteen-minute agenda item at a town meeting in the past. With most residences relying on the service and reporting slow or no internet access, it has become essential.

The Discussion

The priority, after service to those who are completely offline, is supplying usable broadband to those with poor connections. Even though a majority show broadband internet access by its technical definition, they do not have enough bandwidth to meet their needs when multiple family members are online and especially when video streaming is necessary. The narrative that high speed internet was not necessary and being used for frivolous options like gaming and entertainment is not factual. The necessity is for remote workers to keep their jobs, students to be in attendance and educated at school, patients to be able to attend telehealth sessions with medical providers, families to benefit from the safety of touchless retail and delivery and businesses to stay open in an interconnected world. From that vantage point, local government must become a part of the solution to provide high-speed internet as a utility that is as essential as electricity, sewer and water.

The divide also exists in the need for and definitions of standards. The FCC defines high-speed broadband as download speeds of up to 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of up to 3 megabits per second, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture states slower rates. The providers are reporting higher numbers for the usage they are seeing over the past year.

Some discussions that need further vetting include:

  • 5G networks should not be considered a possible solution.
    • Evaluate speed and cost against wired broadband or satellite internet connections
    • Understand how these networks rely on Fiber to the Antenna (FTTA)
  • Laying fiber underground has a myriad of issues.
    • Explore gaining rights of way, trenching and distance complications.
  • Neighborhoods with underground utilities are not all equal.
    • Determine how many conduits are not physically large enough to upgrade and which require additional capacity for high-speed cable.
  • Standards are necessary to remove misleading service terms.
    • Document load speeds and equipment requirements for misleading services like “Gig Internet”.
    • Identify what neighborhood HUBs are and their inability to serve all properly on a shared connection.

The good news is that our government has a history of unifying on utility and infrastructure needs. The 1930s rural electrification and the 1950s interstate highway systems are great historical examples.

Fiber-optic infrastructure is the catalyst for well-planned, connected community projects. All options require fiber optics whether it is fiber to the device, fiber to the home, or fiber to the antenna. Fiber-optic lines connect homes and improve quality of life.

Federal Discussions

The compound annual growth rate for the fiber optic market could reach 8.5% by 2025, meaning more industries will be looking to the solutions presented by this technology. Fiber optic cable is proving to be a crucial component of industrial infrastructure.

House and Senate Democrats are pushing new legislation to make affordable broadband internet access available nationwide. H.R.1904 was introduced to include broadband as a utility that tenants residing in federally assisted housing can have subsidized by the Federal Government.

Additionally, recent movement at the federal level has included:

  • The reintroduction of the Keeping Critical Connections Act, which would provide $2 billion for the FCC to help small broadband providers that have kept non-paying customers connected during the pandemic.
  • The FCC announced the opening of the Eligible Locations Adjustment Process (ELAP) filing window for Connect America Fund Phase II auction support recipients to seek a reduction in deployment obligations. The filing period runs from April 1-August 3, 2021.
  • The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it will host webinars twice a month for the Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and on Connecting Minority Communities.

This legislation, proposing a $94 billion allocation, is known as the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, and intends to close the digital divide by bringing digital equity to the millions of Americans who have been disconnected from the rest of the world and basic services during the coronavirus pandemic.

FOC’s Evolving Connection

FOC has been an industry connection to the most innovative optical products, technologies and technical experts while integrating manufacturing knowledge and vast experience into our customers’ worldwide operations. We have been helping our customers make the best cable assemblies in the world for over three decades. The pandemic has served as a catalyst to both expand our essential business operations and advance our innovative solutions in support of moving the world forward.

Our work runs the gamut from making the raw fiber making (FOC Team Lead by Experts Rick Tumminelli and Larry Donalds), to production and automation on the cable assembly line (FOC Expert Team) to the work our Wayne Kachmar has done with Facebook on a robot that can install fiber on traditional power lines in places like Africa, providing and improving high speed connectivity for even the most physically remote.

FOC has a long history of promoting equality through hiring practices, community volunteerism and philanthropic commitments. Currently, we are proud to be a part of the global movement focused on ensuring the equality of access to information via reliable, high-speed internets.
In addition to creating faster Internet connections, fiber optics offers environmental benefits including saving energy and helping reducing CO2 emissions. There are still many discussions about contamination and health issues around other alternatives.

Fiber-optic communication cables can be installed under oceans that need fewer resources than underground terrestrial cable systems. Wayne Kachmar has provided expertise for optical cable in diverse environments such as on the underwater ROV that penetrated the Titanic and cable that is in service sensing sub-atomic particles in the Antarctic ice. Our commitment is to build on these advancements to the goal of cleanest, fastest, and most secure wide-area networks.

In the 19th Century, New Bedford, Massachusetts was known as “the city that lit the world”. As an active seaport and home to the worldwide whaling industry, its products were used to light the lamps and later lighthouses throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. New Bedford, Massachusetts today is headquarters to FOC and their pursuit to continue lighting the world through today’s fiber optic products. It is exciting that our neighbor, Fairhaven, is one of the pioneers in Massachusetts considering a town owned and operated fiber broadband network.
In our pursuit to bridge the digital divide, we start each day focused on pushing the boundaries of technology, business, standards, and policy as a dedicated leader in fiber optic expertise and innovation.

For more information on our mission, FOC can be contacted directly at FiberOpticCenter@focenter.com.

The digital divide is a popular term we hear from both government officials and local communities
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