There’s too much fiber in our broadband diet

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We’ve all been told to put more fiber in our diets. But we also know what happens with too much fiber in your diet. It isn’t pretty. The same is true for broadband policy. As US policymakers at every level of government look to spend tens of billions of dollars to connect Americans to high-speed internet, aka broadband, they are far too focused on using a single technology to get the job done: fiber optic cable. This myopia runs the risk of cost overruns and delayed buildout that will see rural Americans, in particular, waiting even longer for connectivity. The problem isn’t fiber itself, it’s that many policymakers at every level of government, from President Biden to mayors and county commissioners, are operating on the false notion that fiber is “future-proof” and unconditionally better than everything else. The idea that you can put the fiber in the ground once and forget about it is appealing to politicians and their constituents, who, justifiably, don’t want heavy equipment forever digging up their streets. But it just isn’t true. Fiber has a shelf life of about 25 years. Apart from natural degradation over time, other factors can reduce fiber’s lifespan. Infinitesimal surface cracks that go undetected at the time of installation can expand over time. Elevated temperatures and interaction with water can cause “stress corrosion” that grows the cracks. Moreover, every network has upgrade cycles. To claim that one technology does not is misleading at best.

[Scott Wallsten is president of the Technology Policy Institute.]

Op-Ed: There’s too much fiber in our broadband diet