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Sens. Urged To Invest In Variety Of Broadband Technologies

Law360 (June 22, 2021, 7:04 PM EDT) — Lawmakers can boost the reliability of the nation’s broadband networks by spreading infrastructure funding among a variety of technologies such as fixed wireless and mobile broadband rather than limiting it solely to fiber, members of a Senate Commerce subcommittee heard Tuesday.

During a hearing titled “Building Resilient Networks,” Wireless Infrastructure Association President Jonathan Adelstein testified that a singular focus on fiber broadband networks that can deliver “symmetrical” speeds of 100 megabits per second would prioritize a sometimes cumbersome broadband delivery method that can take longer to restore in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Instead, Adelstein suggested Congress should prioritize funding different types of networks with an eye toward the functionality and the potential service overlaps each network can offer.

“When you’re looking [at] spending an unprecedented sum of funding on a new infrastructure package, you’ve got to think about the resiliency of different types of technologies as well as improving resiliency within those technologies,” he said. “We can make wireless networks more resilient. We can make fiber more resilient. … Having a multiplicity of technologies makes it more likely that you will have the emergency services when people’s lives depend on them.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, the Fiber Broadband Association released a white paper touting fiber as the critical piece missing in large swaths of the U.S. that continue to lack high-speed internet service. Fiber advocates released the study Monday.

Amid ongoing negotiations over a wide-ranging infrastructure funding package, the White House, congressional Democrats and Republicans have all generally agreed to put $65 billion toward broadband funding. The way that funding will be prioritized, however, remains up in the air, as some lawmakers favor the 100/100 Mbps speed standard as the most forward-looking investment. However, others worry that setting such a high target will essentially weed out all internet delivery methods other than direct fiber connections.

Denny Law, CEO of Golden West Telecommunications, told the Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband that federal investments in fiber networks will indeed go the furthest. While wireless networks may be easier to set up, they can be interrupted by many external factors and cost more to maintain over the long run, he said.

“Deployment of cheaper technologies often sounds attractive in rural markets, but it comes at a different kind of cost,” he said. “Connectivity that is spotty when it rains [and] unreliable when it snows … may be less expensive to install initially, but these technologies often come with higher operating costs over time.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who is involved in the infrastructure negotiations, said broadband is expected to factor prominently into the plan. However, he acknowledged that Congress is still mapping out how to best spend the $65 billion.

“[Broadband] has won the hearts, minds and souls of members of Congress and the public. We recognize its importance. And should we pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan, it or whatever might come from infrastructure, will include broadband,” Moran said.

He asked for advice on how lawmakers can avoid setting up an entirely new slate of programs to distribute the funding while still “providing the depth and speed and the coverage that we are looking for.”

In response, Adelstein said Congress should not prejudge which technologies will be able to deliver the best, most reliable internet services, instead letting expert agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Rural Utilities Service weigh individual applications for funding based on multiple factors.

“You need to give broad guidance to the agencies as to what you want. If speed is a factor, you make that a priority factor,” Adelstein said. “But don’t just pick one technology or come up with one standard that’s a gating factor [for technology] that may or may not be more resilient.”

–Editing by Stephen Berg.

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