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The Fiber Expansion Craze

I’ve written several times recently in blogs that there is a growing backlog in buying fiber cable. Some of the backlog is due to the general supply chain malaise that seems to be affecting almost everything we buy. I found out during the recent gas shortages in North Carolina that there is a shortage of truck drivers. Apparently, many truck drivers found something else to do during the pandemic and now there is a shortage of drivers to deliver the many goods that are shipped by truck.

The primary issue affecting the fiber backlog is the exceptionally high demand for fiber. Consider all of the following announcements about building fiber in 2022:

  • RDOF fiber construction probably starts next year.
  • It’s anticipated that much of the $10 billion earmarked for broadband in the ARPA plan will end up as fiber construction over the next two years. It’s also expected that some cities and counties will use some of the $350 billion in ARPA funds to build fiber.
  • The new NTIA grants expect fiber networks to be built in one year.
  • There are also beefed-up grant programs at USDA and EDA that will start next year.
  • Verizon is in the midst of a many-year fiber buildout to pass 25 million homes by 2025 with fiber to support its Verizon Home fiber-to-the-curb service.
  • AT&T announced it’s going to pass 3 million new homes and businesses this year and 2 million homes next year with fiber, to add to the 14.5 million already passed.
  • Altice has announced plans to upgrade 500,000 passings from HFC to fiber this year.
  • Fronter announced as it was coming out of bankruptcy that it plans to pass 495,000 homes with fiber this year.
  • CenturyLink is planning on passing at least 400,000 premises with fiber this year plus the company is still expanding its middle-mile fiber network.
  • Consolidated Communications plans on passing 300,000 homes with fiber this year.
  • Windstream plans to add several hundred thousand fiber passing this year.
  • Numerous smaller telcos like Ziply, TDS, and Cincinnati Bell have aggressive fiber expansion plans.
  • Numerous fiber projects from the CAF II reverse auction are now under construction.
  • Smaller telcos are continuing to build fiber under the ACAM program.
  • Dozens of electric cooperatives are building FTTP.
  • Numerous ReConnect grant projects from the past several years are now under construction.
  • State grants have funded significant fiber projects.
  • Independent fiber builders across the country like Google Fiber, MetroNet, US Internet, and numerous municipalities quietly continue to build fiber projects.
  • Cellular companies all continue to build fiber to replace cellular transport leases.
  • Long-haul fiber networks continue to expand.
  • Electric companies are aggressively expanding smart grid networks.
  • Cable companies use significant fiber every year to split nodes.
  • I’m sure this list misses some large fiber initiatives.

This all adds up to an unprecedented amount of fiber construction. There has never been a time in my memory when the industry has been this busy. It’s no wonder that we’re seeing a backlog in fiber delivery times. It’s probably a good year to be a fiber salesperson.

Everything associated with fiber construction is also going to be in big demand and likely have supply chain issues. Fiber electronics are already suffering from the chip shortage that’s affecting all electronics industries. But there will be a huge demand for lasers and electronics to light all of the fiber that’s being constructed. I’m hearing of spotty backlogs in this area that are likely going to grow longer.

Perhaps the one shortage that means the most is the shortage of fiber technicians. In February, the eleven largest telecom trade associations wrote a letter to the White House and Congress and said that the industry will need 850,000 more fiber man-years by 2025 to keep up with the demands of the industry. The technician shortage is already here and everybody I know building fiber is worried about finding and keeping the needed technicians.

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