News

Making the Last Mile Count

11/28/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Federal agencies supervising grant and loan programs aimed at stimulating broadband development in unserved areas received 2,200 applications asking for seven times the amount of initial funding. Given the overwhelming interest, it’s clear cable companies and other telecom providers are committed to expanding broadband access to every corner of the nation.

Once the funds are awarded, the challenge then is how these companies can best spend the money on their designated projects and how to make the most out of new network builds for the customers they serve.

Small and midsized cable operators are among the thousands of entities applying for the first round of funding authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These companies are considering everything from last-mile and middle-mile connections to complete system upgrades or fiber extensions off existing networks. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service are providing $7.2 billion in loans and grants in two rounds of bidding to successful applicants, with up to $4 billion available in the first round.

Successful applicants participating in the programs are tasked with ensuring their federally funded broadband build-outs and upgrades meet strict qualifying criteria. But the work doesn’t end with the mandates. A next-generation network that brings broadband to unserved and underserved areas should sustain future broadband growth, contribute to local economic success and protect a cable operator’s investment with future-proof features.

The benefits of building new broadband infrastructure are enormous. A study from Connected Nation estimates that a yearly 7-percentage-point increase in broadband adoption for the country could result in an additional 2.4 million jobs. The research further suggests accelerating broadband adoption throughout the United States could create an annual direct economic impact of $134 billion.

For the small or midsized cable operator, the right approach to an upgrade or build will sustain broadband growth for years. Whether it’s pushing fiber deeper, providing a fiber extension off existing plant or building a new network, new infrastructure supports a cost-effective path for future services. A future-proof network also delivers the required bandwidth for advanced services available today and tomorrow.

New network infrastructure also helps MSOs go green. According to estimates from Aurora, a fiber-deep architecture may generate annual energy cost savings of up to 75%.

New broadband infrastructure also expands long-term economic opportunities in local communities. Upgraded infrastructure or new networks serve Main Street businesses with broadband connections delivering ultra-fast connectivity and superior reliability.

New networks also buoy emerging communications platforms in unserved areas. As wireless traffic grows in rural or previously underserved areas, cable systems are uniquely positioned to service the cell-tower backhaul needs of wireless companies with networks covering most of the same footprint mobile providers serve.

Federal entities overseeing the broadband grant and loan programs advocate that ubiquitous broadband leads to technological innovation and economic prosperity. In addition, they view their endeavor as providing the necessary building blocks for further private investment in the nation’s broadband infrastructure.

Regulators also want to ensure every dollar put into projects is well-spent. At the end of the day, it’s about making the last mile count for consumers and operators.

September