A new study from the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) found the number of homes in the U.S. passed by fiber now exceeds 60 million, a figure which was up 12% year on year from around 54 million in 2020.
The report, which was compiled by RVA LLC Market Research and Consulting on FBA’s behalf, noted Tier 1 providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and the top five cable companies have built 72% of fiber coverage. Tier 2 players like Windstream, Frontier Communications, Consolidated Communications and TDS accounted for another 10% and Tier 3 players the remaining 18%.
All told, the study indicated fiber is now available to approximately 43% of U.S. households. Of the 60.5 million homes now passed by fiber, approximately 24.3 million are connected to the internet. While the report showed cable connections still dominate the overall broadband market, FBA CEO Gary Bolton told Fierce things are on track to change drastically in the coming years.
According to the study, cable’s market share still stands just above 50%, though that figure has steadily fallen in recent years. Meanwhile, fiber is gaining ground and now accounts for more than 20% market share, compared to just over 10% in 2014. Wireless/satellite options together make up less than 20% of the market, while DSL and dial up each account for less than 10% (with the latter virtually at zero). Bolton said in a few years’ time, fiber will be the only line on the market share graph.
“Cable has been milking an old legacy technology for the last 20, 25 years and that’s because…they didn’t have any competition,” Bolton said. “The cable companies are going to quietly but quickly start to put out as much fiber as possible, so they’ll cannibalize their own networks trying to maintain their subscribers.”
He added DSL and dial up will continue their downward spiral, while low-earth orbit satellite technology will become irrelevant as latency demands become more stringent. Wireless, meanwhile, will increasingly be fiber-reliant as operators shift from macro sites to micro sites for 5G, he said.
Bolton tipped fiber growth to hit a new record high in 2022, fueled by private sector investment from Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators. “Basically, everybody that has private capital is going to say ‘we need to get our fiber networks in place and upgrade all our DSL and other technologies, HFC, to fiber or it’s going to be at risk of losing subscribers because communities have other options.’”
While some government funding will be available this year in the form of state grants funded by 2020’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Bolton predicted the $65 billion in broadband funding recently allocated by Congress likely won’t be readily available for “another year from now at the earliest.”
Though there’s funding aplenty, Bolton said there are still challenges to fiber deployments including supply chain issues and labor shortages. There’s also a need to educate consumers and officials about the technology, he said. Providers also have to think ahead to ensure middle mile capacity keeps up with last mile builds to avoid future bottlenecks, Bolton concluded.