MARCH 30, 2009 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture should use its newly funded broadband expansion program to bring to rural areas the next-generation, high-speed networks that are now being rapidly deployed in the nation's major metropolitan areas, the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council said in a new government filing (search Lightwave for the FTTH Council).
The comments, filed with the USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) as part of the implementation process of the economic recovery legislation enacted by Congress last month, were in response to a request for input issued by the agency as it crafts a program for disbursing $2.5 billion in stimulus funds for rural broadband deployment. Along with its comments, the FTTH Council offered a complete set of rules for implementing the new program in a way that will meet the legislation's key goals.
Deploying end-to-end fiber networks, said the council, is the best and quickest way to achieve the primary requirements of the economic stimulus legislation, which are to use program funds to immediately create jobs and economic output and to make investments in infrastructure that will provide long-term benefits to rural communities.
"The deployment of FTTH networks fulfills all of these requirements," the council wrote. "There is substantial evidence to show that FTTH networks generate a significant number of jobs and enable robust long-term economic development.
"In terms of immediate jobs and economic output, FTTH deployments are enormous construction projects, involving far more outside plant work than other technologies," wrote the council. In addition, "FTTH deployments provide by far the most capabilities (through higher symmetrical bandwidth) for customers to send and receive data and video...once the fiber is installed, upgrading the capabilities of the network is readily accomplished by changing the electronics."
Accordingly, the Council added, "the new broadband program presents the agency with a great opportunity to ensure that rural areas have access to high-speed broadband infrastructure -- the same infrastructure that is being rapidly deployed in urban areas throughout the country."
A specific directive in the program, the council noted, is that "projects must be in areas that are at least 75 percent rural without specific access to high-speed broadband service to facilitate rural economic development." The council suggested that, for the purposes of the RUS program, the term "high-speed" be defined as "a wireline or point-to-point fixed wireless service providing an information transfer rate equivalent to at least 25 Mbps downstream and at least 6 Mbps upstream," and that it define underserved areas as those where more than a third of customers lack access to a provider of such a service.
"High speed, end-to-end fiber networks are now the state-of-the-art in providing broadband service and are already serving more than 4 million U.S. households, most of them in urban and suburban communities," said Joe Savage, president of the FTTH Council. "As the government looks to distribute stimulus funds, people living in rural America deserve no less than the best available broadband technologies that will serve their economic interests for many decades into the future. Not only is fiber to the home the best way to do that, but FTTH deployment is also the best job generator in the short term."
The council also wrote in its submission that because funding for the RUS program is far in excess of the agency's usual annual appropriations -- and given the deadline of September 2010 for awarding funding, the agency should focus its efforts on awarding grants, and not loans or loan guarantees, and should adopt a streamlined process for evaluating applications consistent with prudent management.
A copy of the FTTH Council's filing is available for download at the organization's website.
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