Four good reasons to favor FTTH over wireless broadband, CPUC says

2 June 2016 by Steve Blum
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No less deserving.

When it approved a $16 million grant for the Bright Fiber fiber-to-the-home project in Nevada County last year, the California Public Utilities Commission said that expensive and patchy wireless Internet service is not sufficient to block broadband infrastructure construction subsidies in underserved areas. Last week, the CPUC reaffirmed that decision, unanimously rejecting requests for a rehearing from two fixed wireless Internet service operators.

In doing so, the commission said that there are clear differences between wireless and wireline broadband service

  • First, the fiber-to-the-premises network proposed by Bright Fiber is not subject to terrain variability, and Bright Fiber has committed to serve every household in the project area…
  • Second, fiber-to-the-premise systems have significant speed advantages over fixed wireless systems…
  • Third, a fiber network has a significant advantage in terms of capacity over fixed wireless in any given area. Fixed wireless may be able to burst high speeds to a customer, but the more other customers are being served by the same antenna at the same time, the more wireless spectrum is required, and spectrum is in limited supply across the industry…Notably, the entire wireless radio frequency spectrum can fit into a single fiber with room to spare.
  • Fourth, Bright Fiber offers a better value over the fixed wireless offerings in the project area in terms of price per megabit (Mb), especially for low-income customers. Price per megabit is a commonly accepted metric for determining the value of broadband service and has been part of the [California Advanced Services Fund] scoring metric since 2012.

The CPUC does, however, reject subsidy requests when fixed wireless service is available, even when it pops up at the last minute. The decisions to fund the Bright Fiber project and to reject the latest challenges to it seem to turn on the question of whether terrain, foliage and other factors prevent full coverage by WISPs. That’s certainly an important consideration, but it’s only one of the reasons the CPUC gave for funding FTTH projects even when wireless operators are present. The other three benefits – speed, capacity and price – are just as important and should be equally available to any Californian community with substandard broadband service.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted Bright Fiber with preparation of its CASF grant application. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.