|This page was created to accompany the FOA video Lecture 70 Rural Broadband, Obstacles & Opportunities as a resource for those contemplating, planning or starting rural broadband projects.
FOA has worked with many projects focused on fiber to the home and rural broadband. Below is an article from the FOA Newsletter in August, 2021
where we show the similarities of rural broadband and rural
electrification a century ago. The lessons learned from rural
electrification can be applied to broadband today and have been by a
number of very successful rural networks and even some areas with larger
cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee. Following that are other articles
from FOA Newsletters that should be interesting.
There is a link below to the FOA FTTH Handbook which is a great resource
for those involved in broadband projects. We also include links to
information relevant to rural networks in the FOA Guide, our online
technical resource with about 1,000 pages of technical information and
links to the various FOA publications that may be of interest, FOA
YouTube video lectures on FTTH and free online courses at Fiber U, the
FOA online website.
Always feel free to contact FOA if you have questions.
FOA has a page for organizations working on broadband projects listing resources useful in starting a project and finding funding.
Latest FOA Book: Fiber Broadband
In less than half a century,
fiber optics has revolutionized communications and to a large extent,
society in general. Broadband, what many today call high speed Internet
access, has become a necessity for everyone, not a luxury. The
technology that makes broadband possible is fiber optics, connecting the
continents, cities, and just about everybody. Even fiber to the home
(FTTH) brings broadband to hundreds of millions worldwide.
How did we get from an era when communications was making a telephone
call or sending a telegram to today’s world where every piece of
information – and misinformation – is available at the click of a mouse
or touch on a screen? How did we get from a time when a phone was
connected on copper wires to being able to connect practically anywhere
on a handheld device with more computing power than was available to
scientists and engineers only decades ago?
How does broadband work? Without fiber optics it would not work.
This book is not the typical FOA technical textbook - it is written for
anyone who wants to understand fiber broadband or fiber optics or the
Internet. It's also aimed at STEM teachers wh want to include
communications technology in their classes. This book will try to
explain not only how fiber broadband works, but how
it was developed. It is intended to be an introduction to
appropriate for a communications course at almost any level (junior
high, high school or
college,) for managers involved with broadband projects, or for anyone
who just wonders how all this stuff works.
The Fiber Optic Association Guide To Fiber Broadband
Paperback available from Amazon or most booksellers. Kindle version coming soon.
Nobody knows more about fiber broadband - especially rural fiber broadband - than the Fiber Optic
Association. If you are working on an IIJA/BEAD program contact us for a
special package of educational materials for your staff.
What Is Rural Anyway?
FOA Newsletter, March 2022
When we, like many of you, think about rural
areas, we usually think of farms like the photo above of a farm in Wisconsin, but how
realistic is the idea of "rural" being farms?
The USDA has statistics on farms that provide some
insight. There are ~2.2million farms in the US, 96% are family farms
which implies the rest are agribusiness. Here's the USDA breakout:
1,925,799 small family farms (<$250,000 annual revenue)
86,551 large family farms ($250-500,000 annual revenue)
101,265 very large family farms (>$500,000 annual revenue)
93,177 agribusiness farms
The 2.1 million family farms represent only ~2% if
the US population, an estimated 7 million people actually living on
farms (US Farm Bureau).
But the US Census Bureau says ~60 million Americans live in "rural" areas. Where are the other ~53 million people?
Perhaps there is a better way to look at this rural/urban divide. The Census says "
Urban areas make up only 3 percent of the entire land
area of the country but are home to more than 80 percent of the
population. Conversely, 97 percent of the country’s land mass is rural
but only 19.3 percent of the population lives there."
So about 90% of the "rural" population in the US do not live on farms.
Where are they? They are living in small towns and low density or
housing clusters outside the urban areas. Here is an example, the State
of Missouri overlaid with the FCC map of broadband coverage, where the
darker areas indicate better coverage and the lighter areas indicate
poor coverage. (Note these FCC maps are notoriously optimistic.)
As you can see, large areas are unserved (lightest green areas) or underserved (middle level green).
Map of the state of Missouri, overlaid with FCC coverage map.
When large service providers talk about the "impossibility" of rural
broadband, they want you to think about farms and believe their tales of
how it's too expensive to connect rural areas to broadband. We humbly
would refer to this as "bullshit" and refer you to the FOA Newsletter
article about "Fighting Misinformation" in the July 2019 FOA Newsletter.
Closeup of a mostly under- or unserved area in Missouri shows it is full
of small towns with a population of a few hundreds to over ten
In fact, much of "rural" America is small towns, easy to provide with
FTTH for broadband, You do not need tens or hundreds of thousands of
subscribers to build a FTTH PON; a small town, suburban housing
development or HOA is easy to connect using today's PON equipment that
makes small networks cost effective. Cable lengths might be a bit
longer in a small town, but installation is often easier, especially if
aerial cabling is permitted. If not, microtrenching along roadways or
blowing microducts in available ducts is usually possible. And the new
generation mini OLTs are ideal for these small size towns.
It's actually possible that small rural clusters may be easier and
cheaper to connect with FTTH than dense urban areas where cable
installation can be troublesome.
Back to the farms. Often farms cluster together so the cost can be
shared among a group
of farmers who cooperate - or form a coop or use an existing coop. And
perhaps many can afford their own connections even if it is expensive.
Small family farms represent ~15% of the US farm market of ~$140 billion/year, ~$21 billion or $10,000 each
Large and very large family farms represent ~63% of the farm market, ~$88 billion or ~$0.5 million each.
Agribusiness represents ~21% of the market, ~$30 billion or an average of ~$30 million/year each.
The larger farms are businesses with significant
revenue and are accustomed to investing in equipment to raise their
productivity. One would suppose that if they could afford a new John
Deere tractor (~$40,000 to $900,000 each), the cost of a fiber optic
cable would be within reach.
To Build Rural Broadband, Learning From History
FOA Newsletter, August, 2021
can spend hours reading about the lack of broadband in
rural America. Here are two recent examples from the FCC
Verge. But while AT&T CEO John Stankey told Wall
St. analysts that he doesn't think there is any way to
extend fiber to rural areas at all, FOA has worked with
dozens of groups wanting to build rural broadband and
documented several DIY
FTTH systems in the FOA Guide. We have also
documented in the FOA Newsletter (June
2021) ways that make rural broadband more feasible
using new technologies like remote OLTs for GPON networks.
we continue to research rural broadband strategies and
technologies, we continue to work on other projects. One
of those projects involves assisting EPRI (the Electric
Power Research Institute, the electrical utilities "Bell
Labs" or "Telcordia") with their strategic plans for fiber
optics in their networks. It occurred to us that
installing rural fiber networks was similar to the
development of rural electrical networks in America a
we began researching the electrification of rural America.
In our research, we found a most interesting article
Electrification" by Robert T. Beall, an economist at
the US Department of Agriculture in the 1940 USDA Yearbook
of Agriculture on the USDA website. Reading this
(and we highly recommend you read it too), it becomes
obvious that rural electrification and rural broadband
build-out have many similarities.
Electrical Cables From the
1940 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture
to the Beall article, in 1925 only 3.2% of America’s 6.3
million farms had electricity. Ten years later, it had
only grown to 10.9%, in part due to the depression but
also due to the inherent problem with rural areas,
economics. Beall’s article quotes a report on the problem.
After a careful study of the rural electrification
problem, the Mississippi Valley Committee reported, in
October 1934, that—several reasons might be advanced to
explain why only 10 percent of the Nation's farms
purchase electricity. These are the lack of interest
by operating companies in rural electrification,
high cost of line construction because of the
unnecessarily expensive type of line used, onerous
restrictions covering rural line extensions, and high
then comments: Inasmuch as the private utility companies
own and control well over 90 percent of the electric-power
industry in the United States, the extension of lines into
rural areas prior to 1935 depended primarily on the
willingness of these companies to serve farmers. Sound
the industry felt no responsibility to find out whether
construction in rural areas might not be simpler and less
expensive than that in urban centers and therefore require
less capital investment per farm.
Then Beall notes that by 1940, 25% of rural farms now had
electricity. What happened to cause such massive growth in
the span of only 5 years? During the Depression, rural
electrification was specifically included in the emergency
Relief Appropriation act of 1935 and President Roosevelt
created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) by
Executive Order No. 7037 on May 11, 1935.
The effect of government incentives was felt rapidly. By
1940 about 25% of rural America had electrical service.
Much of the expansion was done by a new type of utility,
nonprofit cooperatives, created by farmers who discovered
that they could organize and get assistance in building
their own rural electrical companies when large for-profit
companies would not consider them.
has already been indicated, the principal type of
borrower of R.E.A. funds is the cooperative, nonprofit
association of rural residents organized for the
specific purpose of constructing and operating a rural
electric system. Although this type of
organization for the distribution of electric
power in rural areas has been widely used in certain
foreign countries, notably Denmark, Sweden, and Finland,
it was almost unknown in the United States until the
establishment of the Government's rural-electrification
Coops also learned how to lower costs for building
networks by simplifying aerial cable systems and using
long-span construction. Some of their techniques allowed
building networks at less than half the cost of
traditional urban/suburban networks.
go back and reread the last half-dozen paragraphs,
replacing "electrical" with "broadband." Uncanny, isn't
it? Even more so now that the current US administration
has included $50 billion for broadband expansion in the
current infrastructure bill.
- Rural Utilities Service) still exists and has
expanded its scope to include telecommunications and
water. FOA has been on conference programs with RUS people
and have found they know the problem and understand that
fiber is the solution.
of the solution depends on the same technical changes
suggested for rural electrification, not copying what
works in urban areas but rethinking FTTH technology for
rural areas, for example using ADSS cable along power
lines with remote OLTs and sharing fibers with other
communications users, including the electrical coops
themselves , to reduce the costs of building FTTH.
course, being a large government program, there are going
to be problems making sure the infrastructure bill money
goes to the right places. The last try at funding rural
broadband, RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund), appears
to have approved funding to a number of questionable
projects. In a recent FCC press release (FCC
Makes Available Over 311 Million For Broadband in 36
States, While Taking Steps To Clean Up The RDOF Program)
some of those questionable projects were discussed.
a result of today’s announcement, 48 broadband providers
will bring 1 Gbps broadband speeds to nearly 200,000
homes and businesses over the next 10 years.
a large Federal funding program is announced in the US,
lobbyists and consultants are ready to pounce. With $50
Billion at stake, it will be a challenge to ensure it is
spent wisely. It is promising, especially if rural coops -
electrical and telco - can use the money wisely, and could
result in the connection of more than 25 million rural users
or more with fiber. That would make a big difference in
America and continue the legacy of REA.
the same time, the FCC also took steps to clean up
the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program. In
light of complaints that the program was poised to
fund broadband to parking lots and well-served
urban areas, the FCC sent letters to 197 winning
bidders. The letters offer providers an
opportunity to withdraw their funding requests
from those places already with service or where
significant questions of waste have been raised.
Electrification" is fascinating reading, covering
the development of rural electrical coops. We recommend it
What About Rural Telephones?
the 1930s and 1940s, the US government funded the electrification of
the rural areas of America as part of the stimulus program to bring
America out of the depression. Some of the areas were not finished until
after the war. Some of these areas never got phone service from the
major telcos because of the high cost, so the rural phone cooperative
became as widespread as the rural electric coop. To help rural areas,
the rural Electrification Act was ammended to allow low cost loans to
build rural telephone systems. (History of rural phone systems in the US.)
FOA FTTH/Broadband Resources
Assistance in Starting And Funding Broadband Projects, Including US IIJA Funding.
Note: Most of the
material in the links below assumes the reader has a general knowledge
of fiber optics and fiber optic networks. Id you need some background,
we recommend you start with two self-study courses at Fiber U, FOA's free online learning site.
Introduction To Fiber Optics In Communications
Basic Fiber Optics