Fiber builders were maxed out early in 2020 and then AT&T decided to pass 12 million more homes with fiber over four years. The FCC RDOF program adds millions more. The headline comment is from one of the largest construction companies in U.S. telecom.
I believe the skill and parts shortage means it's stupid to spend more than $2-3 billion on broadband infrastructure in 2022 and little more in 2023. Growth after that is possible but would require effective manpower training and organization building.
Industry experience is employees become most efficient after 18-24 months. Building an organization that can efficiently manage fiber construction took 3 and 4 years at Verizon and British Telecom. I spoke with Burlington Telecom, a city-owned fiber service. It had gone broke, leaving the city with a $30 million bill to cover. I spoke with them about four years after they began construction. They told me, "Now, we are ready to do the job."
Jonathan Adelstein, now head of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, oversaw billions in spending as head of the Rural Utilities Service. He writes me
To get broadband built out quickly, you need three ingredients that are in short supply right now: equipment, like yellow trucks for construction – materials, like fiber – and manpower, especially skilled labor that knows how to deploy broadband infrastructure. You need all three in place at once to get networks built.
Right now is bad timing on all three, which means this could take longer than policymaker hope and more delays than rural America needs.
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