A diverse solution space

Fibre optic connections aren’t always the best solution for broadband.

About a dozen years ago, I wrote “High fibre not for everyone”. In that piece, I observed that there are some who believe that fibre is a mandatory requirement for universal broadband, rather than simply being one of the possible solutions to deliver the requirements of connectivity. In doing so, they restrict the degrees of freedom for solutions that could be innovative, more cost effective, and delivered sooner.

In the past week, we have seen significant announcements for non-fibre based connectivity. It is commendable for government agencies to recognize that fibre to the home is not the optimal solution in every instance.

The Government of Ontario announced a significant partnership with Telesat Lightspeed to provide capacity at substantially reduced rates to Canadian Internet service providers (including Indigenous owned and operated ISPs), as well as mobile network operators to expand high-speed Internet and LTE/5G networks to Ontario’s unserved and underserved communities. “Telesat Lightspeed is the only LEO network capable of delivering multiple Gbps of broadband capacity into a community, giving telecom operators the ability to offer a wide range of affordable, high-speed broadband plans and unlimited data to consumers and businesses as well as next-generation 5G wireless services.”

The CRTC’s Broadband Fund released $20.5M to TELUS, Bell, Rogers and ATG Arrow, to introduce or improve Internet access services and mobile wireless services for 46 communities in five provinces. A number of these projects will supplement fibre to the home with fixed wireless and mobile wireless solutions.

A year and a half ago, in “Minding the gap” I wrote about mobile and fixed wireless as being an important part of the solution space for universal broadband connectivity. I commented at the time about the importance of spectrum policy to ensure that operators can make such technologies viable, from an economic perspective as well as in time to be a meaningful way to offer services to rural and remote homes and businesses, including farms.

To those who maintain a certain orthodoxy about fibre as a “requirement” for broadband, recall that in its 2016 broadband policy, the CRTC itself said “In some underserved areas, achieving the objective will likely need to be accomplished in incremental steps due to many factors, such as geography, the cost of transport capacity, the distance to points of presence, and the technology used.”

Nearly a year and a half into the pandemic, the urgency to advance broadband connectivity has become a priority for every level of government. While some may criticize an incremental approach to funding broadband projects, I am reminded of writing a couple years ago that it takes a special kind of arrogance to tell someone without broadband that a significant improvement in speed just isn’t good enough.

“Isn’t some broadband better than nothing?”

Immediacy needs to take precedence over perfection in delivering broadband connectivity.

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