FBA’s 2021 priorities include workforce training, education

As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, the Fiber Broadband Association is preparing for what is shaping up to be a huge year in fiber expansion. The group, which boasts membership from all aspects of the fiber industry, including large and small telecom operators, tech firms like Google, rural electric cooperatives, municipalities and vendors like Nokia, Calix, Adtran and others, says its primary mission is to accelerate the deployment of fiber broadband in the Americas.

Gary Bolton, formerly the VP of global marketing and government affairs at Adtran, was named president of the FBA last November. During the first few months on the job, Bolton said that one of his top priorities was getting the organization’s operating model in order. Like a lot of associations, FBA was dependent upon an annual conference for much of its funding. Bolton ended the association’s contract with a management company that handled a lot of the logistics of the conference and focused instead on rebuilding the organization.

Today much of the group’s efforts are going toward educating Congress on the benefits of fiber and trying to get support for broadband. In particular, Bolton said the group is trying to get bi-partisan support for the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act,” that was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and James Clyburn (D-SC). The bill calls for more than $94 billion to be used to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide.

“There is a lot of money up for grabs,” Bolton said.

The group also has spent some time trying to educate the FCC and others on the realities of satellite broadband technology. In February the group joined with the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to submit a technical assessment and model to show the likelihood that low-Earth orbit satellite constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink would actually be able to meet the requirements for broadband as outlined by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Last December Starlink was awarded $885.5 million of the $9.2 billion in broadband subsidies that the FCC awarded to carriers in the RDOF Phase 1 reverse auction.

Related: NTCA, Fiber Broadband Association diss Starlink's RDOF prospects

Bolton said that the technical assessment showed that Starlink would face capacity issues by 2028 and that more than 56% of Starlink’s RDOF subscribers would not be fully served. “Our intent was to provide some data so that the FCC could evaluate the long form,” Bolton said. RDOF winners had to submit their long form applications earlier this year in order to quality for the funding and licenses.

But beyond helping its members get more funding to expand fiber, the FBA is also putting together a training program to help its members with workforce development. The FBA is working with local community colleges to develop a program geared to certifying fiber professionals. “This program can help provide a career path for people,” Bolton said. “Fiber is being deployed all over the country and we need specialists who can do this.”