Home / Blogs

Is Fiber Growth Slowing?

In a recent article in LightReading, Mike Dano cites data from industry analyst Cowan that shows that some of the largest fiber builders in the United States have already trimmed back their construction plans for 2023.

AT&T has the largest retrenchment and is trimming 2023 plans from 3.5 to 4 million passings back to 2 to 2.5 million. The company says that it is not changing its long-term goal to reach 30 million passings with fiber, but a cutback of this size means it won’t likely reach that target in 2025.

Lumen’s new CEO Kate Johnson said the company is taking a pause while it rethinks its path forward. In doing so, the company trimmed 2023 fiber expansion plans from 1.75 million passings to something under 1 million.

Cowen says other big ISPs will also trim plans a bit. Frontier is probably trimming 2023 plans from 1.6 million to 1.4 million passings. Altice is cutting expectations back from 1.6 million to 1.5 million. Consolidated is reducing 400,000 planned new passings to 350,000.

There are other fiber builders that don’t seem to be cutting plans. Brightspeed, Metronet, and others still seem to be on track for their 2023 plans.

But cutbacks of the size of the AT&T and Lumen plans to raise some questions about the trajectory of fiber overbuilding. If construction plans announced two years ago had held steady, there was a massive push to build fiber networks to compete with cable companies. Do these cuts mean that fiber competition won’t materialize as planned?

There have been big external changes affecting the entire industry. Fiber material costs are up, as evidenced by the recent price hike announced by Corning. Prices of fiber components are up across the board for everything from conduit, handholes, drop wires, etc. A bigger cost impact is the labor cost, with technicians’ labor rates rising across the industry.

Fiber construction is also not immune from interest rate increases. I already have some clients thinking of shelving fiber expansion projects until interest rates come back to earth.

All of this adds up to a lower return for fiber builders. I was always a bit mystified by the frenetic planned pace of fiber expansion craze in cities since the returns have never been spectacular. I’ve always assumed the push to build fiber has been more of a land grab as big ISPs see other fiber builders encroach on areas they want as markets. I think much of the fiber construction craze has been about either building now or getting locked out of markets in the future.

Any level of cutbacks is good news for cable companies since the above cutbacks mean several million fewer fiber passings to compete with by the end of 2023. Any relaxing of the competitive pressure gives cable companies more time to upgrade upload speeds over the next three years. I have to wonder if the cable company’s plans to increase upload speeds play into any of the decisions to cut back on fiber expansion. It would be really interesting to sit inside the Board rooms as the big ISPs debate these strategies. The broadband environment is getting more complex by the day.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

Visit Page

Filed Under

Comments

Comment Title:

  Notify me of follow-up comments

We encourage you to post comments and engage in discussions that advance this post through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can report it using the link at the end of each comment. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of CircleID. For more information on our comment policy, see Codes of Conduct.

CircleID Newsletter The Weekly Wrap

More and more professionals are choosing to publish critical posts on CircleID from all corners of the Internet industry. If you find it hard to keep up daily, consider subscribing to our weekly digest. We will provide you a convenient summary report once a week sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy read.

I make a point of reading CircleID. There is no getting around the utility of knowing what thoughtful people are thinking and saying about our industry.

VINTON CERF
Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

Related

Topics

Brand Protection

Sponsored byCSC

DNS

Sponsored byDNIB.com

Threat Intelligence

Sponsored byWhoisXML API

Cybersecurity

Sponsored byVerisign

IPv4 Markets

Sponsored byIPv4.Global

Domain Names

Sponsored byVerisign

New TLDs

Sponsored byRadix