When it comes to broadband for everyone, CommScope is all in on BABA

CommScope's Paul Hubbard explains how CommScope is committed to reviewing all options to comply with the IIJA’s BABA mandate, not only because it is a catalyst for the American economy, but because doing so aligns closely with our core values and corporate responsibility goals.

$100+ billion in government funding is currently being directed toward the expansion of communication networks in the United States. A substantial portion of this investment is represented by the recent $42.45 billion allocation for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program under the 2021 Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA). This unprecedented commitment by the U.S. government aims to bridge the digital divide by bringing reliable, sustainable and affordable high-speed internet access to the vast majority of residents by the end of the decade—and with it, the future for America’s unserved and underserved subscribers is about to get a whole lot brighter.

This initiative is not just about enhancing broadband speeds; it’s about enhancing people’s lives and livelihoods by providing unserved and underserved Americans with access to critical services, modern healthcare, quality education, remote employment and the digital economy. It’s about laying a foundation for future generations of Americans so they can take advantage of interactive experiences that far surpass anything available today. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s about strengthening the country for years to come.

Among the goals of the IIJA are developing U.S. jobs, bolstering onshore manufacturing capabilities, and reducing America’s reliance on overseas supply chains. To do this, the IIJA includes a provision known as Build America, Buy America (BABA), which specifies that all materials to be leveraged in government-funded infrastructure buildouts must meet a minimum percentage of American-sourced content, with final assembly that resides within the U.S.

BABA compliance: A top priority

CommScope is committed to reviewing all options to comply with the IIJA’s BABA mandate, not only because it is a catalyst for the American economy, but because doing so aligns closely with our core values and corporate responsibility goals. We have already made the investments needed to meet the IIJA’s BABA requirements for both material sourcing and the final assembly of the core network elements utilized in deploying FTTH infrastructure. We are also proud to be fully compliant on our extensive range of outside plant fiber cable solutions, which include multifiber loose tube cables and single-fiber drop cables being manufactured today within our North Carolina manufacturing facilities.

But our commitment to BABA compliance and our investment in broadband for everyone don’t stop there. We recently announced a $60.3 million plan to further expand our manufacturing capabilities to meet the rising demand for American-made fiber cable, while creating numerous jobs in North Carolina. This investment significantly increases our manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. and ramps up domestic production of HeliARC fiber-optic cable, which is specifically designed to make rural fiber network architectures easy and economical for our customers to deploy.

Another vital element to building out broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, is passive connectivity. At CommScope, we recognize our role as an industry-leading supplier of connectivity solutions globally, and we understand the importance of these solutions in deploying high-quality broadband to every corner of the U.S. market. That’s why we are taking significant steps to onshore manufacturing capabilities of key connectivity solutions as we strive to meet the BABA requirement for government-funded infrastructure builds. To get there, we are leveraging the latest innovations in manufacturing techniques and supply chain management to make local manufacturing a reality for critical connectivity solutions in North America and around the globe. And we’re proud to be doing it with minimal impact on the availability of materials to our customers.

Going above and beyond BABA

While $100 billion in government funding is a staggering figure, service providers across the U.S. will face significant challenges in meeting the objective of connecting the vast majority of unserved and underserved subscribers by 2030. The aggressive scope of this effort will place critical importance on both the speed and costs of deployment and on the availability of materials and skilled labor. This is where CommScope’s 47-year history of network expertise, manufacturing experience, and operational excellence on a global scale has been critical in shaping solutions that can bridge the digital divide in this challenging environment.

On average, rural fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) deployments can carry a price tag between $6,000 and $8,000 per household passed, with some locations stretching beyond $10,000. At these costs, government funding is likely not going to be enough to connect every unserved and underserved household in America. Service providers will need to make substantial investments of their own, while maintaining a laser focus on economics. That’s why CommScope is committed to innovations that create efficiencies in network design, and we are prioritizing solutions that help service providers stretch their deployment budgets as far as possible in low-density environments. These include lower-count, lower-weight fiber cabling, hardened connectivity solutions, optical tap technologies, and remote passive optical network (PON) optical line terminals (OLTs).

To help service providers accelerate FTTH deployment, we’ve re-imagined connectivity with NOVUX™, our next-generation ecosystem that’s designed around one goal: making fiber faster to install. And we’ve carried this spirit of innovation into our Prodigy™ small-form connector system, which takes FTTH deployment to plug-and-play simplicity.

Not only are innovations like these reducing the time and cost of fiber deployment, but they’re also helping existing technicians work more efficiently than ever. This enables service providers to keep their projects on track despite a tight labor market. Consider that, back in 2022, we passed 9.4 million new homes with fiber in the U.S. By 2026, CommScope projects we will need to accelerate that pace to 15 million homes per year. To make it happen, it is estimated that the broadband workforce will need to double by 2026 to meet the aggressive timeline set forth by the U.S. government. CommScope is doing its part to improve the availability of qualified broadband technicians with an extensive training program that’s designed to give new workers the skills they need, quickly and efficiently.

With billions in government funding entering the market, demand for supplies and materials is about to spike. To keep the deployments rolling, broadband connectivity suppliers must not only be ready to scale their manufacturing capabilities, but they must also prioritize efficiency across their portfolios. CommScope is doing just that—transitioning to modular solutions within its FTTH portfolio that can serve more applications with fewer components.

We are also giving service providers more choice in supplies through our commitment to open, vendor-agnostic solutions. This not only helps improve access to critical network building blocks, but it also helps accelerate the rollout of FTTH while ensuring that today’s new broadband networks are built with tomorrow in mind.

Looking ahead: Operational costs take center stage

With billions of dollars flowing into the broadband market, FTTH network deployments are expected to accelerate at an unprecedented pace. And while speed certainly matters, service providers must not lose sight of the long-term operating costs of the networks they’re building. If our industry does not give thought to the ongoing costs of powering, maintaining, and upgrading these new networks, service providers may find themselves in an unsustainable economic model. That’s particularly true in low-density areas, where subscriber revenues are low and fiber runs are long. The time is now for manufacturers, integrators, and service providers alike to plan their networks for operational efficiency, even as they rush to build them out as quickly as possible.

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