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WNC Business

Expanding broadband services equips businesses and communities for increased success

Sep 14, 2023 01:55PM ● By Randee Brown

For any type of business, the ability to connect to the internet, specifically broadband, is a huge benefit, according to AT&T’s Director of Government Affairs Chuck Greene.

Broadband is the connection to the internet enabling users to access information from sources all over the world. Greene said this is critical to people working from home, and the demand is constantly growing.

Fiber connections transmit data over very small glass tubes using pulses of light, unlike coax cable which transmits data using electrical impulses or wireless towers which use cellular technologies.

There are different advantages and disadvantages to each of these technologies, according to Greene. White light was initially used, but by dividing light into different colors and wavelengths, the capacity was able to increase. He said it’s possible to increase the data transmission capacity of the fiber in the ground without doing anything to it directly; simply changing the equipment on either end does the job.

“The capacity grows by how many more colors you can use,” Greene said. “Each shade of color is a different path. Right now we are using 512 colors at the same time through the same fiber, and we are working to be able to use even more simultaneously.”

The structure of the fiber is different between residential and small businesses to medium and large businesses. Greene said larger businesses have a direct connection with the central offices. Neighborhood-level distribution areas are more of a hub-and-spoke model serving between 150 and 300 locations, and that ‘hub’ houses the connection from the central office.

These fiber connections offer huge benefits to small businesses, according to Greene. “These connections enable faster Zoom meetings, faster connections for financial and credit card applications, and offer more flexibility in where and how a business can answer phones,” Greene said. “These are all enabled better by fiber than by traditional copper wires.”

Local governments and critical services can also benefit, according to Greene. Local governments are putting more and more of their services online, making it easier for citizens to access them. He said from an energy perspective, critical services can still have phone and internet for at least eight hours after a power outage, and they can stay online as long as they can power devices.

Greene said the goal at AT&T is to get fiber to as many customers as possible. With rising interest rates as well as increasing pressure, the company is looking for places to reach the most people for the least amount of capital, according to Greene. For WNC specifically, the geography of the region is the biggest challenge. “You can’t bury fiber in granite,” he said.

The challenges are not insurmountable, according to Greene. AT&T’s goal is to deliver fiber to 30 million locations by 2025, and right now they are at 19 million residential and 3 million business locations.

“We are actively building capacity in several Western North Carolina communities,” Greene said. “Working with local governments in the GREAT grants program, looking at geography, and more public-private partnerships will be key in getting fiber deployed in rural areas. Local governments are playing a huge role simply because the cost is higher here due to the challenging geography.”

Permits must be acquired before fiber can be installed, and according to Greene, different cities have different processes for approval. Though approval is becoming increasingly difficult, he said WNC municipalities do a good job. The NC Department of Transportation is also involved in logistics for rural areas in the region.

Greene said this involves a lot of engineering work as well. Once a decision has been made for which areas to serve next, an engineering team has to determine how the physical laying out will be done. He said they must determine which central office to connect to, if the fiber will be laid in the ground or hung on telephone poles, which road, which side, and how fiber will get to individual homes.

“This part is key in how it all happens,” Greene said. “The engineers figure it all out, and together we can make it all work.”