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Not so fast: Supply shortages slow down fiber internet expansions

Robin Layton

Aug 28, 2021 — 3 min read

Some providers are walking back expectations on when you can see faster internet in your neighborhood.

Orange fiber optic internet cabling in spools.

The much-touted fiber optic broadband expansion is being slowed by material and workforce shortages, along with wait times that are measured in years.

Funding is usually the main roadblock to tackling nationwide initiatives like bridging the digital divide. For this undertaking, though, the federal government is delivering on the promised money, but internet service providers (ISPs) have been stopped by the pandemic-induced supply shortages.

As reported by KOSU/NPR, “Broadband providers already are having a hard time getting equipment. Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of the National Rural Broadband Association, says providers say that they can’t get 30-40% of the needed equipment to install broadband. This includes fiber, which she says companies are waiting up to 71 weeks to be delivered.”

Fiber optic internet is a much-sought service. It is considered a better value than cable, although it can be a bit more expensive. If you’re looking for significantly faster upload and download speeds, fiber is the preferred choice, especially for a busy household filled with remote workers, students and gamers.

So, what’s this fiber supply delay mean to you, the internet user who works and learns from home and for whom internet speed is often an issue? 

For starters, if you were hoping to see your neighborhood get a fiber upgrade, that might get shelved for some time. 

Providers like AT&T are scaling back their fiber expectations. 

Pascal Desroches, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of AT&T Inc, shared recently that AT&T is seeing issues in its supply chain for fiber and related components.

Originally targeting fiber expansion to three million homes in 2021, that has now been scaled back to 2.5 million homes. 

Most providers, like Frontier, which announced a goal of expanding their fiber service to over a half million customers in 2021, have robust plans for fiber expansion that may feel the strain with the shortages. 

You want chips with that?

Expanding a fiber network isn’t just about laying out the cables. There are semiconductor chips that play a critical role as well. However, those chips are also scarce right now. 

“We’re seeing dynamics that are occurring in the global supply chain where unexpected things are popping up. And it is possible that we could see certain element shortages that start to crop up as everybody is racing to put stuff up on towers in May. And that’s why I want to be a little bit cautious around guiding up or doing anything different until we get a little bit momentum around that,” AT&T CEO John Stankey explained earlier this year in an earnings call.

Global supply chains are stressed right now across the board.

John Stankey

Telecom isn’t the only sector hit by the chip shortage, the tech and auto industries are also feeling the pinch. 

Adding to these material shortages, is a lack of skilled workers to expand the networks. 

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) stated, “Infrastructure has to make it out to areas that lack broadband, but a major stumbling block to that is the skilled expertise needed to realize new connectivity.”

The bottom line

So, patience is the word to remember while you are waiting for fiber internet to expand to your area before the end of 2021. 

Providers are hoping to see their production schedules back on track by 2022. 

If your internet is slow and waiting for fiber isn’t going to cut it, know that you have options. Allconnect can show you what providers are available in your area and how much speed you actually need. 

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Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor with Allconnect. She works closely with the content team writers to ensure consumers get a fair and balanced reporting of the state of broadband services to help them understand the pro… Read more

Joe Supan

Edited by:

Joe Supan

Senior Writer, Broadband Content

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