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Fiber-optic cable best use of federal funds

Our Readers Write
Phil Williams

Harrison County is to receive $7 million from the federal government. The big question is: What do we do with the money? We could bank it; however, we have more money in the bank than 99% of all rural counties in the United States. We could divvy up the money for all the pet projects people can dream up, which usually produces mediocre results. We could do one big project and actually make a difference in the lives of Harrison County residents.

COVID-19 has made us acutely aware that, even though we had made significant progress in deploying fiber-optic cable across the county, we still have major work to do for most of the county to have fiber optic available at each home. Unless you had already won the fiber-optic lottery, your household as well as mine came up short when our schoolchildren had to stay home and participate in virtual learning on a daily basis. Those days consisted of  “Don’t get on the internet because our narrow bandwidth is totally consumed by our student’s virtual learning class.” Then, those times when I forgot, the whole thing crashed. Worst of all, my grandchild was not able to participate in the remainder of the class session.

Many say fiber-optic installation takes too long and we can use point-to-point technology to get the job done. Others say just wait; 5G is the answer. The next rendition appears to be satellite internet. Unfortunately, the satellite must be available directly overhead for this service to be effective.

Before we started our original fiber-optic installation, we determined fiber optic was the proven backbone of the internet worldwide. Today and into the future, fiber optic is still living up to that expectation.

5G is in its infancy and will take a decade to reach its full potential. As Jeff Storey, CEO of CenturyLink, has pointed out: “When it comes to new technology, 5G has been touted as the latest and greatest … However, it’s rarely mentioned that 5G’s amazing applications — and ultimate success — are critically dependent on fiber-optic networks.”

Storey continues, “Effective 5G networks will rely on fiber-optic cables to keep internet services fast. Think of 5G as a side street, good for going short distances, and fiber as the interstate. In fact, the autobahn might be a better comparison.”

The partnership of fiber and 5G becomes technically and economically feasible due to fiber’s ability to move massive amounts of data. The 5G wireless network will essentially rely on the fiber-optic network to function fully. Only about 11% of traffic is actually covered by wireless technology with the remainder supported by the wireline network. The quality and reliability of the wireless network will depend on the fiber network carrying traffic to and from 5G small cells. The 5G wireless network uses high-frequency millimeter waves; however, these waves can only travel about 60 meters. Telecommunication companies will install lower cell towers (possibility on top of light poles), which will rely on fiber-optic networks as the backbone of 5G technology. This will result in a higher quality of experience when using wireless devices.

The more fiber-optic cable we deploy in Harrison County, the more likely residents will have 5G cellular service available and at a reasonable cost.

The competitive edge benefits of 5G across almost every industry will only be realized if the fiber-optic network capabilities are available as the backbone of the Harrison County system. Industries benefiting include retail, health care, hospitality, financial services, transportation, manufacturing, entertainment and agriculture. We want to welcome all of these industries to Harrison County. Deploying fiber-optic cable throughout the county makes Harrison County more competitive as a place to establish new businesses.

Prior to COVID, 10% or less of the U.S. labor force worked remotely. Within one month of the start of the pandemic, about half of all American workers became remote workers. According to the Wall Street Journal, about one half of the American workers who became remote workers will remain remote workers for the long term and most are expected to permanently be remote workers. Of 160 million U.S. workers, approximately 40 million are projected to be permanent remote workers at least for a significant part of each work week. This rapid reordering of work life accelerates a trend that has been under way for years. Having the fiber-optic cable available for reliable and fast internet service is the most fundamental requirement of the remote worker. “Zoom Towns” are now seeing their fortunes rise with an influx of new residents whose work relies on the digital capacity of the fiber-optic cable. The remote worker has severed the age-old connection between where people work and where they live. With another major fiber-optic installation, Harrison County will become known as a “Zoom County” where one can work from home and live the good life.

Skilled techies and knowledge workers are leading the pack, and they bring above-average earning capability and spendable income to their new home base. Households earning more than $100,000 a year are more than twice as likely to work remotely as those making less than $50,000. More workers can “vote with their feet,” selecting places that best meet their needs without worrying about what they can earn locally. Instead of recruiting companies with tax abatements and other perks, communities are courting remote workers by offering a combination of quality of life, affordable housing, parks and trails to support the remote work lifestyle.

Today’s remote worker is looking for something special in a place to live, but the No. 1 infrastructure requirement is the fiber-optic cable to access the internet.

Editor’s note: Phil Williams resides in southern Harrison County.

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