The road to rural broadband is still paved in copper

The need for broadband in rural areas ensures that copper connections are here to stay.

By Donna Donnowitz
November 22, 2015
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After the Federal Communications Commission updated its definition of broadband to refer to download speeds up to 25 Mbps, the "digital divide" separating urban and rural consumers grew even wider. According to the FCC, less than half of the country's population currently living in rural areas does not have access to a reliable broadband connection. Much of this trend is related to the growth of the tech industry. Data centers and tech headquarters have traditionally favored urban environments, so the majority of the country's broadband infrastructure focuses on meeting the needs of these customers.

Access to broadband has become a near necessity for Americans, however, and several factors are currently in play that will expand access to broadband to a much larger customer base in the United States. Copper broadband has become increasingly competitive in terms of speed with state of the art fiber connections, according to CNET, creating new opportunities to expand broadband connections to new, more remote regions of the country. Understanding how and why copper broadband is set to explode across previously neglected segments of the tech industry makes it easier for companies in rural environments to decide if they can benefit from deploying a copper network.

"Copper is still cheaper and more widely available than fiber."

Cost-effective copper connections are ideal for rural expansions
Copper wires are considerably cheaper and more widely available than fiber cables, and this cost advantage has prompted certain communications providers to look at using copper infrastructure to defray the cost of expansion to rural areas. The one performance caveat that companies must work around is the fact that download speeds across copper begin to decrease over long distances. Thankfully, advances in Ethernet-over-copper strategies have created a viable solution to this inefficiency.

Deploying Fiber-to-Ethernet media converters makes it simple for companies to extend broadband connections over fiber to centrally located hubs, then use copper connections to extend this broadband connection to local access points.

FierceTelecom reported that Consolidated Communications, a communications provider serving customers across 11 states, is already in the midst of executing such a strategy in order to expand its base of residential and commercial customers. Copper wire could see its popularity explode all over again if more telecoms begin to prioritize capturing opportunities in rural markets.

Government funds will put copper broadband in a position to succeed
The federal government is doing everything that it can to close the broadband gap facing rural communities across the country. Earlier this year, the FCC made over $1.5 billion available in annual support for telecoms interested in expanding service to consumers and companies operating in rural areas. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made nearly $90 million in loans and grants available for telecoms in seven states to expand network access outside of urban communities.

These incentives to upgrade are likely to create new opportunities for copper broadband as telecoms and tech companies look for the most cost-effective means of branching out their services to new customers. Extensive networks of copper infrastructure already present in these areas should encourage tech companies to investigate Ethernet-over-copper solutions as well.

Fiber cables are revolutionary but copper still has plenty of value.Fiber cables are revolutionary but copper still has plenty of value.

Copper solutions also available at commercial scale
Telecommunications giants and industry leading tech companies aren't the only businesses that can take advantage of copper to reach rural areas. Media converters capable of connecting Fiber-to-Ethernet hookups to existing copper infrastructure are available at prices that make it possible for companies to operate new facilities in remote areas without having to pay the full cost of extending new fiber cable to their recently constructed facilities.

Small Business Trends highlighted copper connections as ideal for rural installations interested in achieving broadband speeds as cost-effectively as possible. This strategy is especially appealing to companies operating in one of the historically rural areas that are currently enjoying more attention from the tech industry, such as areas in Kansas or Tennessee. Establishing a solution for connecting copper and fiber infrastructure now will serve businesses in these communities well when fiber connections become more readily available. This future-proofing strategy could also be leveraged as a hiring advantage when companies look to expand their network expertise.

Perle has an extensive range of Managed and Unmanaged Fiber Media Converters to extended copper-based Ethernet equipment over a fiber optic link, multimode to multimode and multimode to single mode fiber up to 160km.


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