Experts Say Even Faster Internet Speeds Don’t Solve Fiber’s Problem

Experts Say Even Faster Internet Speeds Don’t Solve Fiber’s Problem
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AT&T's recent fiber internet plan updates are a step in the right direction, but they don't address the real issue with fiber right now: availability.

AT&T recently revealed improvements to its fiber internet plans, with two of them now providing quicker download and upload speeds. The upgrade boosts the company's cheapest fiber plan's speed to 300 Mbps, up from 200 Mbps previously.

That's no small improvement, but it doesn't fix the reality that two-thirds of AT&T's customers still don't have access to fiber.

In an email, Peter Holsin, an internet expert at HighSpeedInternet, said, "Fiber is the fastest and most secure internet you can find, so if you can get a sweet deal like this, then yeah, that's awesome."

"The catch is that fiber internet is the least widely accessible form of internet, being much less common than cable and DSL. As a result, only a small percentage of internet users will profit from this bonus."

AT&T plans

Promises of Expansion

The most promising aspect of fiber expansion isn't necessarily cost. Although much is being done to make internet plans more accessible in general, fiber has a much more serious issue. The majority of consumers simply do not have access to it.

According to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) most recent broadband survey, only 30.26 percent of AT&T customers have access to fiber internet with speeds of 250 Mbps down or higher.

Moreover, AT&T's current fiber development plans are sluggish, with the company pledging only 3 million additional residential and commercial fiber customers by 2021.

"AT&T is making this major announcement at a time when its two key cellular competitors, T-Mobile and Verizon, are making significant progress in building out 5G networks and 5G home internet options," Holsin said.

T-Mobile's into the home internet market has been more calculated, with the company aiming to serve 7-8 million customers by 2025, while Verizon's push has been far more significant.

Over the next 12 months, the company expects to provide home broadband speeds of up to 300 Mbps to 100 million new customers.

There are some distinctions to be made here. AT&T is planning to expand the wired network. T-Mobile and Verizon, on the other hand, have opted for a fixed-wireless approach, which simply uses their mobile networks to provide home internet access.

However, since AT&T has opted not to concentrate on fixed-wireless for home coverage, the gaps are still noticeable.

Fuel on the Fire

Even for the slow rollout, Tyler Cooper, EIC of BroadbandNow, believes that the drive for faster speeds is a positive sign that will hopefully lead to more progress in getting fiber into the hands of many more consumers.

"It's always a positive idea to push existing infrastructure to new heights, and fiber definitely offers space to expand," Cooper said in an email.

"AT&T also offers some of the most competitive internet plans in the country, with speeds of 300 Mbps or higher. Other fiber networks will be under further pressure to improve speeds for their customers as a result of this, which could promote more adoption."

If only more subscribers with fiber connectivity continue to sign up for AT&T's new plans, the company may shift its emphasis even more toward wired connections.

Since AT&T already has a lot of fiber infrastructure already in place (fiber wire was used to build the main network links within its ADSL network), it just needs to finish laying fiber for the last mile to reach a lot of customers.

"AT&T seems to be doing more; it's only a matter of time before AT&T's fiber internet is built up and made available to more customers," Holsin said.

"If fiber becomes more available to rural consumers or internet users in small towns, it might go a long way toward bridging the country's chasm."

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