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The Race to Democratize Broadband in Rural America

Jun 2023
Broadband in Rural America

Broadband technology is essentially a high-speed, always-on connection to the Internet that enables wide bandwidth data transmission using optical fibers, twisted pair copper wires, or coaxial cables. Commonly referred to as “high-speed Internet,” broadband has been around since the late 1990s.

While most commercial organizations across the U.S have been benefiting from broadband for some time, many households have not. In fact, according to a recent report by the Federal Communications Commission, more than 20% of Americans in rural areas and 27.7% of Americans in Tribal lands lack broadband coverage. And in today’s increasingly digital world, it’s not just streaming entertainment that needs reliable Internet that is faster than the maximum 56kbps that dialup service delivers. Distance learning, remote working, and telemedicine all require broadband access, as do voice assistants, connected appliances, and modern security systems.

Funding Programs Focused on Delivering Broadband

Providing reliable broadband service to rural America is expensive, with a high fixed cost that makes for an extremely long payback period on investments. That said, cable Internet service providers (ISPs) have been instrumental in closing the country’s digital divide. In fact, network cable investments from ISPs totaled $185B in the 2021 – 2022 timeframe.

And in an effort to capitalize on these private investments and drive growth for the broadband market, the U.S. government also has enacted several public funding programs, including:

ReConnect Program

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the ReConnect Program in 2018, which has invested more than $1 billion to date to expand high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved rural areas and Tribal lands.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission enacted the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which will disburse up to $20.4 billion over 10 years to bring fixed broadband and voice service to millions of unserved homes and small businesses in rural America. Phase I payments began in 2021 on a rolling basis.

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program

In 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Among many other provisions, the law established the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. This ambitious investment appropriated $42.45 billion was appropriated for broadband deployment, mapping and adoption projects.

Other noteworthy federal initiatives include the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which is a $3 billion program for tribal governments to bring high-speed Internet to tribal lands, as well as state-wide programs such as the $200M grant provided to North Dakota with the goal of completing the deployment of broadband services to every eligible address in the state.

How Panduit Helps

With demand for broadband at an all-time high, Panduit is proud to partner with Internet service providers (ISPs) to bring broadband to those in need. Following are three ways that we are helping to democratize broadband access.

1. Ongoing commitment to fiber optic offerings and innovations

Fiber optic cables transmit data as pulses of light go through tiny strands of glass. Fiber is the fastest and most reliable broadband technology and can deliver significantly higher bandwidth than traditional copper wires. This is a key reason why fiber is the preferred choice for long-distance connections between cities and countries, as well as in suburban neighborhoods for “fiber to home” solutions designed for residential deployments. Fiber is also more sustainable than copper counterparts given that glass is made of sand. According to the Fiber Broadband Association, fiber is an inexhaustible resource that uses far less energy and creates far less pollution to manufacture than the extraction of copper from its ore.

Panduit provides a wide selection of state-of-the-art fiber optic cables and fiber connectivity solutions for any broadband application. Additionally, the Panduit Jack E. Caveney Innovation Center houses one of the most advanced fiber optic laboratories in the world, where some of the world’s leading fiber optic researchers and developers are creating world-class solutions that boost bandwidth, install faster and easier, and perform better.

2. An expansive network of distributors and contractors  

Our ecosystem of distributors and contractors ensure product availability and reliable installation, backed by the Panduit 25-year warranty.

We rely on leading distributors such as Graybar to ensure our products are available wherever and whenever they are needed. These preferred partners share our commitment to customer excellence, and  provide local inventory, product support, and a wide range of logistics services. We also work closely with a worldwide network of trained and certified fiber optic installers through the Panduit ONE Partner Program, and arm them with reference architectures as well as easy, digitized documentation designed to speed up installation and record-keeping.

3. Racks and cabinets engineered for critical connections

As ISPs race to bring broadband to rural areas, they’re constructing telecommunications buildings that from the outside can look like small, nondescript structures. Inside, however, sits critical infrastructure that can make or break network performance.

Panduit racks and cabinets are designed to allow for custom configuring, yet still accelerate deployment. For example, the FlexCore™ Optical Distribution Frame is a versatile front-access cabling system that provides the necessary protection for critical connections. Utilizing innovative cable management and simple, intuitive cable routing, the FlexCore™ ODF simplifies and reduces the time for moves, adds, and changes.

For more information about the benefits of partnering with Panduit for broadband projects, check out this short video.

Stay Informed

This post is the first in a series on current and emerging broadband applications, and the role of network infrastructure solutions.

In my next post, I’ll answer questions from readers. Feel free to provide any questions you would like me to address in the comments field below.


Michael Vermeer

Mike Vermeer is Manager of Broadband at Panduit. He has a Mechanical Engineering degree from Purdue University and an MBA from DePaul University. In his 15 years at Panduit, he has taken various roles as inventor, product line manager, services manager, and acquisition lead.