Supply Chain Crisis Could Threaten Internet Access in Rural America | Newstalk Florida

Ailan evans

  • The telecommunications industry, like other sectors, suffers from continued supply chain chaos, with equipment delays and increased costs endangering efforts to bring internet access to rural areas. from America.
  • “The challenge is not so much on the fiber side of the equation, but rather an issue with the electronics and other components needed to power the Internet connections that arrive more slowly,” said the Republican commissioner of the equation. FCC, Brendan Carr, at the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • Todd Schlekeway, executive director of the Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, said disruptions and delays in the delivery of key equipment are causing projects to fail.
  • Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said some members knew of delivery times, or the time it takes for products to arrive after an order, up to two years for equipment requiring computer chips. , and that smaller, rural telecommunications companies are the hardest hit by shortages and disruptions.
  • “We think the biggest impacts right now are on deployment efforts, but the more concerns persist, it could also affect maintenance if stocks run out,” said Michael Romano, vice president of the Rural Broadband Association. .

The telecommunications industry, like other sectors, suffers from continued supply chain chaos, with equipment delays and increased costs endangering efforts to bring internet access to rural areas. from America.

AT&T announcement in August that it would miss its goal of providing internet to 3 million new homes, citing supply chain disruptions, while small suppliers and contractors are report Widespread shortages affecting their ability to complete work. The problem is exacerbated by the continuing shortage of semiconductors, which results in long lead times, or the time it takes for products to arrive after ordering, for broadband equipment requiring a computer chip such as modems and routers. .

“The challenge is not so much on the fiber side of the equation, but rather an issue with the electronics and other components needed to power the Internet connections that arrive more slowly,” said the Republican commissioner of the equation. FCC, Brendan Carr, at the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) predicted a shortage of substrates, a critical part used in semiconductor manufacturing, which lasts until 2023, affecting the availability of almost all electronic equipment. The TIA also estimated that “in 2022 demand will be around 150% of existing manufacturing (manufacturing) capacity”, resulting in further delays and equipment shortages.

Carr said he had visited telecommunications companies across the country and found that equipment shortages were lengthening equipment delivery times and hampering deployment efforts.

“In Florida, a supplier told me that they are facing a shortage of trucks their crews need to get into the field and complete their builds,” Carr said.

Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), told DCNF that some members are experiencing delivery times of up to two years for equipment requiring computer chips. Aiken said smaller, rural telecommunications companies are hit hardest by shortages and disruptions.

“These companies, our members, have built their networks by putting their life savings on the line to serve their community,” said Aiken. “They don’t have the purchasing power of the big guys, so it’s absolutely essential that the government consider these people when developing policy regarding supply chain issues.”

Michael Romano, vice president of the Rural Broadband Association (NTCA), which represents rural telecommunications companies, expressed similar concerns.

“It is again apparent to us that supply chain issues exist in a number of industries and places and for suppliers of all kinds,” Romano told DCNF. “But we believe the challenges may be greater for smaller telecom providers simply because they don’t have the purchasing and sourcing power that large telecom operators do.”

Supply chain crisis is currently affecting the entire economy, contributing to higher prices and longer waiting times for products ranging from consumer goods to construction materials. Some connoisseurs attribute supply chain dysfunction to the downstream effects of pandemic-related disruptions, as well as labor shortages and increasing consumer demand.

“The pandemic has impacted manufacturing as home broadband has gone from ‘great to have’ to ‘critical to have’,” Aiken said. “We have seen all of our members go to great lengths to deploy new networks and connect new customers, at the same time as the manufacturing of new equipment slows down. “

Zoning regulations in ports have also been shown to contribute to shipping bottlenecks, while the shortage continues to semiconductors hinders the entire electronics industry.

“NTCA members report that supplies such as fiber, network electronics and customer premises equipment are taking weeks or even months longer than in the past,” Romano said.

Todd Schlekeway, executive director of the Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association (NATE), which represents internet infrastructure construction and maintenance companies, told DCNF that disruptions and delays in the delivery of key equipment are causing failure projects. He cited an example in which he was forced to turn down an offer for a project funded by a state grant that required the construction of a new broadband tower by the end of 2021.

Schlekeway said the lead times for the necessary equipment were so long that he would not have been able to complete the project on time, and he doubts the state will be able to use the grant money.

Schlekeway also said wider supply chain disruptions impact access to basic materials and equipment, such as steel and service trucks.

“Contractors need to keep their equipment longer and even truck repair shops are experiencing longer delivery times,” said Schlekeway, while “steel for lathes is on the rise and delivery times are increasing. have almost doubled “.

The disruptions coincide with an abundance of federal funding for internet expansion and deployment as the Biden administration looks bridge the “digital divide” and provide Internet access to unserved consumers, mainly located in rural areas. However, continued supply chain dysfunction could jeopardize these plans and even hamper efforts to maintain existing networks.

President Joe Biden’s US bailout included approximately $ 388 billion in broadband-related funds for the construction and maintenance of Internet networks, primarily for inner-city and unserved rural areas. The $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill pass in the Senate and is currently awaiting a House vote, which would allocate an additional $ 42.5 billion in broadband funding.

“These tensions in the supply chain will only worsen as Congress seeks to add billions of additional dollars for Internet builds through various infrastructure packages,” Carr told the DCNF.

“The supply chain crisis highlights the importance of focusing any new broadband infrastructure budget on communities that lack services today,” Carr said. “Especially when the supply chain is as thin as it is now, we cannot divert resources by oversizing existing connections or plating gold in areas that already have broadband service. “

Aiken, who represents wireless internet service providers, told DCNF that the Biden administration’s focus on funding wired internet technologies, like cable or fiber, exacerbates supply chain problems. .

“Recognizing and funding a single type of technology deployment is probably the most problematic [policy]”said Aiken.

The Treasury Department rules For states and communities to allocate US bailout broadband funds, only classify areas as having adequate coverage if their internet is provided through “wired” connections such as cable. Aiken said this provides an incentive to invest in a smaller subset of broadband connections, thus increasing demand for some equipment.

“Besides hurting small rural businesses that have deployed other technologies, it exacerbates supply chain problems in a way that funding various technologies would not,” Aiken said.

As supply chain disruptions have a significant impact on efforts to build new broadband networks and provide Internet access to unserved consumers, especially in rural America, the maintenance of the existing Internet infrastructure is also threatened.

“We think the biggest impacts right now are on deployment efforts, but the more concerns persist, it could also affect maintenance if stocks run out,” NTCA’s Romano told DCNF.

“Because there has been so much federal and state funding for broadband sent over the past year, it is more difficult to maintain existing networks as well as deploy new ones,” said Aiken.

When asked if rural consumers’ access to the Internet itself could be threatened, Aiken admitted that this was a possibility.

“There is definitely that potential,” Aiken said. “Ultimately, if there is smart and inclusive federal and state policy, that risk is mitigated.”

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