Does Fiber Have a NIMBY Problem?

Nov 01, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Seems like fiber optic cable has a Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) problem. It feels like a big one and it could go on for many years.

All too frequently local media outlets are quoting area homeowners who are upset with the beat-up condition of their yards, sidewalks and flowerbeds after a visit from local crews installing fiber optic cables to provide lightning-fast Internet service.

The video and photos can be quite alarming, and the voices of annoyed homeowners can be filled with anger because they feel stuck between the failings of subcontractors and the local officials who have authorized the digging.

America is embarked on an historic mission to ensure that the country has wall-to-wall broadband Internet at affordable prices. A key federal program with $42.45 billion in the broadband fiber fisc could take at least five years to finish the job of closing the digital divide — which today includes 8.3 million unserved homes and 42 million people, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Why has that backhoe been parked at the end of the street for the past six weeks, some will wonder? The answer will most likely be attributable to the Biden Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program administered by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is in the process of funneling the $42.45 to the states and territories.

Many broadband Internet providers are installing fiber even before the BEAD program gets rolling, probably explaining the uptick in NIMBY coverage seen in the local media in recent months.

The most recent NIMBY news outbreak occurred today (Nov. 1) in Florida and involved a company called Wide Open West (WOW), a Colorado-based broadband firm with a planned fiber buildout strategy of reaching 400,000 new homes by 2027.

As reported by CBS affiliate WKMG-TV in Orlando, WOW subcontractors “have torn apart residential lawns, cable and sewer lines as they cut a path for underground fiber optics across Seminole and Orange counties.”

Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz is upset with WOW: “What has been most troubling for us is the indifference these companies have shown when they break public utility lines.”

Two unnamed people cited by WKMG-TV complained that “WOW! and MetroNet have ripped up their lawn five times to date, to install fiber optics in separate locations in front of their home.”

WKMG-TV’s story did not include responses from WOW or MetroNet, but it noted that “there are at least two more fiber optics companies coming.”

Concerns about the rollout of ubiquitous broadband are not unique to firms burying the wires in the ground.

Elon Musk’s Starklink has about 5,000 satellites beaming Internet access from 340 miles in the sky.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a recent report saying that Starlink satellites re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere would create debris capable of hitting people and airplanes, possibly killing one person every two years by 2035. Starlink disputed the FAA report.

Starlink has clashed with members of the American Astronomical Society, who are troubled that light reflecting off so many satellites as they streak across the night sky is disrupting ground-based astronomy. Starlink has responded by deploying satellites that are painted black in some places and that have sun visors meant to reduce sunlight glare.

Wireless companies that provide Internet access from aesthetically challenged towers rising high into the air have been getting the NIMBY treatment for many years. Local residents and government officials continue to insist on better tower designs from America’s wireless companies as they deploy new 5G networks to help maintain U.S. leadership in mobile technology. As a result, more and more trees, flag poles, and sculptural art are in fact cell towers in camouflage.

With so much government money from the BEAD program about to flood the broadband deployment market, it appears the NIMBY outbreaks in the media will only intensify. Can something be done to ensure that closing the digital divide causes less division?