At the moment, there seems to be no shortage of content analyzing the myriad ways the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is impacting our lives. At Lit Communities (Lit), we live and breathe connectivity, and we’ve been on our soap boxes for years about the inadequacy of America’s digital infrastructure. There are tens of thousands of small cities, towns, and rural communities, together representing almost 60 million Americans, who live in places where the only option for internet service comes over aging copper cable and phone lines, both of which suffer from congestion issues when large numbers of users simultaneously attempt to use them. While many people will be fortunate enough to have no issues, particularly those in larger metro areas or markets where fiber-to-the-home connections are available, people attempting to work remotely from their homes in smaller cities and towns could experience frustration, especially those whose companies require them to work through a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Lit believes that everybody should be able to work from home with a fast, reliable internet connection. However, many would-be telecommuters are finding that they can’t work from home. Slow internet is keeping them from having a steady VPN connection, it keeps them from participating in important conference calls, it prevents them from sending or receiving large files, and limits their ability to use browser based software tools. The compounding effect of hundreds of millions of Americans experiencing these issues and failing to telecommute could have enormous consequences on the US economy. 

“DSL will be an unmitigated disaster in many places, especially where Frontier and Windstream are the monopoly. These networks may become unusable — though many may think of them as unusable now, congestion could so overwhelm the systems that they become entirely unusable. I have recently used the “bar noise” problem to describe what happens with networks as they congest — each person in a crowded bar talks louder and then louder as aggregate noise increases. But with DSL networks in the coming weeks, this may be more like everyone turning amplifiers to 11 rather than shouting.”

It may go without saying, but the households lucky enough to have a fiber connection will not have to deal with any of these problems. However, not all fiber networks are created equal. Customers connected to single provider fiber networks are still without recourse should they have an unpleasant customer service experience, and they generally have to pay a significant premium for their service. This is not the case in Open Access networks, where the competitive environment created by shared infrastructure results in very low service prices and excellent customer service scores. 

In an Open Access network, there is a separation between the infrastructure and the services provided across it. This makes for an unparalleled customer experience, where the subscriber can choose a la carte services from a variety of providers in an app store like environment and have their services automatically provisioned by the infrastructure owner using software defined networking.

There are a few reasons why an Open Access fiber-to-the-home network is superior to a single provider fiber-to-the-home network. First, they are hands down the most consumer-friendly way of providing broadband. Second, the Open Access model can ease the cost of expensive 5G deployments by sharing what are usually disparate pieces of infrastructure. Third, they allow the implementation of community-oriented smart city solutions that would otherwise be cost prohibitive to deploy. Fourth but by no means last, Open Access networks create an environment that allows new startup ISPs to form locally, which adds an even further boost to the already well understood economic development benefits associated with fiber-to-the-home networks.  

Long before the Coronavirus rapidly spread to our shores and exposed the flaws in our country’s digital infrastructure, analysts and consultants like Deloitte were forecasting that the United States needs to make around $150 billion dollars of investment in fiber optic network infrastructure. Our position at Lit is that as much of that investment as possible should be put specifically towards building Open Access networks. 

Open Access networks, while having proved their success for over 10 years in Scandinavia and elsewhere, are still relatively novel here in the United States. The largest Open Access network is the publicly-owned UTOPIA in Utah, but privately-owned Open Access networks are beginning to sprout up here and there throughout the country. Lit has begun working on our first open access network in Medina County, OH called Medina Fiber, and we’re excited to be announcing several more markets soon, but as the Coronavirus has so painfully made clear, we have a long way to go as a country before every American has access to the digital infrastructure they need. Visit our website, www.LitCommunities.net or tweet us @LitCommunities to share your thoughts on telecommuting during COVID-19 and Open Access fiber networks.