August 11, 2020 — Open access infrastructure is crucial, but it is difficult to raise the capital it requires, said participants in Broadband Breakfast’s Digital Infrastructure Investment conference on Monday.
The panel on infrastructure investment funds featured a discussion about the challenges and benefits of developing next-generation infrastructure.
Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO of SiFi Networks, said that funding open access projects can be challenging.
“The amount of capital alone is quite daunting, really,” he said. “You can [have a large amount] and you’ll still probably only cover a small percentage of America.”
Chris Perlitz, managing director of the Municipal Capital Markets Group, agreed.
“If you can go to some sources like a pension fund that wants to buy some taxable return… there’s a resource there that can help you get the infrastructure built,” he said. “Really, the key is the long-term horizon, and capital.”
Panel moderator Jase Wilson, founder and vice president of growth at Ready.net, said that America was rapidly falling behind in broadband infrastructure.
“The United States of America just fell out of the top 10 broadband nations in terms of speed, and this is the nation where the internet began,” he said.
Wilson agreed with other panelists that the challenges to the rollout of open access networks can be difficult to overcome.
“If they didn’t have to build their own independent rogue access models, they might yield better outcomes, not only for the investors but also for the ISPs,” he said.
Bawtree-Johnson pointed to the importance of constructing open access infrastructure at a scale large enough to be profitable.
“It really needs scale, open access work — there’s no point in us building a 10,000-home network in a municipality and expecting 12 ISPs to come into that network and be successful,” he said.
Enhanced broadband infrastructure has become a necessity during the coronavirus pandemic. However, Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, noted in another panel titled “The Future of Funding for Shared Infrastructure” that public policy decisions on the part of the Trump administration could conflict with the mission to provide broadband to all.
“It is difficult to lead the world in a unified effort when your fundamental message is, ‘America first and I don’t care about anyone else,’” he said. “So there’s a fundamental contradiction that most people pick up on.”
The stated goals of the Trump administration regarding China are often confusing and ill-defined, Levin continued.
“The United States has, for some time, said the most important thing is that we beat China and that we lead the world in 5G without ever describing the metrics by which we define leadership,” he said.