Connectivity is central to all our lives. In the past transport and telecoms were the vehicles to spread ideas, deliver change, and transform societies, but today digital is the dominant force.
Access to high-speed internet has been central to overcoming the challenges presented by the pandemic and our need to adhere to social distancing. Whether it has been our ability to work from home, teach our young people via online schooling, or keep in contact with our friends and relatives, having access to the internet has been key. This is evidenced in the fact that in just the first few months of the pandemic, internet data usage in the United States grew 40%. In the United Kingdom, it more than doubled.
This spike in demand is challenging the decision-making of internet providers. For years, they have focused on providing high-speed capacity for businesses while expanding their networks into residential areas with the ability to pay for high-speed internet.
Given the high cost and long timeframes required to redeploy fiber networks, internet providers now need to understand how much of the pandemic-driven behavioral changes are going to be permanent, and how much support there will be from government.
It is clear there are no set approaches. For more than 50 years, Bechtel has been helping carriers install communications infrastructure,including building some of the earliest U.S. networks in the late 1990s and early 2000s as well as cable and fiber networks across Europe, , Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the United States.
Today, we are supporting mobile carrier buildouts and fiber buildout, such as our work with CityFibre, which rose from the U.K. government’s decision to proceed to a “Digital Britain,” providing direct funding and incentives for companies to deploy the fiber network.
While the U.S. government is looking to businesses to close the digital divide, there could be change looming with the upcoming infrastructure legislation to deploy country-wide fiber networks (typically the fastest, but more expensive).
Across the globe, many countries are also attempting to incentivize businesses to deploy high-speed networks, but the level of assistance and amount of direction differs country to country.
We will continue to look for opportunities where we can help businesses and governments scale the network rollouts and create smarter cities to create a better connected and more equitable post-pandemic world.