Fiber Broadband Homes Passed or Homes Connected – Which Metric Matters Most?

A new set of products and processes can help service providers more effectively connect the homes they pass with fiber-based broadband services.

More fiber was deployed in 2022 than ever before, according to the 2022 Fiber Provider Survey released by the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and conducted by RVA LLC, as the industry advances its goal to close the digital equity gap. The research shows that fiber providers passed 7.9 million additional homes in the U.S. in 2022 – the largest annual deployment ever, bringing the total number of homes passed with fiber broadband to 68 million, up 13 percent over the past 12 months and 27 percent over the past 24 months.

Homes passed is the critical metric the FCC uses to build its National Broadband Map. Improving the number of homes passed is the foundation for regulatory agencies and legislators that want to meet the requirements for funding allocations with a wide variety of programs, including the more than $42 billion earmarked in the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The “last foot” work connecting homes is often very labor- and craft-intensive. Craft-friendly, labor-light products and processes will become must-haves as operators look to expand fiber footprints quickly and cost-effectively.

The question – is it enough? Is homes passed the metric the broadband industry should use to gauge success and ultimately claim victory in the battle to close the digital equity gap?

Homes passed is just the first step. Homes passed equates to the number of potential customers in a service area, but the practicality of connecting these homes in the last few feet of the last mile needs consideration. It must happen, but the next step, which means homes have access to fiber broadband, is the connected metric. Homes connected means that everyone, everywhere, has access to the broadband services needed to thrive and grow.

According to the RVA study, out of the total number of homes passed, the take rate is 44.7 percent in the U.S., which translates to 28.3 million homes connected out of the 63 million unique homes passed. If the metric for homes passed is the measure by which the industry judges the equity gap closed, many homes and people will remain on the other side of the gap for a very long time.

Moving Homes Passed to Homes Connected

Much work must be done to move from homes passed to connected successfully. Age of neighborhood, rights of way, soil type and various factors impact an operator’s ability to carry a household into the “revenue ready” category that happens only when a home is connected to the fiber broadband network. Beyond the challenges inherent in the last foot of a connection, much work must be done to streamline physically connecting an operator’s network to a homeowner’s network.

This streamlining is critical for operators to reach more customers and move them from passed to connected. The faster an operator can connect one home and move to the next, the faster it can realize revenue. A homeowner can start leveraging the economic and social benefits of better broadband. The operational use of this speedier time-to-home connection can be recognized in several ways: It reduces the workforce required to touch homes, which translates into more homes reached with the same team.

The “last foot” work connecting homes is often very labor- and craft-intensive, requiring stripping and cutting cables in an unprotected environment, adjusting slack cable storage by hand, splicing one or more fibers on-site and installing connectors to the ends of the fiber. These time-consuming processes raise the risk of human error as teams look to connect homes quickly. The processes cost operators more in the long run because they require one or more truck rolls to address issues created while customers wait for service and finance waits to start collecting revenue.  

New Deployment Processes, Products

Craft-friendly, labor-light products and processes will move from excellent to must-haves as operators look to expand fiber footprints quickly and cost-effectively. A large service provider recently commissioned a study to quantify the time saved using pre-connectorized cable products for the drop and house cabling to measure the impact of limiting the pre-engineering time required to connect a home. Compared with a previous baseline study, the craft-friendly broadband deployment method saved between 35 percent to 38 percent across outside and inside work across 159 installations.

The good news is that although craft-friendly tools allow operators to speed deployment, the fiber broadband industry is actively working on programs to address the skilled labor shortage. Clearfield College is one example of a program created to help train the next generation of people to deploy fiber networks. In addition, industry organizations such as the Fiber Broadband Association, of which Clearfield is a member, run the nationwide OpTIC Path program with the Department of Labor to partner with community colleges and workforce training programs in 38 states to offer fiber technician training to residents.

The most significant investment cycle in fiber broadband that the industry has experienced is about to begin. Research estimates more homes will be passed in the next five years than have been passed to date. This brings an order of magnitude of homes into fiber’s reach, adding to the 56 percent currently passed but not connected. This alone will require a bigger workforce. The reality is that the telecom industry faces a shortage of trained optical field technicians to meet today’s demands, let alone the anticipated demand to come.


Kevin Morgan

Kevin Morgan is the chief marketing officer of Clearfield.


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