Sprout Fiber Internet
Supply chain issues impacting broadband growth across the country
Supply chain issues continue to be a serious problem in the ongoing expansion of fiber broadband. One of the country’s leading broadband advocacy groups released a report in September outlining supply chain challenges, and the findings are consistent with what Sprout Fiber Internet has been dealing with throughout this year.
A report from the Fiber Broadband Association indicates that the global pandemic and other supply chain stressors have contributed to lead times of up to 60 weeks for materials necessary for fiber deployment and operation. FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton said recently the average lead time for fiber optic cabling is 52–60 weeks, and lead times for other necessary goods such as cabinets and splitters (10-20 weeks) , multiport terminals (20–35 weeks) home equipment (up to six months) are also extended. The report also notes shortages or inflated prices of raw goods such as plastics, resins, steel, aluminum, copper, and wood.
Sprout Fiber Internet powered by Cullman Electric Cooperative is feeling the impact of these supply shortages as well. In some cases, supplies and equipment ordered in January 2022 with an expected delivery date this past summer have still not arrived. As Sprout’s reputation for providing outstanding internet speed and first-class customer service has grown, so has the demand. Sprout’s business plan calls for subscribers to have service connected within two weeks of signing up for service. But high demand and limited supply has the current wait time at more than four weeks, which has caused Sprout to push back its plans to “go live” in additional areas later this year.
Cullman Electric Cooperative CEO Tim Culpepper said the co-op is not alone in dealing with supply issues for its Sprout Fiber Internet project.
“What we are experiencing is part of much larger issue,” Culpepper said. “The demand for high-speed broadband internet service is increasing across the country. The materials and labor to produce those supplies is having a hard time keeping up with the demand. And the material that is being produced is hard to acquire because of delays in shipping that started during the global pandemic.”
The FBA report noted that logistical bottlenecks still plague the supply chains, with Chinese ports particularly hard hit this year. In April 2022, up to 20 percent of the 9,000 globally active container ships were stuck outside backed-up ports in various parts of the world. Almost a full 30 percent of that backlog was created by shutdowns in Chinese ports alone.”
“These issues are impacting every business and industry, and we see the results here in Cullman every day,” Culpepper said. “Essential supplies for providing electricity are taking longer to get. The lead time to order and receive transformers has gone from several months up to a year or more. All of these issues are the same reason all of us are seeing price increases at the grocery store. They are the reason why some of our favorite items aren’t on the shelf or are in very limited supply.”
The silver lining in this difficult situation is that high demand for Sprout Fiber Internet is a positive indicator for the long-term growth of Cullman Electric’s fiber subsidiary.
“Cullman Electric Cooperative members have made it clear that they want a reliable, high-speed internet service, and feedback from the more than 4,000 subscribers is that Sprout Fiber Internet is exceeding their expectations,” Culpepper said. “The co-op’s ultimate goal is to make Sprout available to every co-op member. Getting the materials we need is a challenge that will take some time to work through, but we know our members want Sprout, so we are committed to getting the job done.”