EXCLUSIVE: The private sector is creating the first fiber optic manufacturing plant in the western US as the industry tries to keep up with record demand to expand broadband access and bring jobs back home.
Corning, in partnership with AT&T, will make the announcement Tuesday from the site of the future plant in Gilbert, Arizona, which is expected to be operational by 2024. The project will expand optical cable manufacturing capacity, which is critical to access to Internet. and 5G.
The move will bring manufacturing jobs back home, a goal on both sides of the political aisle as the US economy tries to keep up with competitors in a variety of technologies. Japan and China are the main exporters of fiber optic cable, according to the most recent data followed by the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
The companies say demand for the product increased during the pandemic after supply chain issues created short-term shortages and more Americans started working remotely. Today, about three-quarters of adults in the US have access to broadband Internet at home, according to the Pew Research Center.
“The last mile is the challenging part”, AT&T CEO John Stankey told FOX Business in an exclusive joint interview with Weeks of Corning CEO Wendell. “A lot of core infrastructure has been put in place. Now we have to reach homes. We have to reach those smaller businesses that haven’t had the benefit of fiber.”
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The project is expected to create 250 jobs, but that is far short of what experts say the industry needs to support its long-term goals. Corning estimates that an additional 850,000 jobs must be created through 2025 to install fiber optic cable once it is built and ready for deployment.
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“This new facility will provide additional optical cable capacity to meet the record demand the industry is experiencing for fast and reliable connectivity,” Stankey said in an earlier statement on Tuesday. “We’re also working with Corning to create training programs to equip the next generation of technicians with the skills to build the networks that will expand high-speed Internet access to millions of Americans.”
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The project is part of a nearly $500 million private commitment from Corning to expand broadband access. It comes amid a renewed focus on getting Internet access for Americans, after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed last year allocated $65 billion in new spending for broadband.
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“This is a technology where we lead,” Weeks added. “It’s our job to make sure we have enough capacity on the ground to meet the growing demand. That’s what this announcement is about.”
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