EXCLUSIVE: The private sector creates the first fiber optic manufacturing plant in the western United States as the industry tries to meet record demand to expand broadband access and bring jobs back to the country.
Corning, in partnership with AT&T, will make the announcement Tuesday from the site of the future Gilbert, Arizona plant, which is expected to be operational by 2024. The project will expand manufacturing capacity for optical cables, essential for Internet access. and 5G.
The move will bring back manufacturing jobs, a goal on both sides of the political aisle, as the U.S. economy tries to keep up with competitors on a range of technologies. Japan and China are the main exporters of fiber optic cables, according to the most recent data monitored by the Economic Complexity Observatory.
The companies say demand for the product has 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 United States have high-speed Internet access at home, according to the Pew Research Center.
“It’s the last kilometer that is the most difficult part” John Stankey, CEO of AT&T told FOX Business in an exclusive joint interview with Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning. “There has been a huge amount of basic infrastructure put in place. Now we have to go to homes. We have to go to small businesses that have not benefited from fibre.”
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The project is expected to create 250 jobs, but that is well below what experts say the industry needs to support its long-term goals. Corning estimates that an additional 850,000 jobs need to be created by 2025 to install the fiber optic cable once it is manufactured and ready to deploy.
“This new facility will provide additional optical cable capacity to meet record industry demand for fast and reliable connectivity,” Stankey said in a statement released Tuesday. “We are also working with Corning to create training programs to equip the next generation of technicians with the skills needed to build the networks that will extend high-speed Internet access to millions of Americans.”
The project is part of a nearly $500 million private commitment from Corning to expand broadband access. This comes amid renewed interest in Americans’ internet access, after the bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed last year allocated $65 billion in new broadband spending.
“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.”