Corning to build new fiber optic plant in Arizona as U.S. broadband push

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Corning Inc announced plans on Tuesday to build a new fiber-optic manufacturing plant in Arizona as the U.S. government moves to provide $42 billion to expand broadband to millions of unserved Americans.

The plant in Gilbert, Arizona, expected to open in 2024, will help supply AT&T, the largest U.S. fiber-optic internet provider, the companies’ chief executives said in a joint interview with Reuters.

CEO Wendell Weeks said the plant was the latest in a series of investments the company has made in fiber and cable totaling more than $500 million since 2020, nearly doubling Corning’s supply capacity, and followed extensive talks with AT&T for its request.

Weeks said the Arizona plant will employ about 250 people and is built to expand if demand warrants.

He said 5G wireless networks, the deployment of fiber to the home, cloud computing and the government’s broadband investment plans are driving the growing demand for fiber.

“It’s our job to meet the demands of the nation,” Weeks said.

The Arizona plant follows Corning’s announcement in September 2021 that it would invest $150 million in optical cable manufacturing in North Carolina.

AT&T also said Tuesday it will expand fiber-based broadband to more than 100,000 homes in Arizona’s fast-growing Mesa areas.

“Ultimately everything is moving to a fiber-fed infrastructure to be able to address the demand equation,” AT&T CEO John Stankey said, adding that the trends “are coming from massive consumption growth.”

Stankey said traffic is expected to grow five times its current level over the next five years. “There needs to be an infrastructure to deal with it,” Stankey said.

As part of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed in November 2021, Congress appropriated $42.5 billion in grants to states to expand broadband infrastructure. There are an estimated 15 to 18 million US households without access to high-speed internet, according to government and industry estimates.

The Federal Communications Commission still needs to finalize new maps detailing areas without internet, and funding isn’t likely to roll out until 2023, officials say.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who will join Stankey and Weeks on Tuesday in Arizona, told Reuters she had been meeting with CEOs of telecoms and manufacturers to ensure sufficient capacity to expand broadband services.

He said the new plant in Arizona is a “win” that will help produce the fiber needed to expand the Internet while “creating more high-quality jobs.”

The government’s broadband grant program led by the Commerce Department includes “Buy America” ​​provisions, which require grantees to buy US-made products such as optical cables and transmission equipment, but also allows for waivers. It also “prioritises projects designed to provide fiber optic connectivity”

“We’re going to be hands-on. Not everything is going to be done in America,” Raimondo said. “We’re serious about Buy America — what can be made in America should be made in America.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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