In the wake of Google Fiber and our country’s increased focus on broadband speed nationwide, it’s beginning to seem that everyone has a suggestion on how to solve the problem. The most recent solution: municipal dark fiber.
Numerous communities have fiber optic infrastructure installed that is used to provide connectivity to and between administration, public safety and school building locations. These fiber deployments are generally purpose built with the intention of only providing connectivity to set municipal buildings.
These networks can be easily converted to serve outside businesses and residences. Unfortunately for businesses and the general public, it’s difficult to access them. For example, these networks are designed to provide connectivity between an administration building and a school or police station. Additionally, even if a community wants to leverage these assets to expand coverage for the general public, they are often barred because of non-compete agreements between the community and an incumbent ISP, phone or cable company. (Read more).
For those hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel, it appears the FCC may be stepping in. Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman has challenged a Tennessee law barring the state’s towns and cities from building their own fiber-based networks, particularly in areas where a telco or cable MSO already provides service. (Read More) Only time will tell if this opens the door for increased competition, but this sure seems like a good first step for potentially using dark fiber.
How did we get dark fiber?
During the dotcom boom, service providers were laying down cable at an incredible rate. But once the bubble burst, over 60 internet companies went bankrupt, and millions of miles of fiber infrastructure went dark. Other companies purchased these lines, but continued to build new cable lines, rather than reusing existing infrastructure (dark fiber). No one really knows how many miles of dark fiber networks there are, but some people believe it could significantly improve speeds for many internet users if these lines were operational. The problem is it’s expensive to do the work to make these networks functional, and not all dark fiber is practical for residential use.
The rapid increase of global internet activity has put a strain on internet infrastructure.
Nearly 3 billion people are considered internet users now, and this increased traffic has put an extra strain on existing internet infrastructure. In 2013 about 19 million miles of cable were installed in the United States, nearing the pace service providers were installing cable pre-2001. As cable infrastructure struggles to keep up with the increasing traffic, options like dark fiber are being explored to try to minimize cost while keeping internet speeds high for all users.