The term “dark fiber” refers to fiber optic cable that is not yet “lit”–it doesn’t have Internet service working on it yet. You might think of dark fiber like electric wires before power is turned on. Or like plumbing: it’s the pipe before the water is turned on; or perhaps a road before many kinds of vehicles are using it. The idea is that it’s open to carry multiple uses by many service providers. In an article titles Why You Should Live In Ammon, Idaho, the author notes:
What do Stockholm, Palo Alto, Rockport, Maine, [and San Leandro –ed.] and the tiny, highly-conservative town of Ammon, Idaho have in common? Answer: they all have dark fiber networks — thin, flexible strands of glass that are capable of carrying an unlimited amount of information in the form of pulses of light, but haven’t yet been “lit” by the electronics that trigger lasers to create those pulses and transmit them through the glass. Independent operators with access to these passive, dark networks provide their own electronics, creating a competitive, diverse, and choice-filled marketplace for unlimited-capacity, symmetrical (equal upload to download) high-speed Internet access. Once installed, upgrades to dark fiber come in the form of the electronics that create and receive those pulses of light; the strands of glass themselves won’t have to be replaced for many decades. …
Dark fiber is like a street grid: Towns and cities with unlit fiber networks in place are creating a fertile field for private competition, innovation, economic growth, and social justice without providing end-user services themselves. Once in place, dark fiber is like an inexhaustible natural resource, enriching both citizenry and commerce.
Having fiber installed in a City is a valuable resource in the same way that electricity, natural gas, and water/sewer pipes are. They offer citizens a way to do more than they could without these utilities. Back in the day, before these things were common, people asked “what would I do with an electric wire?” Could you imagine living in a house today without electricity or running water? We have a hard enough time with older houses that have few electric plugs.
Many states are prohibited–by relatively recently passed laws–from installing fiber in their areas. In Municipal broadband offers hope for lagging US internet, author Robert Faris points out that
A majority of the US is served by two providers: a cable company and telecom company. A small proportion of households, about 15%, have a third option. A quarter of households have one broadband provider or less. As we consider high speeds, the picture is more dismal. A 10 Mbps connection is not available for two out of five households, and three out of four households have one or fewer options at 25 Mbps. A 25 Mbps connection, which typically costs more than US$50 in US cities, costs US$24 in London, US$28 in Seoul, and US$31 in Paris. In France, triple play packages have typically been priced at 30 euro (about US$35). A price war in February 2014 brought the price down to 20 euro.
It’s no mystery why there’s so little competition for internet access in the US. Unlike European countries and a large majority of OECD countries, the US has abandoned policies that require the sharing of infrastructure with competing broadband providers. Instead, the US has taken a deregulatory approach that requires competitors to build their own infrastructure in order to enter the market.
Rewiring neighborhoods and homes is expensive. It costs approximately US$700-800 per house to run new fiber infrastructure through a neighborhood and another US$600-700 to make each household connection. In order to upgrade parts of its infrastructure to offer its fiber-to-the-home service, FiOS, Verizon invested US$23 billion to run fiber past 18 million homes in the US.
Talking about southern California, LA Times columnist David Lazarus wrote Dark fiber may help light up competition in broadband market:
“It’s happening,” said Jon DeLuca, head of Wilcon, one of the leading providers of dark fiber in Southern California. “The cable companies are still entrenched in the residential space, but that’s changing.”
The cable and phone companies have their own networks, of course, and they frequently lease their own dark fiber to others.
Beyond those guys, there are roughly a dozen other companies offering dark fiber in Southern California, DeLuca said. Collectively they own about 10,000 miles of fiber-optic cable.
But that doesn’t accurately reflect available capacity because each fiber-optic cable has multiple strands, and it takes only a couple of strands to meet the needs of an Internet service provider.
The San Leandro fiber loop offers the opportunity to lease dark fiber to companies and providers that have the knowledge and resources to configure their own Internet services. If dark fiber interests you, let’s talk. Of course we also offer “lit” services through one of our Internet service provider partners, who would also love to hear from you.