Editor's Log: Growing Up Fiber

October 2012, Vol. 67 No. 10

It wasn’t that long ago that those involved in the fiber communications realm were considered dreamers. Shortly after the fiber back-bone build-out bust of 2000-2001, fiber trunk lines were everywhere but rarely utilized. The U.S. was awash in dark fiber systems, waiting for not just business, but individuals as well, to embrace fiber to the premises – at a high cost. Most consider that cost to connect fiber to homes and business as just too high and the return too low to make a working business model. It would take decades for fiber to become in vogue enough to justify lighting up the dark fiber, justify build-out costs and truly provide fiber to the premise.

It did take some time, but only one decade. Today, fiber to the premises is not only cost-justifiable – it is demanded by an increasingly large number of communities around the country.

Of course, we must recognize that modern communications companies are a business. With increasingly fewer exceptions, they are no longer just telephone companies or cable companies trying to also be your internet provider over archaic and overburdened copper wire systems. The differences between such companies have become so blurred as to essentially be inconsequential. But their business models of agonizingly slow build-outs of fiber systems – and finding attractive and economic justification for connecting to homes and businesses– is out of touch and as archaic as their copper wire systems they cling too.

Of the majors, about the only true difference is that AT&T and Verizon can offer bundles that include wireless/cell phones – though they rarely make an attractive bundling offer (they perceive that they don’t have to). Nevertheless, the reluctance of majors to invest in infrastructure build-outs has actually started to work against them as it is estimated there are now more than 1,000 FTTP providers in the U.S. – and the number is growing.

At the recent FTTH Conference, several sessions related success stories about communities of all sizes (including some very small towns) taking the fiber plunge to build and operate their own systems. Notably, most of the time these communities have earned back the investment quickly and have become profit centers.