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Dark Fiber: A Case In Point 401

Anonymous Coward writes "CNN has posted a story regarding the overabundance of fiber lines that were laid during the 90s gold rush along Oregons Interstate 5 corridor. While over 140,000 miles of fiber has been laid 95 percent of the fiber goes unused and roughly half of the companies who laid the fiber are now gone. The article goes on to further say that even with all that fiber, there is little availability to the consumer because either the local connections aren't there or, because of monopolization by phone companies, too expensive. Even for businesses."
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Dark Fiber: A Case In Point

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  • by Nevermore-Spoon ( 610798 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:32PM (#4855337)
    I'd dig it up and sell it on ebay

  • by xchino ( 591175 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:35PM (#4855352)
    The reason 95% percent of lines arne't being used is because that would create more bandwidth, and lower the cost of said bandwidth and the phone companies wouldn't have the justification of hosing you monthly.
    • by dj28 ( 212815 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:44PM (#4855432)
      Wrong. This is proof of not being able to afford to light up the fiber. There's a reason why all of it was put in the ground in the 90's. That's because people were pouring money into it without thinking. That gave the companies the money to lay it. Now, the economy is flat, and companies are barely making money on broadband as it is. This isn't some ploy to personally screw you over.
      • Broadband isn't making money because the bandwidth to support high-speed connections is expensive.

        I think it's a little of both. If they light up the fiber, they can make more money on it for a short while, but as bandwidth is more available, the prices most likely would go down. Then they have higher maintenance costs on the same income they had several years before.

        As it stands, they can stretch it out for years to come - only lighting fiber as they start hurting for bandwidth - and they can factor out fiber-laying costs from future operations.

        Thanks to some over-zealous fiber-laying before the bubble burst, there was plenty of "worthless" fiber, which was scooped up - almost free money.
      • by Suidae ( 162977 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:44PM (#4855948)
        companies are barely making money on broadband as it is.

        If they'd charge based on usage and eliminate all the restrictions on home/business usage (no servers, etc) they might be able to make some money.
        • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @04:16PM (#4856917)
          Unrestricted bandwidth exists, it just costs more. Nobody's willing to pay that price, so they offer cut-rate bandwidth with restrictions to lower its value.

          Operating fiber lines is not cheap. The energy it takes to power the light beams has a noticible cost. The mistake that a lot of the boom-era telecom companies made was laying down more fiber lines than they'd ever need, and then running out of cash before they could afford the equipment to light them up.

          The major telcos didn't go around buying up the unused fiber to let it sit dormant. It's sitting dormant because nobody wanted to buy the fiber assets of the bankrupt boom-era companies.

          If you want to supply the rest of the equipment to light up the lines, I'm sure the bankruptcy courts and/or creditors of the defunct companies would be glad to hear your proposal to buy assets which right now are valued at near-zero because nobody's willing to take them. The problem is, the telecom market is so bad off there's no takers.
          • Let the people who want the bandwidth buy it. Simple answer, drop the restrictions that keep me from buying some lines and setting up a broadband provider to compete with the local telco which isn't getting the job done.

            Anyone know how that case in Virginia is working out with the municipality which set up their own broadband and are getting sued by the telco to shut it down and wait patiently for them to get around to making a similar offering?
    • I think that the telco monopoly is half the story. Fiber is still expensive to access directly, and still expensive to lay out in a LAN, as the CNN article points out. Cheaper technologies, like wireless, might well leap ahead of fiber in the race to more bandwidth. I think most telcos think of the fiber network as their backbone, and they don't really market it as a service for business. This is a situation where the "last mile" is still the problem-- fiber is not laid for the whole network.
      • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:15PM (#4855692)
        Cheaper technologies, like wireless, might well leap ahead of fiber in the race to more bandwidth.

        This is what we deal with smack in the middle of fly-over-country USA.

        While I've negotiated for over a year with several idle fiber network owners (who still expect rates greater than what the ILEC charges, yet requires me to sink hundreds of thousands of my own capital to build out their fiber to markets where it's usable), we've resorted in nearly every case to tower construction, licensed microwave DS3 deployment, etc. (Funny, we're cheaper *and* faster than fiber, yet have more than enough capacity to feed small towns).

        I've argued the concept of "sunk cost" until I've been blue in the face - no good. Many of these guys came out of ILECs and have a fantasy about "price = cost + 40%", rather than understanding "price = what market will bear."

        Blame it on too many laid-off Bellheads going to work for network companies.

        I think most telcos think of the fiber network as their backbone, and they don't really market it as a service for business.

        I think it's more of a "we won't sell anything less than our cost+high margin price." Funny though, nobody's taking.

        Perhaps the little wireless companies that are growing strong will have some nice post-bankruptcy networks to buy penny on the dollar.

      • The largest reason for dark fiber is the emergence of Dense Wave Division Multiplexing [] aka DWDM. [] In simple terms, it allows one fiber to carry many times the normal bandwidth by combining different wavelengths of light at the source and splitting them out at the destination.

        This isn't that the bandwidth isn't necessary. It isn't corporate profiteering. Its simply VCs investing in infrastructure without realizing that technology advances would soon render it useless.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:46PM (#4855445)
      Well you can buy all the fiber you want. The ITC I work for made a LAN extension that went 7 miles. The dark fiber cost about $8,000 to dig. Then we had to buy $10,000 modules to go into our switches. This is for a LAN extension. If you want to be a DSL provider you better be able to shell out a hell of a lot more (we have paid over a million). That is why it costs so much for broadband, if we got all of our stuff for free we could lower the prices, but we don't so we can't.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I've been running more than 7 miles of fiber (single mode) with a pair of cheap fiber-to-ethernet-transcievers (costs something like $200 a pop) at each end without any problems at all.
        This was more than four years ago.

        Today the transcievers are even cheaper.

        The problem is that people _think_ they need expensive stuff. Most of the time, that's not the case. Time for some guerilla networking :)
    • Actually, the glut that the article refers to is long-haul fiber, and is the result of unrestrained lunatic competition rather than monopolies. There were at least 20 companies furiously building such networks in the 90s (Qwest, Level 3, Global Crossing, etc) each with a business plan that said "We'll capture 20% of the market!" and defective forecasts of the future that said the volume of Internet traffic would double every 100 days. The traffic never materialized and many (most?) of those companies have gone broke.

      Keep in mind (Business 101 here) that buying the fiber, putting it in the ground, and lighting it, all costs money and sets a floor on the price that can be charged for the bandwidth. All of the companies who built these networks have similar costs, so none of them can price below that floor for long. Bankers who loan you $1B to build the network have a nasty habit of wanting to get their money back. At some point you have to show a profit.

      • One Further Point (Score:3, Informative)

        by llywrch ( 9023 )
        Is that the fiber in Oregon this article is talking about is mostly along I-5. The original article that this story came from had a map showing where this fiber was laid. This map showed that with the exception of what the BPA had laid down, there was practically NOTHING connecting all of this fiber to the rest of the state, whether it be Bend (which is a growing high tech center) or smaller towns that fear they are doomed because they can't afford to lay & light up a network of a dozen miles back to this glut of bandwidth.

        Think of it this way: these companies built several eight-lane highways linking Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and points south; they didn't bother to build more than a handful of interchanges each of which at best feeds a total of a single lane of traffic to them. This fiber will remain dark for a long, long time.

    • by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:45PM (#4855953) Homepage Journal

      The story isn't complete.

      Much of the fiber that was laid along the I-5 corridor was expected to stay dark for a long time. It doesn't cost that much more to lay excess capacity, once you've committed to buying the rights of way and doing the trenching. The story is weak for suggesting that the dotcom crash caused all the dark fiber-- it didn't. Depending on which segment you chose to look at, anywhere from 50% to 75% or more of the fiber would still be dark even if the dotcoms and the economy had continued to boom along.

      The story is also weak for implying that this extra capacity is wasted. That isn't so; it will be there when the need develops. My town has twice reviewed the costs and bennies of lighting up some of that fiber to attract new businesses. So far other problems in the economy have ruled against it, but sooner or later a number of towns in southern Oregon and northern California will do this.

      Another weakness in the story is its implication that the dark fiber has cost a lot of jobs in Oregon. There has been much moaning and gnashing of teeth around here because all those cable laying jobs have gone away, but that didn't happen because of dark cable. That happened because, gee, once the cable's in place I guess we don't need any of these ditch-diggers any more, huh?

      I think the story is right on the money that too many companies were chasing this business opportunity.

      • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @03:06PM (#4856201) Homepage Journal
        i agree. my dad was the project manager for king county's municipal fiber optic system. he went into great detail about planning for the future. did you know that putting fiber through downtown seattle is an absolute bitch? you have to figure out where you can run fiber, and how to get it across major highways in downtown. this involves permits, buyouts of pipelines, co-leases and whatnot. you expect 400% increase in bandwidth annually for twenty years, and as a result, put ALOT of fiber in the ground. when the demand increases, you light up a new strand of fiber. it only costs about 10% more overall to pull 40 (or 200, or however many you need) strands of fiber instead of the 2 you actually need at the time, once you factor in the cost of engineering how the hell you're going to put it there in the first place.
  • Hmmm??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johnkoer ( 163434 ) <johnkoer AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:35PM (#4855354) Homepage Journal
    This article is just a reminder of how wasteful people were back in the DOT COM boom days. I'm sure that stories like these can be run in many major US cities. It just makes you think.... How much stuff is out there that is just undocumented? How much wasted technology is out there that will never be found.
    • Re:Hmmm??? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The "dot com boom days"?

      How arrogant we've become in 2 short years.

      Let me disabuse you of the notion that somehow those dot com "fools" were extrodinarily wasteful.

      Why do you think General Motors has recently put triple zero incentives on 13 SUV's. Why do you think Ford Credit (170 BILLION in the hole) continues to offer zero financing? Why do you think stores have clearance sales at the end of each season?

      Overproduction is nothing new and it is arrogant to think it so. The reason those companies are no longer around has one and only one cause. Large coporations and the pricing games they played.

      Talk to you local phone monopoly and ask why they never have clearance sales when they have excess capacity.......
      • Re:Hmmm??? (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "Why do you think General Motors has recently put triple zero incentives on 13 SUV's. Why do you think Ford Credit (170 BILLION in the hole) continues to offer zero financing? Why do you think stores have clearance sales at the end of each season?"

        Because those are all tried-and-true old-school strategies that increase revenue from consumers while making them belive that they are saving money by spending money?

        I really love the car sale example. They show you a "dealer invoice" and negotiate on that, leading you to believe the dealer will actually be selling the merchandise to you for less than he has already paid the manufacturer. Mind you, this is all imaginary money (except yours!) They're not selling it for inventory cost, they're selling it for "dealer cost" which is just a function of sucker price.

        My formula for a new car offer is the insurance appraisal value for a price. Same for real estate. If a piece of property appraises at $80,000 but the list price is $280,000 there is something wrong -- and I DON'T CARE if someone else will buy it.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:38PM (#4855880) Journal
      This article is just a reminder of how wasteful people were back in the DOT COM boom days. I'm sure that stories like these can be run in many major US cities.

      Actually, this article is just another case of the media being sensationalist while either completely misunderstanding the situation or deliberately misconstruing it to hammer it into the current propaganda "template".

      Virtually all of the fiber is SUPPOSED to be dark at this point. It's a side-effect of minimizing cost. Consider:

      If you're going to do, say, a national fiber backbone network, you have to run a fiber loop around THE WHOLE COUNTRY, plus runs back-and-forth to hit all the major non-edge cities. As you go you lay conduit in the trench, pull fiber through the conduit, and splice it.

      The cost of the fiber is NOTHING compared to the cost of the trench. You can put a WHOLE BUNCH of fibers in a single jacket, so the cost of the pull is the same. The cost of the splices is non-trivial and part of it is per-fiber-spliced, but it's STILL tiny compared to the trench.

      So, how many fibers are you going to pull and splice?

      It takes two fibers to make a section of the link, one for signals each way. That pair of fibers can carry (at the current top-of-the-line rate) about ten billion bits per second. That's 129,024 simultaneous uncompressed phone calls, or over a gigabyte/second of data traffic.

      Now suppose you were only planning ahead for a couple years, and figured one pair would be enough. So you only buried one pair. And you got enough customers signed up IN ADVANCE to just about fill it. And you went to hook it up and found that somewhere between SF and LA there was a break. Are you going to dig up a third of the west coast again to fix the break? Of COURSE not! You're going to bury EXTRA FIBERS in the first place, and use a spare fiber. But suppose you have only one spare pair and your main fiber is full - that's 50% dark fiber! CNN Headline News screams "Half the fibers in the country are dark! Oh, the waste! Oh the horror!"

      But do you, as the visionary building a network, think that the traffic is NOT going to increase in the future? If it doubles next year, do you want to light up another fiber? Or DIG ANOTHER TRENCH?

      So of COURSE you spend a few extra percent up front. You bury a BIG BUNDLE of fibers. (You also bury a few extra conduits, so you can pull more, or rent-or-sell one to some OTHER networking upstart who wants to pull his own fiber, once you're safely established.)

      So you're going to have a bunch of extra fibers. But how many do you light up? Answer: As few as possible. The boxes to light them up are NOT cheap. (Repeaters aren't muchFigure 1/8 million for a minimal TDM only box, over a meg for for a fully-loaded router.) But (unlike digging trenches) they are subject to Moore's Law improvements. Wait 18 months and your suppliers can get you twice the bits for the buck. So you buy expandable boxes (again to save costs later) but leave most of the slots empty.

      And now you have most of the fibers dark, until the traffic expands enough for you to buy more cards and shove 'em into the boxes to light up the rest of the fibers.

      So you have MOST of your fibers dark. And even reserving a few for spares you can light up most of 'em with paying traffic. But HOW MANY should you have?

      The common wisdom at the time was that the Internet bandwidth needs were growing by a factor of 10 per year, and would continue that way for a while. If you have 95% dark fiber now, (and the bright fiber is at capacity), in one year you'd have half of it lit, and in another three months you'd hit the wall, and be frantically throttling links, upspeeding them with new technology, and getting out the cable-pullers and trenchers again. The bandwidth glut becomes a bandwidth crunch.

      Turns out 10x/year was a myth, based on the explosive growth for the first couple years after the Internet was opened up to general users. The actual number is closer to 2x - which means today's 95% dark fiber means we don't have to get out the pullers and trenchers for a bit over a decade - and maybe longer if we go to higher speed over existing fibers.

      Same situation in the metro networks - except that you're talking about digging up ALL THE STREETS OF ALL THE CITIES, TOWNS, AND VILLAGES. Then doing it again in a few years if you didn't lay enough up front.

      It just makes you think.... How much stuff is out there that is just undocumented? How much wasted technology is out there that will never be found.

      This is well known in the industry. It's just that the media are clueless.
  • No way (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Uhh_Duh ( 125375 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:36PM (#4855363) Homepage
    I just don't believe "those evil phone companies" are causing the fiber to go unused.

    I'm sure the exectives sit around in smoke-filled conference rooms coming up with clever ways to keep technology out of the hands of people and make LESS money by NOT selling it. Give me a break.

    Phone companies will light up the fiber when it makes fiscal sense to do so. Nobody, ESPECIALLY not a phone company who would stand to profit significantly from cheap fiber, is purposely NOT using this stuff.

    • The in fact would not make money by selling cheap fiber. That would provide greater bandwidth to more of their competitiors at a cheaper cost, thus giving the independent operators a fighting chance. Simply unaccepatable. Now if they start running out of bandwidth any time soon, then they might use some more lines, so they have more bandwidth to sell out at the same price.
      • Re:No way (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Uhh_Duh ( 125375 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:55PM (#4855527) Homepage
        Not half as stupid as your complete lack of information on this subject.

        The key point you seem to not understand is that "Lack of bandwidth" no longer drives this market. There's more than enough bandwidth to go around with the leftover from the dot-com boom. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason they're not lighting up the fiber is that it's simply not needed right now?

        Lighting up Fiber doesn't make bandwidth cheaper in this market since there's no demand. In reality, excess fiber would make bandwidth more expensive due to the increased overhead of having to maintain equipment and staff that aren't doing anything. Also remember, there's more to bringing bandwidth to the home or business than having fiber within a mile of the door.. The cost to trench it in and install the equipment, even if you're tapping from a short distance, is substantial -- well beyond the reach of any consumer or small business.

        Furthermore, your arguments regarding anti-competitive behavior are even more ridiculous. If there's one industry where being a monopoly is a massive disadvantage, it's telecom. The Bells get screwed DAILY by the tariffs in place by the FCC (I don't have sympathy for them, they dug themselves into that mess) but business is NOT easy for them. The small-guy is at every advantage in this industry. If the big boys own the lines and the little guys want to use them, the FCC says they have to let them -- even if it means the big-boys taking a financial loss on the deal.

        Sorry.. but you have much to learn about the telecom world before you open your mouth on the subject again.
        • Re:No way (Score:2, Interesting)

          by aNiceGuy ( 141479 )
          The IEEE has an article entitled "the economics of DSL regulation" which clearly outlines that the Baby Bells have an unfair monopoly position over bandwidth.

          Using this monopoly over the last mile, they jack up prices (so they do not poach their T1 business).

          The reason the demand is not there is because the prices are artifically high.

          Bandwidth is the only economically unscalable part of the internet. (see another IEEE article on this subject) -- and it's for a reason -- the price of bandwidth is ARTIFICALLY HIGH.

          This has been an economic crime.
          There is no free market for bandwidth.

        • Re:No way (Score:3, Insightful)

          by xchino ( 591175 )
          I'll bite, troll...

          "The key point you seem to not understand is that "Lack of bandwidth" no longer drives this market. There's more than enough bandwidth to go around with the leftover from the dot-com boom"

          No, the key point you failed to grasp is that while there is plenty of bandwidth to go around, it isn't getting any cheaper or faster. The phone company claims it is because of cost of maintenance, yet they grossly overcharge for leasing operator maintained connections over their own lines. Perhaps it's different in your area of the woods, but in these parts and all parts I've lived in, the phone company had a firm grip around the necks of internet providers, who pay o ut the ass for the bandwidth they resell.

          "Lighting up Fiber doesn't make bandwidth cheaper in this market since there's no demand. In reality, excess fiber would make bandwidth more expensive due to the increased overhead of having to maintain equipment and staff that aren't doing anything."

          Lighting up fiber doesn't make bandwidth cheaper for who? If my company could purchase an unused fiber optic line I can gauran-damn-tee you we make our bandwidth cheaper. Provided no utility companies dig through our lines, fiber has proven to be incredibly reliable and as if not more maintanance free than any other type of medium.

          As for your entire last paragraph, utter bullshit. True, they have to let the little guy use their lines, but they are hardly taking a loss. They charge the little guy cost, and then transfer the burden of maintainence to the little guy. Then they turn around and sell the same lines themselves, and get it away with it because they offer "special deals" small-fries can't afford to make.

          I deal with the phone company day in and day out, and have been for several years. I know exactly what trenching and maintenance costs are, and they have made more than their money back on every line they've laid. They are no less monopolies than ma Bell was, only now they've been able to gerrymander and adapt into monopolies which are much harder to prosecute. Perhaps you need a dose of the real world, because this fantasy world where telcos play anywhere near fair doesn't exist.

          You really should keep quiet on those subjects which you so apparently know verry little about, and you certainly shouldn't attempt to justify your own ignorance by
    • Yes way (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:45PM (#4855436) Homepage
      Might want to grab an econ book - there are many industries in which a dramatic increase in quantity of product would drop prices so much that the overall net revenue would be lower at higher quantity.

      Examples include farming (hence we actually pay farmers to grow nothing), steel (at least now), oil (otherwise OPEC wouldn't set production quotas), and, yes, bandwidth.

      To follow your argument, why then AREN'T the phone companies selling the extra bandwidth? It isn't the demand - I would like some cheap bandwidth. It isn't the lack of fiber - as the article says, there's a lot unused. It wouldn't be that hard to tap, especially since most consumers would be willing to pay for reasonable install costs.

      No, the reason is the phenomenal price drop that an increase in quantity would bring, nothing more. And you're right, it's not about "evil" phone companies - it makes good sense to do what they're doing. I've never known a company want to DROP their prices, certainly.

      • Re:Yes way (Score:2, Informative)

        by Jboy_24 ( 88864 )
        Umm... If you re-read that article it states that to 'light' the 5% of the fibre it cost $255 million dollars. To Light the other 95% the costs would be in the low billions. Considering that there is probably 5 million people in Oregon, that would amount to around $2000 per capita to light the remaining 95%.

        So... what happens once we've lit, does everyone get 10 gigabit internet connetions? No! No one gets squat because the fibre isn't connected to anyone.

        The reason it was laid down, was that some company's (Worldcom, Global Crossing etc) were able to re-sell dark-capacity to other startups. These company's were able to report massive revenues from selling unused fibre. Thus, more and more company's started up trying to tap into this market. Global Crossing and someothers did oceanic fibre, but others stayed closer to home. They raised money, planted dark-fibre then tried to sell off their dark-capacity for revenue. But... it was just a pyramid scheme and they all went bankrupt.

        Just as 'eye-balls' were the currency for .com, dark-fibre was the currency for the telcoms. There wasn't much financial bankground to the idea, but what did that matter if your company now was capable of 100 gigabits between seattle and san francisco?

      • Re:Yes way (Score:5, Insightful)

        by milo_Gwalthny ( 203233 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:38PM (#4855884)
        Hooold on a second. Don't throw out that "grab an econ book" canard without saying something that would actually be in an econ book.

        There are two things going on here:

        1) The telephone companies have dark fiber. You are saying they are not lighting it because that would lower their pricing power. How is that? If you mean they aren't going to double the bandwidth to a particular customer without increasing the price, I agree, but I don't think that's the issue--if they don't have pricing power it's because they're regulated, but it sounds like the Oregon PUC might allow them to make money on increased bandwidth. I think the increase in bandwidth we're talking about here would be to *new* customers. A new customer to the telephone monopoly doesn't change their pricing power at all. They may have to lower their prices to get new customers, but that's a different issue--it's not the increase in quantity that would lower prices, it's the lower prices that would be needed to bring about an increase in paying customers. This is a problem that every high fixed-cost, low variable-cost business has (ie. airlines, telcos, pharma companies, software companies, etc.): how do we get the people willing to pay a lot to pay a lot (and cover the fixed expense) while allowing the people who only want to pay a little to pay a little (and cover a little more than the marginal cost)? The answer is usually either a balanced price, meant to maximize revenue, or some sort of price discrimination (ie. business users pay more, home users pay less.)

        2) Companies other than the telephone monopolies have dark fiber: these companies (or their creditors, who now are the proud owners of the fiber) should be, and probably are, perfectly willing to degrade the telcos' pricing power if they can make any money. The fact that they don't is because they *can't* make any money... for two reasons: (a) the cost of equipping the dark fiber is higher than the revenue they could generate from the few people who want broadband, and (b) the excess dark fiber at the telcos means they could push their pricing down to squash any new entrant (typical of industries that require high up-front investment: once the sunk cost is sunk, competitive threats are met by temporarily lowering the price to just above marginal cost, making it untenable for new.

        Farming and steel are bad analogies: the US government pays subsidies to keep those industries alive in the US because they are strategic and the workers are influential voters. If there were no subsidies, those industries would migrate to where they belong: in countries where the cost of labor is lower.

        Oil is a bad analogy for other reasons (as was the gold rush analogy in the article): this is a low variable-cost industry with a low fixed-cost as well, but restricted by the luck of having the natural resource in the first place. So, no member of OPEC produces *no* oil, the cartel simply tries to lower overall production to keep prices up. This would be analogous to *each* of the dark fiber owners agreeing to only use 5% of their fiber, to keep prices up. This is clearly not what is happening: some fiber owners are using none, while some are using substantially more than 5% (if 5% is the average, this has to be true.)

        A good analogy is the railroad price wars of the 19th century. Early on, high up-front investments led to little competition, good pricing power and large margins and very profitable businesses. The early successes led to a large inflow of investment capital and the building of competitive railroads on the same routes (sometimes with tracks laid parallel to each other.) This led to price wars where both roads would charge just above marginal cost, not enough to cover fixed costs. While this made some economic sense, it led to the eventual demise and/or consolidation of one of the roads. These types of industries are generally considered natural monopolies.
    • Re:No way (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fhwang ( 90412 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:45PM (#4855437) Homepage
      It's not because the phone companies are evil. It's because they're big, and fat, and it's way too easy for them to perpetuate the status quo.

      Have you ever worked at a big company? I've worked at a few, and my personal experience is that in really large companies (say, more than 1000 employees) this very particular organizational rot sets in ... When the people making the decisions are so removed from their customers, they just stop caring. And if there is no competition to make them care, they'll just get fat and sleepy, and their customers will fall behind.

      Residential DSL is the perfect example. Here in NYC, Verizon owns the phone lines, so all residential DSL has to go through them. In theory, they're supposed to allow equal access to all res-DSL companies, whether they're Verizon residential DSL or their own competition.

      But I know dozens of people here who have DSL -- and nobody I knew was able to get DSL from a company other than Verizon. More than one person told me they tried to go with a smaller company, but the installation experience was really difficult: The other company couldn't do anything 'til Verizon flipped that switch, and somehow non-Verizon customers seem to get lower priority than Verizon customers. Curious, that.

      A company doesn't have to be evil to screw you. Often, complacency is enough.

      • A company doesn't have to be evil to screw you. Often, complacency is enough.

        Your example of Verizon runs counter to this statement, though.

        My definition of an evil entity is one who acts in its own interest at the cost of other people's interests. Selling is thus not inherently evil; both parties get something. Monopolistic practices, however, are evil - the monopoly prospers while everyone else loses money.
    • Re:No way (Score:3, Interesting)

      by scoove ( 71173 )
      Phone companies will light up the fiber when it makes fiscal sense to do so.

      Except there is little compelling reason to do so...

      Folks forget that while running fiber is cheap (relatively so), switching and last mile is not.

      I sat through a small community presentation last month on how they want to overbuild the town (population 5,000) with fiber to every home, business, etc. "It'll only cost $2500 per location" was their estimate (double that and take twice as long and you might have a final number:-) ).

      Even at their number, who wants to take a $12.5 million risk when at $20/mo. for resi phone service (half of which at most can be allocated for repayment of infrastructure), takes 20+ months for a marginal return? And I'm foolishly assuming 100% marketshare - something I'm certain the incumbant won't let me have, let alone other competitors.

      The truth is that the same dollar invested elsewhere generates greater return. Nobody will pay $100/month for phone, even though their current $16-25/month (pre-tax) line sucks. They'll tolerate suck lines at $16-$25 while bitching about it all the time.

      Meanwhile, many of these long-line fiber networks still expect the great returns promised in their business plan (written during dot-com). They'll keep asking pre-telco collapse prices until their assets are locked up in bankruptcy.

      Look at how many people bitch about taxes, but keep voting Democrat... don't expect a change any time soon in wireline service.

    • The reason the fiber is going unused is that there is nothing on either end of the fiber.

      It's a like a big garden hose that's not attached to a faucet on one end or a sprinkler on the other.

      It's just laying there waiting for someone to spend the billions of $$$ it will take to attach something to it.
  • by peculiarmethod ( 301094 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:37PM (#4855372) Journal
    We should either:

    1. Take donations from the open-fiber community to purchase these lines and turn them into open source peeer-to-peer Bluegrass mp3 and ogg file trading networks

    2. Turn Oregon into a large Beowolf cluster and assign it the task of figuring out how to decentralized the Internet the Al Gore Invented

    3. Dig all the lines up and make the worlds largest light-brite

    4. Ask Microsoft to buy into a Ma Bell and bury enough copper lines to nullify the use of the fibers

  • mmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:37PM (#4855373) Homepage Journal
    Untapped fiber resources? What a find! Colon blow for everyone!
    • Re:mmm (Score:2, Funny)

      by vizualizr ( 462581 )
      Think you're getting enough fiber with your current telco? It'll take 750 miles of your current dark fiber to equalone mile of new Oregon Colon Blow Fiber!

      (cut to shot of guy sitting on top of 750 miles of fiber)

  • It's time we either tell those colluding bastards to either foster some real competition or the communications industry gets re-regulated. Trust me, I'm no regulation fan, but I'm sick of seeing all the old companies stay off of each other's turf in everything except cell phones.

    When you get down to it, the American people paid for those lines in terms of all of the stock lost in the now belly-up telecom stocks, so we should get something back. Huge bandwidth seems fair.

    Only problem now is getting some company (or even the government) to make some use of this infrastructure before it's obsolete.

    Maybe if the government points out that it's anticompetitive to hoard fiber with no intent to use it that they'll sell it to us at more reasonable prices.

    Then again, I can keep dreaming. Thanks Michael Powell.

  • Who owns the fiber (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:37PM (#4855380) Journal
    roughly half of the companies who laid the fiber are now gone

    So how does the ownership of these lines pass on? Can just anybody take the existing lines, plug in, and make use of them - or do they have to be bought?
    If there were one large company that could buy out and connect most these unused lines, they could probably make something out of them. Since they're just sitting unused, I'd imagine it wouldn't cost too much to buy ownership
    • by Kierthos ( 225954 )
      Well, in all honestly, the assets of the now non-existant companies were probably sold off, and that fiber would be part of the assets. Now, whether the company that bought the fiber can do anything with it is a whole other story.

    • by Casca ( 4032 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:29PM (#4855803) Journal
      The fact that your post was modded +5 Interesting says something about the readers here at slashdot these days.

      So how does the ownership of these lines pass on? Can just anybody take the existing lines, plug in, and make use of them - or do they have to be bought?

      You're kidding right? Someone always owns everything, nothing of value is unowned. What, you think when someone goes out of business they just lock the doors and walk away, leaving a building full of inventory, office furniture, and whatever intact? Typically they go bankrupt, filing chapter 7 (liquidation). This means all of their assets are sold off and the creditors get the proceeds. This means someone is buying their assets, and dark fiber would be considered an asset by most. So no, you can't just use some defunct company's dark fiber.

      If there were one large company that could buy out and connect most these unused lines, they could probably make something out of them. Since they're just sitting unused, I'd imagine it wouldn't cost too much to buy ownership

      It was exactly this sort of thinking that put so many companies out of business to begin with.
  • <irony>Maybe we can remove all that useless fiber, and use the conduits as oil pipelines, to move oil around the country...</irony>

    (many of the pipes were originally burried with the intention of creating an oil backbone for the country, an idea, which never took off.)
  • Old News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekee ( 591277 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:39PM (#4855392)
    This is old news. Companies laid a lot of fiber at once knowing it wouldn't be used immediately. Given the cost to lay the fiber relative to the cost of the fiber itself, this is not unreasonable. The fiber is not lit currently because the tranceivers are very expensive.
    • Re:Old News (Score:4, Interesting)

      by JeremyR ( 6924 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:21PM (#4855740)
      The post to which I am replying is one of the few posts here that demonstrates an actual understanding of the economics involved in laying and lighting fiber.

      To expand a little bit: Most of the existing fiber was laid in the "build it and they will come" dot-com era. There's a huge amount of it primarily for two reasons: (1) there were a lot of companies doing it independently--all hoping to get a big chunk of the bandwidth pie, and (2) when laying fiber, it makes economic sense to lay a lot of it, because (as pointed out) much of the cost in laying fiber is in the process of laying the fiber (lots of digging, etc.) and not in the actual fiber itself.

      We now know that "build it and they will come," one of the assumptions of this business model, didn't quite happen--or at least didn't happen as quickly as what these companies' business models predicted: The voracious demand for long-haul capacity just isn't there today. Also, as a direct result of this capacity glut, the price (and profitability) of long haul bandwidth has decreased much faster than what these business models depended on. There's simply way too much supply. As for the companies that haven't yet fallen by the wayside, they're lighting only a fraction of the fiber that they own, simply because that fraction is capable of carrying the bandwidth that the company is currently able to sell.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that almost none of this fiber is "last mile" (if any of it is at all). It's all comprised of "long haul" routes, e.g. connecting NYC and DC. So if you wanted to lease a dark fiber route from one metro area to another, you probably could, but it's not like the bandwidth companies are prepared to light up an OC3 to your suburban residence.

      Finally, another key issue seems to be ignored here: IT COSTS MONEY TO LIGHT FIBER. Lots of money. The optical equipment itself is very expensive, and of course there are the operational costs of managing a transport network. Just as airlines don't want to spend money to fly empty planes from city to city (they still have to pay the crew, maintenance costs, fuel costs, etc. regardless of whether a flight carries 1 passenger or 100), bit pipe companies don't want to spend money to manage additional fiber when they aren't even saturating the fiber that they currently have lit.

      Of course, it's also possible that the telcos have already run fiber to everyone's doorstep, but they're holding out on us because they want to "hold the man down" or for some other nefarious reason...

      • Re:Old News (Score:3, Interesting)

        by decefett ( 127257 )
        Another thing to add is the advance in fibre terminating gear, bandwidth increases even faster than Moores Law predicts for transistors.

        Every new fibre that's lit up has the capacity of serveral fibres using the previous generation equipment.

        IIRC, long haul DWDM does 400Gb per fibre.
  • by karmawarrior ( 311177 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:40PM (#4855394) Journal
    It seems ironic that at the very time there is clearly an abundance of bandwidth, the very companies that could be supplying this are instead locking down their resources - putting caps on cable modem and DSL usage, charging by the byte, putting up rates to lock businesses out of higher quality high-QoS high bandwidth services, closing the door on Internet telephony, and generally doing what they can to ration bandwidth as if there is a serious shortfall.

    Much of the problem has to do with the short term needs of bandwidth providers. Many are bankrupt, those that are not still require substantial investment in better "end-point" equipment - routers, switches, hubs, etc. A chaotic telecommunications industry that is at odds with Internet systems (ATM and X.25 vs TCP/IP) is also creating uncooperate rivalries that makes it harder and harder to make efficient use of what's available.

    The end result is that we are allowed to use 5% of what could be available without substantial further investment. Caps and per-byte billing is popular in a way it really ought not to be. These entirely unnecessary caps and metering charges immediately destroy many potential benefits the Internet can bring, from being a remarkable force for the distribution of new works of art (music, films, etc), to a point-to-point person-to-person network that far exceeds anything the telephone could have brought us.

    Defeating this quagmire of untapped bandwidth and short term commercial interests destroying the long term viability of super high bandwidth digital communications it will not happen by itself. Resources need to be devoted, and unless people are prepared to actually act, not just talk about it on Slashdot, nothing will ever get done. Apathy is not an option.

    You can help by getting off your rear and writing to your congressman [] or senator []. Tell them that you're concerned about the clampdown on bandwidth use that's happening at a time when there is clearly a bandwidth glut. Tell them you appreciate the efforts of telecommunication companies to open up bandwidth in this area, but that in the absense of unlocked resources and free (as in speech) use of what's available, you will have to find less secure and intelligently designed alternatives to the Internet. Let them know that SMP may make or break whether you can efficiently deploy OpenBSD on your workstations and servers. Explain the concerns you have about freedom, openness, and choice, and how arbitrary caps and per-byte charges destroys all three. Let them know that this is an issue that effects YOU directly, that YOU vote, and that your vote will be influenced, indeed dependent, on his or her policy on opening up bandwidth.

    You CAN make a difference. Don't treat voting as a right, treat it as a duty. Keep informed, keep your political representatives informed on how you feel. And, most importantly of all, vote.

    • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @05:38PM (#4857634)
      The Bandwidth Caps and locking down of bandwith seems to be a evil thing to do, but please, tell me how your $45 a month cable internet bill is going to pay for a gigabit router and fiber to your neighborhood. The bandwidth limits are going into effect becuase the routers, switches, etc, that run all this data at the head office is incrediably expensive, and with people running Kazaa at full blast 24/7, the old rules of thumbs about customer/bandwidth ratio is getting thrown to hell.

      Your phone company sells local service, usualy unlimited local calls. This is because they understand that not everyone is going to be on their phone every second of every day. They're peak load is planned to be much less than the potential Maximum load. Otherwise, the phone plans would be much more expensive, as alot of extra equipment would need to be installed to satisfy that .03% of the time.

      If people throw their hands up in the air and complain about the phone circuits being busy once during the year for 3 minutes, you'd probably tell them to get a life. I would too.

      The fact of the matter is, if you want full, uncapped service, bite the bullet and buy a T-1 line directly into the house, if you live in a city of any size (mines 40,000 people, pretty small) it costs around $300-$400 per month with a couple year contract.

      You get what you pay for....

  • Big Telcos bug me. They charge like hell and yet they are always crying about losing money (Last time I checked atleast, could be different now). On top of that, they are a monopoly, how can they lose money? Ick. Greed. And for me, well, I can't offord to start my own local independant telco, so thats the end of the story.
    • by presearch ( 214913 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:03PM (#4855588)
      I worked at Bell Labs for a few years. After that experience, it doesn't puzzle me how telcos can have a monopoly, more
      captive customers than they can handle, and still "loose money". It's not lost, it's looted. In front of the building (in Holmdel NJ),
      a limo would sit for a half hour or more waiting for the Pres. of the Labs to arrive by helicopter. The copter would land, the limo
      would drive him 3000 feet to the door, then take off. Amazing.

      The primary concern for management was getting the latest org chart to see their progress up the pyramid. I was a bottom feeder/
      consultant and I think there was at least 25 levels of management between me and limo boy. No wonder Lucent is in the shape it's
      in. An army of talent, led by a crush of PHB's all trying to move up the food chain.

      It was a constant cycle of projects started, brought almost to the point of completion and then boom. A new manager, a departmental
      re-org, and all of the work tossed in the dumpster, deleted of of the machines because they were allocated to another department, or
      just left to rot. Everyone had stories about how cool this or that project was and then got cancelled. Very few stories of successful,
      shipping products. Look at what happened to Unix! They couldn't even figure out what to do with it. Tossed around until it was finally
      sold off so they could make the numbers for the quarter.

      One bright spot, they did have pretty good coffee.
  • by shoppa ( 464619 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:40PM (#4855397)
    I work for a largish non-IT-oriented organization that recently had a committee to allocate fiber bandwidth between various parts of the organization. Each part send a representative to stake out the fiber they needed - or, more appropriately, felt they ought to have. The fire department said they need at least 4 dedicated pairs at all of our hundred locations; police needed at least 6 pairs, etc. Grand total was that if you followed their numbers, we would need over 200 pairs for the whole organization (with only 10000 employees) when in all likelihood the needs could be served with 1 pair.
  • This project made a lot of sense back in the days of exploding .com revenues.

    The goal was to connect Silicon Valley to Redmond Washington, and to allow better access to Asia via their undersea fiber.

    But this quote tells me that it will not soon be used:
    If they need the remaining 95 percent of the fiber in the future, companies will have to spend tens of billions of dollars more to make it usable by placing lasers and amplifiers on the route.

    The returns on an investment like this would have to be pretty damn high to make anyone pursue it. And right now, the returns are almost all negative.

  • by craenor ( 623901 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:43PM (#4855422) Homepage
    They had so much fiber, their whole company went down the toilet.
  • by Tin Weasil ( 246885 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:45PM (#4855440) Homepage Journal
    Shortly after I moved into my house, almost five years ago, Bellsouth paid me $400 so that they could lay fiber along the roadside in my front yard.

    I live in HIGHLY rural area, consisting mostly of lakehouses used as weekend getaway accomodations.

    At the time, I thought that the installation of fiber in my front yard might eventually lead to allowing me to get a really high-speed broadband connection. To this day, however, if I were to call Bellsouth, the best they could offer is an ISDN connection, as DSL is unavailable.

    But, I guess that it leaves Bellsouth's options open for the future.
  • Oregon cable unique (Score:5, Informative)

    by bpprice ( 612705 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:45PM (#4855441)
    Actually, the local paper ran a detailed article about this (I live in Portland). This is not a phenomenon that is repeated in other cities; rather, due to Oregon's I-5 corridor being the conduit between San Francisco and Seattle (Redmond) it was assumed by dot-coms that there would be tons of traffic to handle and profit from. Obviously it didn't pan out. And since those companies didn't provide the amps to light the cable, it will cost billions to fire it all up - and that ain't happening any time soon. But it does explain in part why OR/WA have been hit harder by the recession, with plain old unrealistic optimism.
  • by Tsar ( 536185 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:47PM (#4855451) Homepage Journal
    ..."Fiber-Optic Overdose Racks Up Casualties []" back in May of this year. One quote:

    Telecom wouldn't be the first to go through such a boom-and-bust cycle. During the railroad boom of the late 1880s, so much money was invested building so many parallel tracks -- or tracks to places that would never support profitable service -- that the entire industry went bankrupt. Much the same story is told of the airline industry, which because of so many losing years has yet to turn a net profit.

    Interesting stuff--go read!
  • by tamnir ( 230394 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:47PM (#4855454)
    Japan has been laying dark fiber for over 10 years now. Many were laughing at them during that time, but today, we have a 100 Mbps fiber internet connection coming right into our kitchen! For something around 100$ a month. Ok, not super cheap yet, but affordable, specially if you share it.

    Five years ago, the top for end users was still 56 kbps modems, that was just the begining of ISDN. Pretty impressive evolution.

    Now question: if dark fiber is there, why is it that you still can't get decent DSL internet connection in the US? What's hindering the development of broadband there?
    • Infrastructure. Japan with 145,882 sq mi compared to the United States' 3,794,083 sq mi. We have ALOT larger distance to cover. IIRC, most of the population of Japan is located in large urban centers, whereas here in the US, yes we do have large urban cities, but we have alot of smaller communities as well where alot of this technology isn't readily available, nor will the support for this technology be available soon.
    • There are those that will bitch all day about regulation, de-regulation, etc etc, but the fact is that 22% of american households with the internet have broadband. I think that qualifies as the post-early-adopter market. The problem as I see it is that many have fast internet access at work, and dont have any desire to have it at home. Unless you weave your life around the internet, there is not yet a compelling reason to have broadband. What the hell do you do with 100mbps? Seriously? I dont mind waiting 30 seconds for my personal email to download. I dont need to download music or movies, and I dont run my own server.
  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:47PM (#4855459) Homepage
    If you were burying water mains and other city services into a new house subdivision nobody would be surprised about the city buring enough capacity for a 100 houses, even though only one has been built just yet.

    Most of "dark fiber" articles out there fail to see the same rationale behind the large amount of dark fiber out there. This is proper planning. Network traffic has been doubling every two years or so, this means that 90-95% dark fiber would last you about 6-8 years.

    This is perfectly sensible. In fact, if we had to rebury fiber within 6 years of paying billions to rip open downtown Manhattan I would fire my provisioning manager.
    • As the article itself states, optical fiber can be laid out with excess capacity rather cheaply,"usually with two or more companies each stringing dozens of strands of fiber within the same piece of conduit...."

      The big cost in laying fiber is not in the optical fiber itself, but in digging the ditch to put it in and in lighting up the fiber at its end. $570 million was spent laying the fiber, $265 million was spent lighting up just 5% of that.

      Businesses went broke because they were overly optimistic in all that fiber being lit up quickly, not because they sunk too much money installing the fiber in the first place.

      In a few years or decades, as broadband becomes more ubiquitous, that backbone netwrok of fiber will get lit up.

      It's fair enough to blame the local providers, paricularly the incumbent phone-service providers, for being slow in rolling out broadband. But it also should be noted that these companies still need to make money and have been slow in rolling out broadband because it is a service that requires an expensive initial investment to provision and the technology has only recently started to approach the maturity to be provided inexpensively to the end user.
      • The big cost in laying fiber is not in the optical fiber itself, but in digging the ditch to put it in and in lighting up the fiber at its end. $570 million was spent laying the fiber, $265 million was spent lighting up just 5% of that.

        The authors seem to have missed this point, and it really needs to be emphasized. Once you get that hole dug ($570M), the differential cost of adding additional fiber strands is negligible.

        Something like:

        first strand of fiber: $570M
        each additional strand: $0.0001M

        So running hundreds of strands at a time makes sense even if 99+% of them are unused.

        The big question should be whether that first strand was really needed, not complaints that they overbuilt.
    • " Network traffic has been doubling every two years or so, this means that 90-95% dark fiber would last you about 6-8 years."

      I thought that was one of the lies that Worldcom used when cooking its books. After all, if this was really true, why did they run out of money?

      And even if you somehow believe this mathematical improbability (you'll find that real systems don't display exponential growth often, and when they do there is an asymptote), why would a company making so much money from the traffic not lay enough to last for 40-50 years of future growth? It costs a whole heck of a lot more to dig the trenches (permits, equipment, men) than it costs to buy a bunch of fibre to be buried, as you point out!

      So while it is proper planning to bury more fibre than you need today, but the rest of your post is complete hogwash and lies.
    • Most of "dark fiber" articles out there fail to see the same rationale behind the large amount of dark fiber out there. This is proper planning. Network traffic has been doubling every two years or so, this means that 90-95% dark fiber would last you about 6-8 years.

      Not sure about the network traffic doubling every two years. I seem to recall that it's a mythical number that MCI came up with at the beginning of the Internet age.

      But other reports I've found indicate that network utilization is doubling every 3-6 months. Yikes. Don't know if that means that the dark fiber can now only last another 2 years assuming it gets turned on or not...

      This is perfectly sensible. In fact, if we had to rebury fiber within 6 years of paying billions to rip open downtown Manhattan I would fire my provisioning manager.

      I think that you assume one thing, and that's fiber technology does not improve. Assuming that the technology doesn't change, and network traffic is doubling every 2 years, then the capacity will only last 6-10 years or so. But if the transmission equipment gets faster and allows greater capacity through the current fiber, then the life will be much longer.

      Assuming new systems utilizing 64-channel dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) as announced on Lucent [], then this potentially allows 2.56 Tb/s per fiber. Doubling the channels to say 128, now means double
      the capacity, while using the same fiber.

      As long as fiber technology keeps improving, then there shouldn't be a problem with running out of bandwidth, since the fiber is virtually upgradeable forever.
  • If only the owners of the unused fibers would sell them. What a great business idea that would be.

    I could buy some unused fiber, and my business would run drops to peoples homes. Can you say "OC12 in the living room"?

    I wish...
    • I could buy some unused fiber, and my business would run drops to peoples homes. Can you say "OC12 in the living room"?
      No, I can only say OC-12 in the NOC downstairs. I can say STS-12c in the living room though.

      But have you ever heard the phrase "last mile problem"? The plethora of "Dark Fiber" expose' stories never seem to mention that the excess potential bandwidth is on the backbone. Getting from a well-connected site to your living room is still an expensive proposition.
      The curious thing (at least what I find curious) is that the cost of running a 10 or 100M ethernet connection to your home is not that different from the cost of running GigE, or even STS-x (1, 3, 12, 192) to your home. It's the same economic situation that led to the 95% dark fiber pipelines -- WHAT is in the ground is a negligible cost compared to the price of getting it INTO the ground.
  • History Repeats.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mahrin Skel ( 543633 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:51PM (#4855492)
    Did we really need 3 trans-continental railways? Nope, not when they were built, and as a result the companies that built them went broke. There simply wasn't enough freight transportation capacity needed at the time.

    Fast-forward 30 years, and they were all running at capacity. The fiber is there, it's not going to go away. 5, 10, maybe 15 years down the road, someone who picks it up cheap now will make a fortune off of it.


    • Most likely that dark fiber will be therE, but will it be ready to be lit? What are the failmodes of fiber? Even if the fiber is glass, what about the cladding?

      Is this stuff going to rot, get moldy, or in some other way become non-functional over the long run? In every place where dark fiber is buried, is there light fiber as well? If a buried bundle is completely dark, how do we know it hasn't been interrupted by Joe Weekend Backhoe, who knows he hit *something*, but also knows that no neighbors have complained?

      Maybe the dark fiber can be lit in another century. I'd like to know lifetime factors before putting any money down on it.
      • As I understand it, around half of it is in the same conduit with lit fiber. The other half should be fairly durable, although it will probably get a few breaks as time goes on.

        That "Billions of dollars" estimate to light the dark fiber was just a straight projection of the 275 million the existing fiber required. The stuff that is running alongside lit fiber has already had a lot of that money spent (enclosures, power supply, etc.). The price of the amplifiers and repeaters will almost certainly drop in time, as well.

        It's not a short-term investment, but the kinds of investors that will make it can do far better risk assessments than I can.


  • Of all the fiber going from Australia to our nieghbours only about 5% is lit at the moment. And as many people have said this is because it is not economically viable for the varying companies to light up the cable as it will effectively ruin them. Most of the dark fiber here is not actually owned by the major providers, Telstra & Optus, it is owned by venture capatalists who betted on their being a huge demand for bandwith. Unfortuantely for them they lost out, noone wanted it and they will lose more money by using the cable than they will from having it lay dormant, until it is useful.



  • Sound Financial Move (Score:4, Informative)

    by waldoj ( 8229 ) < minus author> on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:54PM (#4855514) Homepage Journal
    Laying far too much fiber is a pretty sound financial move. Laying fiber is expensive. The fiber itself is cheap compared to the cost of gaining the rights to bury cable along a continuous stretch of land, and then actually digging the trenches, laying the cable, filling the hole back up and fixing whatever is at ground level. The theory goes that, as long as they're in there, they should lay insane amounts of cable. Whether or not they're laying the cable from the right points A to the right points B I can't say, but the fact that it's dark or insufficiently used doesn't necessarily indicate that anybody screwed up.

    -Waldo Jaquith
  • by ItWasThem ( 458689 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:55PM (#4855524)
    I grew up in Oregon and only moved just recently to the East coast for work. I can tell you, just because fiber runs down the Interstate, it's no wonder it's still hard/rare to get broadband in most of Oregon.

    Phone company conspiracy theories aside, Oregon is anything but flat. Houses are not close together (generally). One of the things that makes Oregon nice is the country side, open space (I know, hard to imagine sometimes if you haven't seen it), and the ability to live more than 5 feet from your neighbor. Other than the larger cities like Portland, there's really no housing developments or sub-divisions to run fiber to or at least not enough to entice phone companies to bother with running the lines over/under whatever terrain.

    I think that's one of the main reasons the Personal Telco Project in Portland is really taking off and will continue to do well. Cheap or free blanketted wireless (able to cover several miles, not just a few hundred feet like current 802.11) is the only way I see a lot of homes in Oregon ever getting anymore than a dialup connection. It's just not practical to lay fiber down one person's mile long driveway. We didn't even have local dial up internet access where I used to live (45 minutes west of Portland) until '97 and even then it was 14.4!
  • In the end, none of this matters. The Telcos own us, the fiber lines in question and fiber lines like them are lost to the world. American politics (laws are influenced by money) and corporate cash pits will insure that the telephone and cable industries will remain as they are or get worse.
  • Dark Fiber (Score:5, Funny)

    by scrytch ( 9198 ) <> on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @01:57PM (#4855546)
    Choose not the dark side of the fiber, for dark fiber leads to constipation, and constipation leads to *ZWONNNG* *GLITCH* (sound of a muppet getting its head lightsabered off)
  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:02PM (#4855580) Homepage
    Even applying conservative estimates to costs of construction, the companies spent more than $570 million laying long-distance fiber cables across Oregon, and they shelled out at least $265 million more equipping the 5% of fiber that is used

    It costs almost 10 times as much to light a fiber as it does to lay it according to these numbers. Most of the cost in laying fiber isn't the fiber itself, but the labor and the property rights involved in doing it. So, you may as well lay 95% more fiber than you really need because you might need it some day and it doesn't cost you that much more. You'd be insane to try to terminate all of those fibers though since they cost so damn much.

    Furthermore, bandwidth is a matter of supply and demand, and as long as demand isn't increasing, increasing supply will force down prices and make your business less profitable. Let's say everybody started needing DS-3 speeds into their home. Somebody would come in and offer that speed for a hefty premium, but as demand for that service built up, people would come into lower the prices to get into that market. Eventually you end up paying the same amount for your DS-3 as you did for your DSL and you've got a few more of those fibers on the coast glowing.

    The problem is that there's nothing driving bandwidth demand substantially above what it is right now. Most people will tolerate modem speeds, and those that won't are mostly pretty happy with DSL or cable. A few of us want more bandwidth, and because we aren't the majority of users we will have to pay handsomly for it. As long as the majority of users are content with the bandwidth they have there is no incentive to expand their networks.
    • Most people will tolerate modem speeds, and those that won't are mostly pretty happy with DSL or cable.

      Those that are tolerating modem speeds are usually doing so because it costs them 1/4 of what it would for the cable/DSL; OR they can't convince the local telco or cable company to provide the service in their area [or add the box that gives them IDSL]. Costs, or laziness? I think both but that's a different thread. There's a lot of unused cable - not just fiber - out there. A considerable amount of it is dead telephone lines thanks to dissatisfied customers and new wireless/cellular users.
    • Furthermore, bandwidth is a matter of supply and demand, and as long as demand isn't increasing, increasing supply will force down prices and make your business less profitable. Let's say everybody started needing DS-3 speeds into their home. Somebody would come in and offer that speed for a hefty premium, but as demand for that service built up, people would come into lower the prices to get into that market. Eventually you end up paying the same amount for your DS-3 as you did for your DSL and you've got a few more of those fibers on the coast glowing.

      Are you being paid by the turkey that said no one needed more than 640k of RAM?

      Supply and demand don't happen in a regulated monopoly environment. Tell me, how many "broadband" providers do you have to chose from? How many sets of wires come to your house? I've got all of one choice, the local cable serviceless ISP. No servers, DHCP, upload caps, the whole crapy works. DSL is something the local Bell is using their "availability" list to strangle and is simply not available, despite my being in a well populated Unversity town. Yep, I've got dial up and I realize what I can't have. I can't serve pictures to my family, I can't do voice over IP, I can't do web cams. The network is there, I was willing to pay $45/month to use it. The local telco and cable company made it so I could not have one and the other one was not worth the money. They can go bankrupt for all I care. My communications needs will be met by a dial up, but I resent the extra effort I'm forced into and I resent the people who thought it would be better for them.

      Strangley enough, I agree with you on one point. No one should be giving their money to any of the abusive providers of "broadband". Folks like canadaisp [] earn their service fees and don't ask much for it.

  • Dang, and I thought this would be about Darth Vader's Metamucil substitute. Oh well.

    I know from personal experience and from conversations with telco executives that there are many dark fibers in transatlantic cables. They are there for backup, and for gouging -- I mean "future upgrades." And despite the massive amounts they charge for data, these companies are all in trouble. Serves 'em right. $10K per month for T1, and they didn't back off of this for years. Die. See if I care.
  • Ummm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    Since the companies that put it there are no longer around, who owns them? I mean, what would stop someone from tapping into it. Or did ma gobble them up for $.000015 a mile only to not use it. Where's my any-media-ever-produced-any-time-I-want-it-for-nex t-to-nothing? Huh, where is it. I was promised in the early 90s by many many commercials that by now we'd have this. I don't see it. Someone has some explaining to do. What was it they said...and the company that'll bring it to you, ATT. I wonder if I google search for and image of thier CEO with his pants of fire I'll find it.
  • Not just Oregon. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Night0wl ( 251522 ) < minus city> on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:06PM (#4855615) Homepage Journal
    I live in Washington state, in a small rural town called Omak. Years ago there was a huge hype on bringing Fiber into Okanogan county.
    Thousands where spent to lay this fiber, Miles upon miles of fiber. It's been in place for some time now, and is being used by the one local ISP who pushed for the fiber.
    Though as in the subject of this article, a majority of the fiber is dark. We have OC-192 capacity, of which at least 2 Megabits is being used. Perhaps more, but not much.

    Now, the people who pushed so hard for this fiber are fighting it, trying to lay fault for the expense and misuse of at the feet of various parties involved. All of this blaming in the midst of a community lagging behind in the digital age.
  • Cost and Effort (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mu*puppy ( 464254 )
    Having worked with a company that maps out fiber runs for major telco companies, I'll chip in my .02.

    First off, laying fiber is -expensive-, in the thousands of dollars/mile. So when runs were mapped out, even if they planned on actually -using- only 2 strands of fiber, they would go ahead and lay a bundle 'for future use,' because it'd be more cost-effective than laying new fiber in the future. And we're talking usually a bundle of at least 8, and that's for a low traffic area (ie, on the far west side of Salt Lake Valley, with only 2 buildings spliced into the particular loop I mapped, no residential, and very sparse commercial). In downtown areas, a bundle of 16 is on the slim side.

    Secondly, most of you probably don't know how difficult is it to work fiber optic. You don't just 'tap in,' you splice into a specific strand that has to be active on the telco end (most buildings are connected to a loop at two separate points, for redundancy in case one 'loop to building' leg gets severed), and you have to have the optic hardware, which is certainly not cheap. For fiber optic splices, things must be -precisely- done, ends ground and capped within very narrow tolerances for error. And if you think Joe Sixpack has trouble with CAT5...

    And so, you have the price of laying it (which is why there's so much dark fiber in the first place, it was laid when the future actually looked bright), the price of hardware, the price of labor and expertise to tap into even an existing loop...

    Yeah, the average consumer is likely to NEVER see him/herself with a fiber hookup, no matter how much 'dark fiber' there is...

  • by marian ( 127443 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:21PM (#4855743)

    When I moved into the SF Bay Area 7 years ago the only "broadband" available was ISDN. It wasn't an option since it might have cost almost as much as my rent due to the per second (yes, you read that right) charges on top of the monthly flat fee. Then @home started making lots of noise and wasn't available to most people. They priced themselves fairly low and still never became available to me or most of the people I know. Then came DSL. No, it wasn't available to me either because I live so far from the CO. Eventually IDSL showed up and was only expensive, but I could actually get it. So, my first broadband connection was costing me around $150 per month and by comparison to ISDN it was cheap! Then Northpoint went out of business and I got screwed by AT&T when they decided to not continue service to Northpoint customers after buying their assets. (but I'm not bitter - no really) So much for IDSL since nobody offered it anymore.
    But now there appeared a new wireless service that said 256k symmetrical and it's available to me. Sure thing! Now my broadband was down to $99 per month. Cool! And they even gave me static IPs. Life goes on nicely for some time.

    Just because I'm curious (and was told by Pac Bell each time I called about it previously that they were going to upgrade the CO near my house to make DSL available "next year") I call Pacific Bell to ask my yearly question about when I can get DSL. A mere 4 years after I started asking I suddenly get "it's available to you now". Not just the lower end of the spectrum, either. It seems that Pac Bell really HAS been upgrading their COs and now I can get any speed connection I want. Oh, and 5 static IPs. For $79.95 a month. My broadband gets even less expensive.

    So what's the point of all this? It's that (at least for me) broadband connections are becoming more available, higher speed and less expensive.

  • My mother runs a public library. I was "exploring" the basement, and came across a funny looking metal rack with a bunch of telco wires coming out of it. Sliding the drawer open revealed tons of unconnected fiber.
    I asked my mom about it, and she said that when the local telcom (SWB) had laid fiber somewhere part of the deal was they had to run dark fiber to all the public schools and libraries in the district.
    Of course it's useless now (as I suspect most of the fiber the telco actually wanted to lay is) but you better beleive I keep an eye on the price of the head end equipment. In a few years, my mom's library is gonna rock. Well, at least for kids looking for books. :)
    I wonder if there are a lot of these "bonus" runs around the I-5 route?
  • I would really like to point out that the US has fallen so far behind in broadband services compared to other countries. I was looking at a Japanese magazine the other day and there was and ad for ADSL 12Megabit service to the home for around 1995 Yen per month, about 17 bucks! A few people have commented about, who needs dark fiber besides telcos and realted companies? I can think of several companies related to the entertainment business. I used to work at Warner Brothers Studios and we had a few OC-3 and a few OC-12 circuits interconnecting various facilities. We shared files, and provided a host of services to other divisions. It was great.. it was a part of a grander scheme at the studio,but thanks to the merger with TBS. The project was canned. This is just one example of how dark fiber can be used, granted that not everyone has the requirements of a motion picture studio. But you're only limited by your creativity. I am very frustrated that dark fiber isn't more readily available. I can think of so many uses and potential useful business that would make great use of dark fibre..But it's financialy not feasible.. Unfortunately, the telco monopolies are fat, lazy and their own financial problems, are a result of their own ineptness. ARgh!
  • by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:36PM (#4855865) Homepage Journal

    I had a discussion with the other geeks in my office a while back about how fast we can ramp up the expectations of high-bandwidth amongst our customers. We came to the conclusion that it is likely to be many years before the high-bandwidth-everywhere (I mean more than 1 megabit per second) to all homes and all businesses cheaply.

    Here is why:

    1. Assume you can light all that fiber and run it effectively around the world

    • Companies would need to cooperate to light it
    • Places where there is not available fiber need to be provisioned (Some parts of the United States for example)
    • Will need more guys around to maintain and work with the stuff

    2. Connect the last mile

    • Wireless seems to be an interesting option, but will need to mature before being truely effective
    • Running fiber might work, but that's a LOT of fiber when you think about how many homes there are, go back to 'there is no fiber' and start again if you choose this option
    • Run copper using existing technology like Cable or DSL (but then, you are dealing with Telcos/Cables which have a whole host of problems on their own)

    3. Now that everyone has the capability, route the traffic

    • Assume that not everybody will use lots of bandwidth all the time, but there will be HUGE peak capacity needs
    • which then, may cause the lit fiber to not be as under-used as it was
    • Usage will grow over time to meet the existing capacity as people realize everybody is an LPB and they can store and move lots and lots of files, trade more less compressed MP3s and video, porn, warez, PowerPoint presentations in email, web masters all over the world get stupider and make big flash animations, etc. (So demand for capacity goes way up from what it is now.)
    • Upgrade all the router points starting at the customer premises to equipment that can handle it, cruddy Linksys can handle a T1, but not a T3.
    • Then, the CO needs to put in routers to handle peak capacity, dump all those Cisco 2500s and buy loads of 7500s, because 45 guys in my neighborhood at 1meg each will overload the existing equipment (Hint: that will cost lots)

    After all this, we came to the conclusion that dial-up is here to stay for the duration of our careers; unless traffic is routed in a fundamentally different way than it is now (more efficiently) or a revolution in router technology happens so that a router box capable of handling the traffic becomes dirt cheap, really small and fiber ready out of the box. Otherwise, no ISP will ever be able to afford the routing requirements alone of high-bandwidth for everybody even if the fiber is there and lit.

    Any one of the steps or sub-steps can be a difficult problem to solve. Though I would like to see it, I am convinced that the broadband for everybody will be a slow (decades) and painful process.

  • by asscroft ( 610290 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:49PM (#4856007)
    Look, here's the deal with broadband.
    #1 - mindspring makes 3 times as much from Dialup as they do from dsl. why? telco charges for dsl hookup. why? threat of VOIP? bottom line, broadband is not profitable.

    #2 - AOLTW made more from dialup business than any other part of this huge conglomerate company. why? dialup is profitable.

    #3 - the media industry is afraid of broadband and file swapping, and too afraid to embrace it in an intelligent way.

    #4 - the cable/sattelite companies are afraid of broadband

    #5 - the phone/long distance companies are afraid of braodband

    There are lots of people who will have lose their perch when 100MBPS optic fibre lines are standard in every living room, and they're going to resist that day as much as they can. If they're lucky it will never come, in the USofA that is.
  • by tylerh ( 137246 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2002 @02:51PM (#4856033)
    Having 95% of the fibre dark is NOT wasteful --- it's smart investing. Let me explain.

    What is the single biggest expense in laying fiber? Digging trench.All those rights of way are expensive, and those guys in hardhats with the cool digging toys won't work for stock options.

    What is the second biggest expense? lighting the fiber. All that hardware at both end is expensive, and it's support staff expects to get paid every month.

    Once you are laying the first cable of fibre, what is the additional cost of laying an additional fibre? not much.

    Once you've decided to lay fiber, the economically rational move is to lay as much fibre as you think you might ever might ever need, becuase laying more fibre later will require you to dig everything up and do it all over again. Don't light any particular strand until you've actually got paying customer -- the cost of the boxes drops with Moore's law.

    The problem is not the too much fibre was laid, it's that too many different companies invested in fibre creating a buyers market for the customers. Given the current demand, even if each company had laid only a tenth of much fibre, we'd be in the identical place: same costs, same prices, same bankrupticies. However, when bandwidth demand catches up (and it will someday, I assure you), you'll be really glad all that "wasted fibre" is there.

    Put another way, if you lay a small amount of fibre, you are doomed to lose - by design, you've only got a small amount to sell. If you lay a lot of fibre, you might make a lot of money because you've haven't spent much more,and you'll be able to sell a lot more if/when the demand does turn up.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI