Broadband Fiber Options
When deciding how to connect your schools to fiber, there are a number of options to consider. Districts can procure a fully managed lit fiber service from a provider or they can procure different types dark fiber to create their own transport services.
"Lit fiber" refers to fiber-optic cable (used for carrying data between two designated points) that has been installed and activated by carriers (service providers). These carriers lease access to their fiber-optic cables and provide fully-managed services to clients for a monthly recurring fee. Currently, lit fiber is the most common way that school districts and businesses receive transport and Internet access.
"Dark fiber" refers to fiber-optic cable that has already been installed (either buried or aerial) but is not yet in use. Dark fiber is typically sold without any equipment on the ends of the fiber (this service is known as leased dark fiber) and the customer is responsible for adding the electronics at both ends. Thousands of miles of dark fiber are available in the United States. For school districts near dark fiber, this service could be a viable alternative to “lit” services, as it provides cost and scalability advantages.
"Self-Provisioned" In many rural areas, telecommunications and broadband providers have little economic incentive to build out fiber-optic networks. Schools in these locations have often been unable to find affordable high-speed broadband. Given the recent changes in E-rate, schools now have the option to affordably build out their own dark fiber to their schools in a process known as self-provisioned, as long as they can demonstrate that it is the lowest-cost option.
Deciding which solution to choose can be difficult, although it can be beneficial to consider and compare the relative cost of various options. Dark vs. lit fiber is a classic “own vs. rent” comparison where the economics of the different options will be presented to you very differently, and you will need to model the two options in order to compare them equally. To support districts in their decision-making process, EducationSuperhighway has developed a Fiber Cost Comparison Model to calculate the comparative cost over time of lit vs dark fiber options. The model provides information to determine which fiber solution is most cost-effective in the longer term, as well as supporting data for your decision when applying to USAC for E-rate funding.
Accurate comparison of the economics of lit, dark and self-built fiber is complex. In order to fully understand the Cost Comparison Tool, EducationSuperHighway can provide you with a short tutorial to ensure you maximize your use of the tool. Please Contact Us for your copy of the model and free coaching session.
Apart from the comparison of costs, it is also critical to consider other factors such as timing, resource demands, skill requirements, and fiber network quality factors (latency, link loss, budgets, plant design, etc) for all the services you are interested in. Lit fiber, leased dark fiber, and self-provisioned services are extremely location- and situation-sensitive. Every school and district should consider the different options based on their own unique situation and get a number of competitive bids including pricing and project timelines before making their decision.