Put simply, dark fiber is pre-existing underground infrastructure that does not yet have the hardware or software that enable it to run services. While fiber optic cables that are actively sending data via light wavelengths are considered lit, the rest of the unused fibers laying in wait are deemed unlit—or dark.
To get to the bottom of dark fiber, we have to travel way back to the 1980s and ’90s when the initial fiber installations were occurring. First, it’s important to know that the majority of the cost in laying fiber cables isn’t wrapped up in the cable itself but instead comes from physically digging down to plant the fiber. Foreseeing the need for growth in the future and not wanting to reiterate the expense, time, and difficulty of digging back down, the companies that were building fiber footprints during this time laid far more fiber than they actually needed. Of course, the same goes for any fiber builds that have occurred since, each adding to the excess. The surplus of infrastructure these companies left is today’s dark fiber, which can be bought or leased by other business entities. Some providers will build new dark fiber for businesses as well.
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