How the
Northwest Connects

Dark vs. Lit Fiber: The Importance of Open-Access Broadband

People first learning about broadband will ask about the difference between dark and lit fiber. Fiber infrastructure varies! Knowing the difference is critical to decision-making when communities and their leaders are making huge investments in their future connectivity.

Analogy: Who owns the road?
Imagine if car manufacturers owned the roads in your community. You would need a new road dedicated to each make of car. These roads wouldn’t share the road with cars they didn’t make. That’s basically what a closed broadband network is: One provider owns the network (road) and only its customers can send and receive data on it. Conversely, shared broadband infrastructure better serves its communities by keeping the “road” publicly owned and lets service providers (all makes of cars) share the infrastructure needed to get to the customers they want to serve.

As simple as it sounds, a dark fiber network is an unlit network. Here, service providers bring their own lighting equipment to enable the network to send and receive data over the fiber lines. Using the road analogy, this model basically leases out lanes of the road to single providers instead of keeping the road free for all to use. The result is the end-user likely won’t get to experience the benefits of a competitive free-market environment because another provider would need to put in all of their own equipment to light the network.

Several Washington State public utility districts (PUDs–community-owned, locally regulated utility districts, created by a vote of the people) boast “lit” open-access broadband network success stories. Among them:

  • Chelan County PUD – 10 ISPs are currently utilizing the Chelan PUD network to serve over 16,000 homes.
  • Kitsap County PUD – 5 ISPs are currently utilizing the KPUD network to serve more than 1,000 homes.
  • Mason County PUD – 5 ISPs are currently utilizing the Mason PUD 3 network to serve hundreds of homes.
  • Grant Co. PUD – 13 ISPs are currently utilizing the Grant PUD fiber network, serving over 70% of their community.
  • Benton Co. PUD – 12 ISPs are currently serving over the Benton PUD network, serving area businesses and homes.

As an open-access backbone network provider, NoaNet is Washington’s telecommunications freeway with broadband off-ramps into every county and countless communities. Our network is more than 3,300 fiber miles in redundant rings statewide. NoaNet also serves the state’s 9-1-1 network, helping to keep our communities safe with next-generation location and data services in the moments when they are most important.

Public ownership of lit open-access broadband networks provides the best return on public investment. The many success stories of open access PUD networks across Washington State in the past 20 years are just the beginning. There are many more communities where this model would benefit rural Washington! Interested in starting the conversation within your own community? We can help!

Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) is a not-for-profit wholesale telecommunications mutual corporation that has been serving Washington State since 2000. As a mission-driven organization, NoaNet focuses on bringing world-class telecommunications technology to hard-to-reach communities which lack access to high-speed affordable broadband services.