How the
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What is an “Open Access” Network?

“Rather than building redundant infrastructure, the open access model allows service providers to use already-built infrastructure, allowing them to leverage their resources to build out deeper into communities.”

Three Open Access Network Models

Through NoaNet’s two-plus decades of developing broadband infrastructure, we’ve seen the term “Open Access” increasingly used to describe several different use cases. Currently, there is no legal or industry standard to define Open Access, which leaves the term wide open to be used and that can be really confusing!

In this post, we’ll attempt to define Open Access in the 3 primary ways it is used: for middle mile and backbone network builds, for dark fiber deployments, and for lit broadband fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks. Understanding the differences between these three open access network types can allow communities to make informed decisions about what type of network deployment suits their area best.

Understanding Open Access

One thing true of all three aforementioned Open Access network types is that a single network is open to being utilized by multiple service providers. This “openness” allows for an option to prevent overbuilds from occurring. Rather than building redundant infrastructure, the open access model allows service providers to use already-built infrastructure, allowing them to leverage their resources to build out deeper into communities. Oftentimes, the open access network is owned by a third party such as a public entity who wants to encourage competition and increased services in their area.

  1. Open Access Middle Mile and Backbone Networks

An open access middle mile or backbone network is a long-haul network that usually has extremely high capacity and serves as a “highway” that has technology “off ramps” into communities to bring services that are available for use by multiple service providers. These networks lease access to local, regional, and national providers so they don’t have to make the massive investment of trans-state network deployment. NoaNet is an open-access middle mile and backbone network; we lease our statewide network to more than 160 service providers.

  1. Open Access Dark Fiber Networks

Another open-access network type is an unlit or “dark fiber” network. These networks are called dark networks because they do not have the active electronics to deliver broadband services included in them. For a dark network to deliver services, each service provider installs its own lighting equipment. If the network has more than one service provider then duplicate equipment overbuilds are made, which may discourage service provider investment. However, the initial cost for the network owner is lower.

  1. Lit Open Access FTTH Broadband Networks

A lit open access Fiber-to-the-home broadband network means that the network is open to multiple service providers all the way to the home or business, not just to their town or neighborhood. Lit open access FTTH networks have all the required equipment to deliver broadband services included in them. This means that the entire network is prepared for service providers to hop on and supply broadband services to the community without making major infrastructure investments. This model encourages robust competition to deliver services to end-users. However, for this type of network deployment, the initial cost to the network owner is higher.

Our Advice to Communities: When exploring broadband network options, ask lots of questions to see what makes the most sense for your community’s needs.

  • What features of an open-access network are appealing to you?
  • Who are you intending to serve with the network?
  • Who will provide services over the network?
  • Do you view broadband as a utility?

NoaNet’s Community Broadband Solutions team has assisted many communities statewide in their broadband planning efforts to determine how to bring world-class broadband services to their area. Visit us at to learn more and to download our Road to Broadband Planning Guide.

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.