Dark fiber is typically leased from the company that installed it, or from companies that manage and market dark fiber. As dark fiber requires customers to “light” the fiber with their own equipment, there is an additional step where the fiber needs to be terminated (connected) directly to the district’s network. In many cases, the small piece of terminating equipment used to light fiber (called a Small Form-Factor Pluggable or SFP) can be plugged into an empty port on existing network switches. Many districts have an empty SFP interface on an existing switch at both endpoints. If not, please consult with your vendor about which SFP to buy.
Today, there are markets around the country where an oversupply of fiber assets have made leased dark fiber more widely available and more affordable than lit circuits. As a result, K-12 schools with high‐bandwidth needs look to leased dark fiber as a means to find economies of scale by owning and operating their own network as opposed to purchasing lit circuits.
EducationSuperHighway encourages districts to consider leased dark fiber as an option for their WAN given the many benefits.
Traditional dark fiber leases are for shorter annual terms (usually up to 5 years) and paid with a monthly recurring cost that may include maintenance cost of the leased dark fiber by the lessor. The lessor may be responsible for maintenance and/or maintenance costs on the fiber depending on the terms of the contract. The contract of a traditional dark fiber lease will usually have stricter terms dictating what the customer can and cannot do with the dark fiber.
Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU) is a lease vehicle whereby the term is usually longer (5-20 years) and the entire lease fee is paid in two installments (one-half upon agreement to lease and one-half upon acceptance of the fiber (post testing). The lease has attributes of ownership like survivability in case of the sale or bankruptcy/insolvency of the fiber owner. IRU contracts usually have more flexible terms, though this does not usually include maintenance and repair of the fiber. Typically the provider will charge an extra recurring fee for this or a 3rd party contractor must be hired to perform these services.
Among the changes, the FCC increased the total amount of funding available to upgrade school networks. Recognizing the importance of fiber, the E-rate program updated the eligibility rules to maximize the fiber options available to schools, so they could obtain the most cost-effective and scalable solutions for the future. Additionally, the program now guarantees that every school in the country has access to funding to support their internal network infrastructure needs to enable learning in every classroom.
Despite the many benefits, leased dark fiber may not be the best solution for all school networks.