How dark fiber can support flexible networks for local government

At a National Association of Counties conference, IT leaders shared the benefits and challenges of municipally owned fiberoptic networks.
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County governments can have a flexible, secure and controlled telecommunications network to support their municipal IT needs if they acquire dark fiber, technology officials said Tuesday at a National Association of Counties conference in Washington, D.C.

During a session designed for county chief information officers, panelists discussed the potential benefits and challenges of municipally owned dark fiber —a term that refers to unused fiberoptic infrastructure, which can be purchased or leased to create private networks — including its potential to support equal access to broadband and network security, but also its high up-front cost.

Dark fiber offers counties greater network control and capacity, said Christopher Constance, a commissioner of Charlotte County, Florida.

Instead of relying on commercial internet services providers and sharing fiber infrastructure with other entities, dark fiber gives counties the opportunity to use and manage their own, private broadband infrastructure.


This is relevant for counties that want to make sure their network connections and communications are secure, said Rebecca Hunter, a corporate strategist for Crown Castle, one of the United States’ leading providers of raw fiberoptic cable.

However, dark fiber is expensive, Hunter said, and to make that investment worthwhile, county leaders should create a master plan to direct how they would use it. Dark fiber holds potential for counties, but it only if paired with proper planning, she said.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, dark fiber has been used to expand cost-effective, secure broadband throughout the county and supports emergency services and agency communication, said Sonny Segal, CIO of the D.C. suburb.

Segal said that the county’s investment in a fiber infrastructure has been very successful. According to the county, implementing a private fiber network is projected to save the county $200 million over 20 years.

Dark fiber can give counties opportunities to scale and personalize their networks, said Holly Hartell, a business relationship manager for Arlington County, Virginia, and as a result can meet the changing needs of residents and municipal government.

Betsy Foresman

Written by Betsy Foresman

Betsy Foresman was an education reporter for EdScoop from 2018 through early 2021, where she wrote about the virtues and challenges of innovative technology solutions used in higher education and K-12 spaces. Foresman also covered local government IT for StateScoop, on occasion. Foresman graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 — go Frogs! — with a BA in journalism and psychology. During her senior year, she worked as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and moved back to the capital after completing her degree because, like Shrek, she feels most at home in the swamp. Foresman previously worked at Scoop News Group as an editorial fellow.

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