Introduction to Fibre Optics
Fibre optics is the fastest and most reliable form of Internet connection on the market today. A fibre cable is made from long strands of glass or specialized plastic, and transmits data through beams of light — hence the term “optical fibre."
The Benefits of Fibre
Compared to the traditional copper wire, a fibre connection is lightning fast and incredibly durable. It holds the capacity for greater bandwidth than its predecessors, including digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable. Fibre can transmit information over very long distances, and despite being made of glass, is actually less likely to break than copper wire.
Because fibre uses light to transmit data, it’s a safer alternative to copper wire. Fibre cables pose no fire hazard because they don’t conduct electricity. For the same reason, they won’t cause electromagnetic interference with other nearby networks. This keeps your signal crystal clear for sharp TV reception and phone calls.
Fibre can fit many more of its thin strands into a single cord than traditional platforms. These cables can support speeds of more than 1 gigabit per second, which is a whopping 1000 times faster than most connections presently offered by ISPs. Uploads and downloads that transmit over fibre cables are made more efficient by travelling on their own separate channels, whereas, for example, DSL uploads and downloads share a channel. It’s as if DSL is caught in rush-hour traffic while fibre speeds down a multilane highway.
This aspect of fibre also enables more symmetrical connections; that is, uploads and downloads offered at the same or similar speeds. If uploads are slowed to make way for downloads, users are systematically discouraged from participating as fully as they might otherwise in the online community. In short, online consumption of content is prioritized over production of content. Fibre’s capacity for simultaneous traffic is crucial for keeping the active and participatory nature of the Internet alive.
Future-Proofing for Municipal Broadband
Fibre may look like a more expensive investment at first glance, but the economic growth it promotes will pay off in the long run. The potential to boost profits with a municipal broadband network has businesses scrambling to relocate to small communities where community broadband is available, but it’s the promise of fibre — and the speed and affordability it entails — that is the real pull.
A modern business needs bandwidth that can support large scale video conferencing, large file transfers, online training capability, HD streaming, and more. In fact, just one strand of fibre can be the single information pipeline for all communications. Imagine your TV, home telephone, and Internet all travelling across the same pipe!
Fibre is the only platform that can be guaranteed to serve those needs, both now and in the future. If the municipal broadband network does not feature a fibre connection, and instead relies on inefficient copper wire technology, the draw for business disappears.
Communities who are investing a substantial amount of money into a project like municipal broadband need return on their investment. Other legacy options may be cheaper, but won’t draw in business and industry like fibre has been proven to. They will be quickly left in the dust by the ever-increasing demand for data. It is the lightning-fast connection and massive bandwidth allowance that draws enterprise to fibre. DSL and cable simply won’t do the trick.
If communities are looking for a timely upgrade to fibre, municipal broadband may be their only option. Non-urban areas are off the radar for many ISP upgrades; the potential profits from rural subscribers are too small to offset the costs of updating infrastructure. Investment in a fibre network is a way for municipalities to put their community first, empower residents, and take charge of the local economy.
Fibre Optics in Action
Municipalities are already taking advantage of the benefits that fibre can offer. It was the previously slow, stagnant Internet connection in Olds, Alberta that was sending businesses packing. The community solved that problem by investing in their own municipal-owned fibre network. With the introduction of “O-Net”, Olds became Canada’s first fibre “Gigabit Town”. Blazing fast 1 Gbps speeds have given businesses the room they need to grow, and have stabilized the local economy by attracting and retaining enterprise.
Coquitlam, B.C. is another Canadian community with a municipal fibre network of their own. Qnet, since its incorporation in 2008, has saved the city millions in telecom costs and has brought incredible Internet speeds to customers. Spanning nearly 60 kilometers of fibre, Qnet can bring affordable broadband service to nearly any location within the city limits.
Yet these types of municipal broadband offerings aren’t limited to Canada — the United States is home to more than their fair share of communities that have taken Internet service into their own hands. The municipality of Sandy, Oregon, provides residents access to their fibre network as a utility. For just $60 per month, “SandyNet” can offer subscribers with up to a gigabit in Internet speed.
Canada’s Internet market has suffered for many years from lack of choice and limited offerings. In order to promote the long-term welfare of communities, local leaders must ensure that, wherever possible, networks are capable of reaching Gigabit speeds right from their initial deployment. No municipal policy maker – except in unique rural or remote circumstances – should fund or encourage the continued use of legacy platforms, especially DSL.