Tue, 13 May 2003

The cost of fiber optic cable

If you read this in North Country This Week, skip down to the part you haven't already seen. What follows is the letter to the editor:

I'm glad that a journalist has finally addressed the DANC fiber scam. I told Tom Sauter (head of the project at DANC) over a year ago that his misrepresentations were going to catch up to him. He said that what he was saying was technically accurate because DANC was going to only sell dark fiber and that Verizon and Time-Warner wouldn't sell dark fiber. He felt it was fair to say that there was no [dark] fiber in the North Country. Now that DANC is going to light the fiber I wonder if that's still true?

DANC should understand that people don't care about fiber optic cable when it comes right down to it. They only care about the services you can get from fiber. Data communication services are expensive up here, but that's because it's expensive to install and maintain so many miles of fiber at union rates.

Now, one thing that the Verizon camp isn't telling you is that there are actually TWO sets of fiber optic cables in the North Country: Verizon's, and Time-Warner's. Every road going out of Potsdam has Time-Warner fiber optic cable, and has for a half-dozen years. You can see it for yourself -- it's the black cable lashed to the silver cable above the telephone cable and below the power cable. At the poles it has an 4" long orange sleeve that says "Fiber Optic" on it.

Everything Verizon says about their investment has been true. If you want to take a drive, you can see for yourself. In West Stockholm just south of the village market is a brand-new remote telephone switch served by a fiber optic cable. There's an excellent place north of Potsdam to see the two sets of fiber. Right where the road to Unionville meets Rt. 56, on the west side of the road, to the south of the pole nearest the intersection, are two fiber splice cans: the lower one belongs to Verizon, and the upper one to Time-Warner.

Looking at the both of them makes it clear that we probably already have more than enough fiber optic cable in the North Country. Fiber optic cable is a lot like a railroad. Once you've got one, you don't really need another. Once you've got one, you can't really afford another. All over America, many railroads put in competing lines. Nearly all of them are gone now.

You can make a case for publicly-owned fiber optic cable, but not an overbuilt (built alongside existing facilities) publicly-owned fiber optic cable. The characteristics of fiber optic cable make it such that installation is more expensive than the fiber itself. Invariably several times as many fiber strands are installed as are ever expected to be needed. If you think you need two, you install six or eight, and so on.

Telecommunications in the North Country would be much better if DANC were to consult with Verizon and Time-Warner, find out where they would *like* to have fiber, install it there, and trade, route-mile for route-mile, with existing V and T-W (I got tired of typing them out) fiber strands. Obviously, V and T-W would not be incredibly excited about doing this, but DANC could threaten them with an overbuild.

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