From The Editor | November 7, 2023

The Fiber Connection (Or What Happens When You Ask AI For Story Ideas)

John Headshot cropped  500 px wide

By John Oncea, Editor

GettyImages-153469309 heart made of circuits

A clash between tradition and progress. The potential for technology to bridge gaps and create opportunities in unexpected places. All this and more in this tale of ambition, community, and the transformative power of fiber optics. *

Cedar Ridge is the kind of place where time seems to have stood still, surrounded by lush forests and rolling hills. But it’s not as idyllic as it sounds, life seems to have stagnated for the 1,854 people ** who live in the small, secluded town in rural West Virginia. ***

The town is disconnected from the modern world, lacking access to the internet and advanced telecommunications. But tech-savvy Sarah Bundall, a determined individual who grew up in Cedar Ridge but left to pursue a career in telecommunications, dreams of connecting her hometown to the outside world using cutting-edge fiber optic technology.

Despite her passion for fiber optics and connectivity – or perhaps because of it – the residents of Cedar Ridge were skeptical of her ambitious plan. They’d become attached to their traditional way of life and viewed technology as a threat to their close-knit community. Sarah worked to convince them of the benefits of modern telecommunications and, while doing so, uncovered the reason why Cedar Ridge’s residents resisted technology: corporate ineptitude.

The Death And Rebirth Of Cedar Ridge

It seems that, 20 or so years earlier, Cedar Ridge was the hub of an advanced technology corporation that hoped to profit from selling capacity directly to telephone and internet service providers and large companies. Once valued at nearly $50 billion, the company never reported an annual profit and failed in its plan to create a 100,000-mile network connecting nearly 30 countries across three continents. ****

None of this deterred Sarah who was able to show the good people of Cedar Ridge how fiber optics could not only connect their town to the internet, but also enhance their lives, healthcare, education, and economy. Despite facing technical challenges, opposition from town leaders, and even natural disasters, Sarah was able to find creative solutions and persevere against all odds.

One of those who opposed Sarah was Jackson Leopold, an urban planner who lost much of his life savings in the “Failed Fiber Optics Fiasco Of 2022.” Jackson initially opposed Sarah’s plan due to what he considered to be the disadvantages of fiber optics. Namely, cost, fragility, environmental impact, signal strength, and bandwidth instability.

But Sarah persevered and Jackson eventually came to understand and support her vision, realizing that fiber optics offers numerous benefits that include, according to Tech Talk, high data transfer speeds, low latency for real-time connectivity, immunity to electromagnetic disturbance, long-distance connectivity, enhanced, security, thin and lightweight design, high bandwidth capacity, durability and low maintenance, economical power consumption, and future-proof technology.

And, not for nothing, along the way the two fell in love.

Ultimately, Sarah’s determination and the support of a growing number of townsfolk led to Cedar Ridge’s transformation into a symbol of what can be achieved with fiber optics: a thriving, connected community able to hold on to its unique charm and identity.

* Thanks to ChatGPT for suggesting the bulk of this introduction based on the command, “Ideas for a story about telecommunications and fiber optics.” Needless to say, the result I got was unexpected, but I hope you enjoyed the Hallmark movie-esque story it created.

** According to the Economic Research Service, The U.S. Census Bureau defines rural areas as open country and settlements with fewer than 2,500 residents. The Census Bureau also classifies a rural area as a town with fewer than 1,000 people per 2.6 square kilometers (square mile), and surrounding areas with fewer than 500 people per 2.6 square kilometers (square mile).

*** According to BROADBANDNOW, only 20.5% of West Virginia households have access to fiber. Alaska (15.5%), Arizona (19.1%), New Mexico (19.4%), and Wyoming 21.1%) round out the bottom five states.

**** Some truths here, based on this New York Times article about the bankruptcy (and eventual acquisition by Level 3 Communications) of Global Crossing.

More Than Just Quicker Internet Access

“From blazing data transfer speeds to enhanced security and low maintenance, fiber optics have firmly established themselves as a cornerstone of the modern, connected world,” writes Tech Talk. “These benefits ensure that fiber optics remain a pivotal choice for a multitude of applications, offering resilience, scalability, and long-term adaptability in an ever-evolving digital landscape. As technology advances, the undeniable strengths of fiber optics make them a cornerstone of reliable and high-performance connectivity, solidifying their role in shaping the future of data transmission and communication.”

BROADBANDNOW adds, “Fiber-optic networks have grown largely through private investment, particularly on the parts of established ISPs. However, the government has a significant role in encouraging growth — and, in some cases, municipalities are creating fiber networks of their own. Fiber is a common choice for cities that want to invest in municipal public broadband infrastructure.”

Many state laws, which were influenced by telecom lobbyists, make it difficult for cities to install their fiber due to competition with private businesses. This is a significant obstacle to the growth of fiber broadband. However, the government is taking steps to address this issue. Fiber broadband access is a key focus of the Biden administration's major infrastructure bill.

But this isn’t simply a story about how fiber can benefit a business or household. Remember Sarah and Jackson? After falling in love, they settled down in Cedar Ridge and started a family because their hometown – made better by embracing fiber as a way to deliver telecommunications – had more to offer than nearby communities that haven’t installed fiber.

Fiber networks helped foster job creation by supporting existing businesses and attracting new ones looking for the kinds of connections that can move large amounts of data quickly. Fiber also kept the younger generation around by allowing them to work more efficiently from home.

The quality of education went up because children had access to more stable, quicker connections when completing their online homework while adult learners were able to take online classes and learn new skills. Telemedicine – a seismic change in healthcare – allowed more people to be seen, treated, and monitored, as well as gave patients tools to manage their healthcare, right from their homes. Finally, Cedar Grove’s fiber-to-home network increased the value of the homes that installed it by 3.1%.

Leveraging a fiber network has the potential to help communities stand out in a positive light. When you can demonstrate that your town is at the forefront of meeting the demands of homeowners and businesses for efficient online work and play, it can boost your town's visibility and encourage both the growth of businesses and an influx of new residents.

Life Imitates Art

You don’t have to take my word for it about the benefits of fiber. Or even ChatGPT’s.

Much of what we covered above in fictional Cedar Ridge was the basis of a study conducted in a small rural community in northwest Missouri called Turney, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). The study was “a pre-post comparison for community members who did and did not receive new wireless internet service. The target community was underserved – rather than unserved – concerning internet infrastructure, making this evaluation study especially relevant as fewer communities remain unserved.”

NCBI found that, “High-speed broadband infrastructure is increasingly becoming necessary for communities to remain economically competitive. Strong evaluations are critical to ensure that government funds are effective and can inform subsequent tranches of infrastructure spending. Community-level evaluations such as this one help local elected officials and local decision makers better understand and anticipate how broadband can and cannot impact their community.”

And with that, Sarah, Jackson, and their children all lived happily ever after.