How Did America Lose Over 41 Million Miles of Fiber Optics Since 2007?

Bruce Kushnick
10 min readMay 27, 2020


Why has there been more “dark” (not in use) fiber than “lit”, (in-service) fiber in America?

Most of us have heard that the FCC’s data pertaining to broadband coverage needs to be fixed, but that’s nothing. What is really screwy is what America has been told about the fiber optic deployments.

NOTE: Fiber optic wires are really a glass or plastic substitute for the original copper-based wires (which have been used since the turn of the 20th Century). Fiber can handle a lot more data at much higher speeds. It’s the difference of delivering water through a drinking straw vs opening up a fire hydrant. And since the 1990’s, the plan has been to replace the aging copper networks, but that never happened as promised, or as paid for.

The chart above was taken from the FCC’s “Statistics of Communications Common Carriers”, as of December 2007 which is, unfortunately, the last data available — that’s 13 years ago. The FCC has not updated this information and according to this 2007 report, there were 43.2 million fiber optic miles of cable laid in America which were controlled by what are now AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink (with caveats).

However, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, “Fiber Route Mile Leaderboard” in March 2019, AT&T and Verizon, combined, had only 2.2 million route miles of fiber cable, and these wires are being dedicated to roll out wireless services, known as 5G wireless. (Ironically, we keep hearing that 5G can replace the need for fiber, but duh, they require fiber optic wires to work.)

What? I’ll get back to this 2.2 million miles of fiber in 2019 vs 43.2 million miles (rounded) in 2007 discrepancy in a moment. And note, we are talking about millions and millions of miles of fiber that have supposedly already been put into the ground or on poles in America.

NOTE: This data is NOT counting the fiber lines to homes and offices. 1 Million miles of fiber can handle lots of separate connections to residential and business locations.

The Dark Side

But it gets worse. There is a very serious caveat which no one talks about. The majority of this fiber optic cable put in by 2007 was “DARK”, meaning it was not “LIT” — meaning it is in the ground or on a pole but not in service.

66% of the Fiber in America in 2007 Was Not in Use but Installed.

With some incumbent phone companies, the amount of fiber that had been already laid by 2007 and left dark was much higher. AT&T California, (Pacific Bell) had 81% of their fiber optic network NOT LIT and NOT IN USE. Thus, as of December 2007, there were 2.9 million miles of fiber optic wires in California; 2.4 million miles were NOT TURNED ON.

And we assume that this fiber could still be in the ground and most was probably still NOT TURNED ON.

The excerpt below is from the original source and it is calibrated in kilometers; it shows that 4.8 million km was in the ground but less than 1 million km of this cable was in use in AT&T California in 2007. There is no later information supplied by the State Commission, the FCC, or AT&T that we could find.

And you thought that the accounting of broadband coverage in America was screwy…?

Wait. There’s more.

AT&T and Verizon only had 2.2 Million Miles of Fiber in 2019?

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, “Fiber Route Mile Leaderboard” in March 2019, AT&T and Verizon, combined, had only 2.2 million route miles and these wires are being dedicated to roll out wireless services, known as 5G.

“Optical fiber, long the backbone for broadband internet, will soon take on additional workload in the form of data backhaul for 5G wireless traffic. That has spurred the two fiber titans among U.S.-based companies to build out even further.

“Our analysis of fiber networks held by U.S.-based companies found telcos in control of the three largest fiber networks. AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. alone combine for more than 2.2 million route miles, more than half of the total in our survey of publicly available data. (Emphasis added.)

“Verizon is jockeying with AT&T to lead the 5G charge in the U.S.”

Notice that these are called “route miles” as opposed to just “fiber miles”.

This is very problematic in and of itself.

As we pointed out previously, AT&T covers 21 states and currently has a measly 4 million total fiber optic broadband connections to a home or office — out of covering 76 million residential and business locations, (as opposed to millions of fiber optic miles).

In 2018, AT&T claimed it was leading with 1.1 million “global route miles” of fiber.

Notice the term “global route miles”.

AT&T Increases Lead as Largest U.S. Based Provider of Fiber for Businesses Nationwide.

AT&T is continuing to invest in expanding our fiber footprint to provide businesses of all sizes with advanced technology and communications services. AT&T has over 1.1 million global route miles of fiber. More than 8 million business customer locations nationwide are either on or within 1,000 feet of our fiber. That’s more than 2x our nearest competitor.”

AT&T also claims that fiber is making 5G possible.

“It all starts with fiber. Fiber accelerates everything that businesses need to digitally transform. Without fiber, innovative solutions like highly-secure networking, cloud computing and 5G wouldn’t be possible. As we continue to expand our national fiber network, we want businesses to take full advantage of our fiber highway that is essentially right to their doorstep.”

What a farce. If the fiber optic highway was right to the doorstep they wouldn’t need 5G, now would they?

22 Years Ago, AT&T had 8.5 Million Miles of Fiber; Verizon Was at 6.4 Million.

This gets curiouser and curiouser. This next chart goes back over 2 decades and is from the FCC’s “Fiber Deployment Update End of Year 1998” detailing the fiber miles deployed by what are now AT&T, Verizon and Centurylink (formerly US West).

According to this, AT&T, (which was created by combining Ameritech, BellSouth, Pacific Telesis and SBC, as well as the previous version of AT&T) had a total of 8.5 million miles of fiber optic cable in 1998; Verizon (Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and GTE, as well as MCI) had 6.4 million miles and Centurylink (formerly US West) had 1.7 million fiber optic miles — for a total of 16.1 million miles of fiber.

*The total includes other smaller carriers. We also left out MCI and AT&T (1984–2005), and other carriers that were part of these companies, like SNET (CT).

Questions Abound:

Let us answer the opening question — There has been a manipulation of the different definitions of the terms “fiber optics”, “fiber miles”, “fiber route miles” and “global route miles” used by the companies and industry over the last 2+ decades.

The Mathematics of Route Miles, Fiber Miles and Dark Fiber

When a fiber optic cable is installed, as the opening picture shows, it can have multiple bundles of wires.

  • “Fiber Route Miles” — only counts the entire black tube, not the separate wires (strands) in the bundles.
  • “Fiber Miles” — counts the separate fiber optic strands in each of the bundles. Thus, 1 “fiber route” mile can have 10 fiber optic strands and it would be counted as 10 fiber miles. And it can add up quickly as 144 fiber strands for 1 mile would be counted as 144 fiber optic miles.
  • % of Dark Fiber vs Lit When there is 1 route mile with 1000 strands, and 800 that are not in use, 80% of the fiber optic miles are ‘Dark”; 20% would be “Lit”.

And note that a ‘strand’ of fiber can go to 1 household or business and supply 1Gbps speeds, in both directions, without breaking a sweat.

Thus, the current accounting provided by AT&T et al. uses the term “route miles”, sometimes, and they are not supplying the actual number of strands that are in the bundle and how many are “lit” or are “dark”.

To make matters even more confusing,

  • AT&T uses “Global Route” miles, which means that the fiber may even be in a different country, because the accounting is global.
  • These numbers also have nothing to do with ‘households’ and ‘businesses’ that are ‘passed’ and can get a fiber optic service; they can also be in the middle of the network (known as “backhaul”) or go to a 5G cell site.

Boy, doesn’t all of this have a stench to confuse the public?

Light Reading’s story “The Story Behind Verizon’s 5G Secret Weapon” claims Verizon is installing 22.5 million “fiber miles” through 2020, and yet, as we just saw, Verizon had only 1 million “fiber route” miles in 2019.

“As Verizon’s One Fiber strategy began to take shape, the operator started lining up its fiber suppliers. In 2017, Verizon announced it would buy 12.5 million miles of fiber per year through 2020 from Corning for a whopping $1 billion. Verizon’s Vestberg said Corning built a factory devoted to servicing Verizon’s fiber needs. Verizon also announced a separate $300 million purchase agreement with Prysmian for around 10 million miles of fiber.”

Wikipedia states that these bundles could add up to 864 separate ‘strands’. This would mean that there are only 26,000 “fiber route miles”, not 22.5 million miles.

“The highest strand-count single-mode fiber cable commonly manufactured is the 864-count, consisting of 36 ribbons each containing 24 strands of fiber.”

AT&T has been throwing the different terms “fiber optic miles”, “route miles” and “global route miles” all over the place for the last decade+.

John Stankey, President and CEO, AT&T, at a UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, Dec. 9, 2008, stated in one place that AT&T only had “77,000 miles of fiber”, and “877,000 route miles internationally”.

And throwing in the term “Global”, AT&T is just manipulating the storyline.

Capacity Media stated that AT&T was in 220 countries with wireline and wireless services in 2010 and that the fiber route miles were being used across the globe.

“In 2010 and representing four year-on-year increases in consolidated revenue, AT&T has a constant commitment to provide innovative, reliable and advanced solutions to its vast customer base across 220 countries. AT&T has established itself as the largest wireless services provider domestically, with 95.5 million subscribers in Q4 2010; internationally, it offers 3G services in over 125 countries. Its global backbone network includes more than 886,000 fibre route miles, and with 38 internet data centres (IDC) across the globe, it boasts strong wholesale and enterprise segments.”

Questions abound, some of which you may now know the answer to but want investigated.

  • There were 16 MILLION — I repeat, MILLIONS OF MILES, (not 16 million homes or offices) — by 1998. Where the hell are all of these wires?
  • There were 43.2 million miles of fiber optics in the US by what are now AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink in 2007 — Where are all of these wires?
  • While everyone is sitting around wondering how to solve the Digital Divide, did AT&T and Verizon keep these wires DARK on purpose?
  • Did they do it so that AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless could use it and not offer really fast, inexpensive fiber optic based services to ALL of their territories?
  • How many cities have dark fiber just laying there that should have been ‘lit’ by now — but weren’t?
  • Where are the FCC reports about the fiber optic deployments in America after 2007?
  • Is there a fiber optic wire going passed your home or office that was never lit but should have been since the 1990’s?
  • AT&T’s U-Verse is a copper to the home service with a fiber optic ‘node’ within ½ mile of the location… could AT&T have offered fiber to the home, but didn’t?
  • Verizon let the copper networks deteriorate and left over 50% of their territories with DSL or no high speed services? Is there fiber in these cities that should have been ‘lit’ but weren’t?
  • How did AT&T California in 2007 — one of 21 AT&T states, have over 2.9 million miles of fiber optic cable laid, and the AT&T’s states had over 8.5 million fiber optic miles back in 1998, and yet, AT&T, in 2019, only had 1.1 million of global fiber route miles in over 220 countries in 2019?
  • Why are the majority of lines “dark”, 66%, as of 2007, the last FCC data?
  • How could the amount of fiber optic miles drop 41 million miles since 2007?
  • Why did AT&T California only have 19% of the total of millions of fiber optic cables lit in 2007?
  • If AT&T only has a paltry 4 million total fiber optic connections in 2020, why the hell wasn’t it all LIT in every state over the last 2 decades?
  • How could there be 16.1 million miles of fiber optics in 1998 in the US and virtually nothing was ever put into service at that time?
  • How many households and businesses would have gotten service with just 1 million miles of fiber optics?

Finally — You, that’s right, You; You paid for these fiber optic wires — the millions upon millions of miles of fiber optic wires that are dark.

We estimate that at least $500 billion dollars was spent and growing. And most of America was never upgraded to fiber.

The land area of the entire United States is 3,531,905 square miles. If there were 43 million miles of fiber by 2007 (13 years ago), (and we discount the large states like Alaska’s wilderness, etc. — but supplied service to populated areas) — ALL of us could have had fiber-to-the-home by now as this last accounting of fiber miles was 13 years ago.



Bruce Kushnick

New Networks Institute,Executive Director, & Founding Member, IRREGULATORS; Telecom analyst for 40 years, and I have been playing the piano for 65 years.