Fiber-Optic Internet in the USA
Fiber-Optic Internet In the United States
Fiber internet service is the gold standard of residential internet connections.
Considering that a fiber internet connection can be easily ten times as fast as a standard cable connection, it is no surprise that fiber optics are becoming more popular.
While fiber is the fastest home internet option by far, availability is still scattered. Due to the high cost of installing fiber service directly to homes, even major cities are still predominantly served by cable. Chicago, for example, only has 21% fiber availability as of 2020. Dallas has about 61% — and that’s actually high availability compared to other major metros in the US.
For more details about the number of fiber optic providers and what communities they serve, we’ve compiled a full list of a every provider offering fiber optic internet service in the United States. We’ve also developed a ranking of cities with the most FTTH infrastructure.
Should You Get Fiber Optic Internet?
If you’re in a fiber-rich city like Atlanta (58%) or Denver (46%), fiber will generally provide the fastest speeds at a price point comparable to high-end cable service in fiber-poor areas. Fiber internet is particularly useful for large homes with multiple users, and for work-from-home setups.
Benefits of Fiber Optic Broadband
Transfer lots of data quickly.
Because fiber broadband is the fastest internet available, you can transfer large amounts of data quickly and seamlessly. This means that whether you are watching a movie on Netflix or video chatting with family in Asia or Europe your connection will be seamless and quick (provided they are on fiber too).
Next Generation Technology
Because fiber-optics uses light instead of electricity to transmit data, the frequencies that are used are much higher and the data capacity is much greater. The fiber-optic cable itself is made from glass or plastic which is not susceptible to electromagnetic interference like metal cables. This allows data to flow over great distances without degrading. Interference and energy loss is the limiting factor for all types of communication transmissions and fiber optics handles these factors much better than other modes of transmission. In the future, more and more of our world will be connected via fiber optics as we outgrow older copper-based infrastructures. Cities like Brooklyn New York and Kansas City have already moved nearly all homes onto fiber networks. Even though Google Fiber has struggled to maintain profits and withdrawn from some cities in recent years, incumbent providers like AT&T and Verizon are still expanding fiber footprints in markets like Richmond and San Diego.
Limitations of Fiber
New Infrastructure Requirements
The biggest limitation hindering widespread fiber optic adoption is the cost requirements of implementing new fiber optic lines when old infrastructures such as DSL and cable are still serving customers.
Installing a new fiber optic network is a large capital expenditure for service providers. However, as the cost to maintain aging copper networks increases over time, more and more will choose to upgrade to fiber if not purely for financial reasons. Of course as consumer demand for better and faster broadband increases, service providers will have to install fiber-optic networks to meet that demand. Our mission is to bring that power to the consumer.
Are you a journalist or researcher writing about this topic?
Contact us and we'll connect you with a broadband market expert on our team who can provide insights and data to support your work.
What is fiber broadband?
Fiber broadband is the fastest method of delivering high-speed Internet to residences and businesses.
Similar to DSL, cable, and fixed wireless, fiber broadband connections bridge the “last mile” between the mainstream Internet “backbone” and customer residences.
While DSL and cable utilize existing phone and TV infrastructure to transmit data as frequency “vibrations” over copper wires, fiber networks transmit data using light over specialized cables packed with glass fibers.
Light moves very fast (186,000 miles per second, to be specific), enabling speeds up to 1,000 Megabits (one Gigabit) per second on fiber-optic networks — almost 100 times faster than the US broadband average of 11.7 Megabit per second.
Consumers think of fiber as a new technology, but the Internet “backbone” network connecting cities and countries has been built with fiber-optic cables since the dawn of the Internet. The first submarine fiber-optic cable connected the US to France and Britain back in 1988, and hundreds currently criss-cross the ocean floor all around the world.
The only thing that’s “new” about fiber broadband is the use of fiber-optic cables to connect the “last mile” directly to consumer residencies, which has been slow to expand due to the high cost of installing new cable networks. Some of the first FTTH networks were installed by incumbent providers like Verizon Fios, who started building out consumer fiber service in the early 2000s and expanded into markets like Baltimore and Boston at the turn of the decade.
How fiber optic cables work
The Digital data is packaged in zeros and ones, also called “binary.” Everything you see when you surf the Web is the product of streams of binary information — like the dots and dashes of morse code.
Transmitting that stream of binary data via light pulses is straightforward: a pulse means 1, no pulse represents 0.
Fiber-optic cables are designed to transmit those pulses quickly over long distances.
The inside of a fiber-optic cable is packed with optical fibers made of glass, each about as thick as a human hair. Light particles that enter one end of an individual fiber exit at the other side.
This is possible because of a light phenomena called “total internal reflection.” Below a critical angle, light particles “bounce” within the fiber, like a marble dropped down a long pipe. Each fiber is wrapped in a layer of glass or plastic “cladding” that has a lower optical density than the core fiber, causing total internal reflection to occur where they meet.
When light pulses reach the end of the fiber a receiver translates them back into binary data.
Anatomy of a fiber-optic cable
Individual optical fibers are surrounded by several layers of material that strengthen, protect, and help keep light from escaping.
A typical fiber-optic cable is packed with dozens to hundreds of individual optical fibers, allowing a high volume of data to travel over a single connection.
Single-Mode vs Multimode
There are two types of optical fiber: single-mode and multimode.
Single-mode has a smaller core and carries laser diode transmissions over large distances. Multimode transmits LED light through a bigger core, where light “bounces” in multiple paths over shorter distances.
Multimode is significantly cheaper than single-mode, making it common for shorter distances within city networks.
Cable Construction: Ribbon vs Loose Tube
Complete fiber-optic cables come in two basic varieties: ribbon and loose tube.
Ribbon is cheaper and packs fibers more closely, while loose tube offers more padding and protection against the elements.
There are many different sizes and varieties of cables available in either type, but the concept is always the same: bundles of fibers wrapped in protective material.
Note that these examples are not representative of all cable products — there will be less or more protective layers based on application purpose, and the number of fibers contained in a cable can be anywhere from two to several hundred.
Fiber-Optic Cables are Color Coded
When all the fibers within a cable are of the same type, the cable’s outer layer will be color-coded accordingly. Additionally, individual bundles of fiber within the cable are color-coded so installers can identify which interior bundles to connect when splicing cables together.
Simplex vs Duplex
Fiber-optic connections usually go two ways, so cables are sold in two packaging styles: simplex and duplex.
Duplex cables include two separate fiber-optic cables connected by the outer coating, with two entry/exits on either end. Data only flows in one direction on either cable, making them a good fit for high-traffic connections like backbone ports, fiber switches and servers.
Cables are often installed with additional unused fibers. These “dark fibers” can be lit up in the future if more capacity is needed. This makes fiber-optic networks highly scalable compared to DSL or coaxial cable, allowing a network to easily grow without burying additional cables. Dark fiber was installed rapidly during the original dot-com boom. As a result, cities like Washington DC have huge quantities of dark fiber still “unlit.”
Components of a fiber-optic network
- Fiber-optic cable: Cable that carries data as light pulses from one place to another.
- Transmitter: Device that translates digital signal into light pulses and sends them through a fiber-optic cable. Some transmitters can send multiple signals simultaneously using different wavelengths (colors) of light, multiplying the capacity of a single optical fiber. This technique is called Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM).
- Receiver: Device that translates light pulses into digital signal for delivery to a digital device. When WDM is used, the receiver is designed to translate multiple wavelengths from a single optical fiber.
- Amplifier: Device that amplifies light signals within a fiber-optic network. Amplifiers are used when the cable is too long for a single pulse to reach the other end undiminished — for example, connections between cities, or submarine cables connecting continents.
Note that transmitters/receivers are often contained in the same product — called a transceiver — since data will usually go both ways on a simplex fiber-optic cable.
Companies that sell fiber broadband often describe themselves as “100% fiber networks”.
That term is misleading because there are several tiers of fiber broadband service recognized by the FCC, and most of them switch to coaxial or ethernet cable at some point between the ISP office and your modem jack.
The biggest challenge to the growth of fiber broadband in the US is the high cost of installing it. This has hamstrung expansion by carriers like Verizon and caused even major innovators like Google Fiber to back out of some markets citing cost to deploy. Fios ultimately sold large parts of their network to other carriers, primarily Frontier, in cities like Tampa, Florida.
The FCC recognizes the high cost of laying cable as a “substantial barrier” to broadband infrastructure growth in the US. Analysts estimate the cost of Google Fiber’s nationwide expansion plan to be $3,000–$8,000 per home.
The increased viability of services like fixed wireless for “last mile” could cut into the market for high-speed cable alternatives.
Companies like Starry Wireless are currently experimenting with urban wireless service that could rival wired broadband speeds.
Lobbyists and politics
Fiber is a common choice for cities that want to invest in municipal public broadband infrastructure.
Unfortunately, complex state laws (many created under pressure from telecom lobbyists) often prohibit cities from installing their own fiber, on the grounds that it puts them in competition with private businesses.
Pros and Cons of Fiber broadband
- Highly scalable
- Next-generation 1Gb speeds
- Resistant to electrical interference like storms that affect DSL, cable & wireless
- Expensive to install
- Speeds dramatically higher than average subscriber needs
- More fragile than coaxial cable
Largest Fiber Providers
Fiber Providers: Availability by State
|Alabama||1,570,938||32.0%||79 Fiber Providers|
|Alaska||70,320||9.4%||26 Fiber Providers|
|Arizona||3,642,141||53.1%||58 Fiber Providers|
|Arkansas||839,327||27.8%||66 Fiber Providers|
|California||13,832,889||35.8%||129 Fiber Providers|
|Colorado||3,308,286||62.1%||102 Fiber Providers|
|Connecticut||338,427||9.3%||36 Fiber Providers|
|Delaware||532,971||56.6%||26 Fiber Providers|
|District of Columbia||466,800||74.8%||42 Fiber Providers|
|Florida||8,090,427||40.7%||118 Fiber Providers|
|Georgia||5,105,012||49.7%||130 Fiber Providers|
|Hawaii||803,915||56.6%||16 Fiber Providers|
|Idaho||764,605||45.8%||56 Fiber Providers|
|Illinois||2,730,582||21.0%||151 Fiber Providers|
|Indiana||2,601,063||39.2%||104 Fiber Providers|
|Iowa||1,672,268||54.0%||221 Fiber Providers|
|Kansas||1,233,650||42.2%||102 Fiber Providers|
|Kentucky||2,161,464||48.4%||83 Fiber Providers|
|Louisiana||1,321,076||28.8%||58 Fiber Providers|
|Maine||138,738||10.3%||36 Fiber Providers|
|Maryland||3,697,494||61.9%||66 Fiber Providers|
|Massachusetts||2,896,484||43.6%||56 Fiber Providers|
|Michigan||2,934,501||29.8%||104 Fiber Providers|
|Minnesota||2,886,643||52.9%||139 Fiber Providers|
|Mississippi||1,478,470||49.0%||56 Fiber Providers|
|Missouri||2,202,869||35.9%||113 Fiber Providers|
|Montana||276,818||27.0%||42 Fiber Providers|
|Nebraska||942,291||50.2%||78 Fiber Providers|
|Nevada||744,290||25.3%||52 Fiber Providers|
|New Hampshire||418,028||31.2%||31 Fiber Providers|
|New Jersey||6,133,303||68.7%||66 Fiber Providers|
|New Mexico||1,160,258||53.7%||59 Fiber Providers|
|New York||12,632,019||64.6%||120 Fiber Providers|
|North Carolina||4,174,410||41.3%||100 Fiber Providers|
|North Dakota||383,256||55.3%||41 Fiber Providers|
|Ohio||3,097,978||26.7%||114 Fiber Providers|
|Oklahoma||1,004,521||25.9%||89 Fiber Providers|
|Oregon||2,487,303||62.2%||90 Fiber Providers|
|Pennsylvania||5,838,919||45.3%||101 Fiber Providers|
|Puerto Rico||26,786||0.7%||12 Fiber Providers|
|Rhode Island||884,393||84.2%||26 Fiber Providers|
|South Carolina||1,702,301||35.0%||57 Fiber Providers|
|South Dakota||372,172||44.2%||55 Fiber Providers|
|Tennessee||3,216,872||48.7%||110 Fiber Providers|
|Texas||11,436,979||42.4%||195 Fiber Providers|
|Utah||2,030,089||68.1%||55 Fiber Providers|
|Vermont||147,590||23.4%||26 Fiber Providers|
|Virginia||4,370,001||52.2%||109 Fiber Providers|
|Washington||4,170,479||58.9%||110 Fiber Providers|
|West Virginia||97,035||5.2%||33 Fiber Providers|
|Wisconsin||1,297,526||22.3%||114 Fiber Providers|
|Wyoming||158,826||26.9%||32 Fiber Providers|