As FiberLight extends its network into more parts of Texas and other states, the service provider is looking to play a larger role in supplying dark fiber solutions to school districts via the FCC’s E-Rate program.
Like other service providers, what’s motivated FiberLight to start pursuing E-Rate funded dark fiber deals are the changes the FCC made to the procurement process.
As part of the FCC's E-Rate order that was issued in 2015, the regulator amended the eligible services list to support the equal treatment of lit and dark fiber services. What this means is that local school districts will be able to purchase either kind of service depending on their specific needs via an FCC Form 470 application.
However, the FCC noted that any applicant that issues RFPs for dark fiber will be required to seek bids for lit services like wavelengths over the same time period. Additionally, applicants have to include network equipment and maintenance costs associated with lighting dark fiber in the same application with the dark fiber lease.
Ron Kormos, chief development officer for FiberLight, told FierceTelecom that schools that opted for dark fiber are still trying to figure out how to implement it for their networks.
“Schools are an interesting deal because most of them do not understand dark fiber and some of the consultants that work with them don’t understand dark fiber, but it will get better,” Kormos said. “This year was a learning curve for a lot of people and as long as that funding stays there, I think you’re going to see a lot of more of the schools move into dark fiber next year.”
Traditionally, FiberLight had not aggressively pursued E-Rate school district contracts, but the service provider has put together a program to actively market itself to schools in the regions it operates.
“We historically had not dabbled a lot in E-Rate and we have either three or four schools that we actually have E-Rate with, but we never really built our business case around E-Rate,” Kormos said. “With the new funding rules we have teams going out meeting with all of the schools and regions.”
FiberLight’s efforts come at a key time, particularly in Texas where service providers are rapidly expanding their fiber networks to meet an array of business and fiber-to-the-tower (FTTT) builds from major wireless operators. A number of these service providers are actually leveraging and extending existing fiber networks initially built for FTTT contracts to serve an array of enterprise and school district needs.
One example of where the leverage-and-extend trend is taking place is at Zayo Group. One of FiberLight’s key competitors in the dark and lit fiber race, Zayo recently won a new dark fiber and IP services contract with the Texas Education Service Center Region 11.
Through that agreement, Zayo will provide a dark fiber network connecting 122 locations in 77 school districts across a 10-county area in north-central Texas. Additionally, schools will also get access to 100G IP connectivity.
But FiberLight has also put itself into a position to more effectively compete for more school district contracts in Texas. The service provider recently established additional low-latency connectivity between the western portions of the company's Texas network to tie its 10,000 mile network together covering over six Texas cities and towns.
Kormos said that it continues to meet with various school districts and school regions, including Amarillo and other areas about what dark and lit fiber solutions it can offer through the E-Rate program.
“We’re trying to get our name out there and we’re trying to educate the school districts and the different regions on what they need to be asking for,” Kormos said. “We’re going to make a real concerted effort as the new E-Rate season starts up and try to be a player in the E-Rate field.”
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