Open access networks help bridge the gap in connection disparities by bringing in a third-party team to help plan, design and construct a fiber optic network that gives local internet service providers (ISPs) the opportunity to expand their broadband services to those lacking this critical infrastructure. An open access network would be leased to the ISPs, who would then provide the broadband access to the residents in these rural communities.

This approach provides three significant advantages to rural communities, cooperatives and utilities. First, it improves the economics of deploying fiber because more consumers are using the infrastructure. Instead of a typical consumer take rate of 20% to 30% for fiber deployment, shared infrastructure can see take rates of up to 60% because customers of multiple service providers are accessing the same fiber cables. Second, it provides these communities with multiple ISP options, all utilizing the same fiber infrastructure. Easy movement between providers promotes competition between the ISPs and allows for easy customer migration between subscriptions. Third, it will enable asset owners to have just one or two communications attachments, reducing the number of undersized poles needing to be replaced, a high cost for deploying aerial fiber projects.

Complex Challenges

Rural communities can be miles away from the critical infrastructure that is needed to expand broadband services; in these sparsely populated regions, there can be significant distances between residents. A significant barrier to service expansion in the past has been the economic cost of building the infrastructure needed to reach customers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to provide $1.6 billion to build or improve electric infrastructure for rural cooperatives and utilities in many states. With part of the funding, recipients will be able to build and improve telecommunication infrastructure, expected to ultimately benefit 1 million rural residents and businesses.

Bridging the Divide

An outside team can help a rural cooperative expand broadband services to bring the benefits of a reliable broadband connection to more communities. Planning and analysis to determine the size of the area to be reached with new infrastructure is the first step.

The type of infrastructure that makes the most sense for a geographic region would also be determined. An assessment could then help determine what type of infrastructure is needed —aerial, buried fiber-fed broadband, or another offering.

As the ability to connect digitally gains importance, broadband services have become a necessity, regardless of whether people live in a rural or urban setting. Telemedicine, online learning and workplaces all increasingly require the capability of a reliable broadband connection. Open access networks can help provide it.


Communication deserts are increasingly becoming significant issues for those in rural communities. Discover how solutions are being developed to increase connectivity in all regions.

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Brian Sanfilippo leads fiber business at Burns & McDonnell. His experience includes managing and developing robust telecommunications solutions at locations across the United States.