Perspectives on Competitive Fiber Networks: Past, Present, and Future

Tags: Technology Policy

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In the early 1980s, upstart firms were only beginning to imagine the possibilities of constructing and providing rival fiber network-based services to large business customers. At that time, the concept of “competitive access providers” (or CAPs) was only beginning to take shape. The rise of Metropolitan Fiber Networks, or MFS, demonstrated that such offerings could be the basis of a thriving business. Aided by the AT&T consent decree and state public utility commissions interested in encouraging entry, the success of such efforts laid the groundwork for a more ambitious undertaking: the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The 1996 Telecom Act initially gave rise to considerable hopes for how Competitive Local Exchange Carriers, or CLECs, could build on the success of the CAPs. Indeed, the confidence that such CLECs were truly on the rise and constraining the legacy market power of the incumbent providers led the Kennard FCC in the late 1990s to deregulate, to a considerable degree, the market for fiber-based services to big businesses (the so-called “special access” market).

Alongside the formation of CAPs and CLECs was the commercialization of the Internet. Unbeknownst to CAPS, the Internet drove demand for high capacity circuits in the mid-1990s. Unforeseen by the authors of the 1996 Telecom Act, the biggest revenue source of CLECs was dial-up Internet Access. The Fiber Boom of the 1998 through 2001 was entirely driven by grandiose premonitions of how pervasive the Internet would become.

As it enters its third decade, the commercial Internet is transforming our economy and society. Nonetheless, the telecom bust left the once-rosy hopes for the CLEC sector is a state of disarray. That said, fiber optic connections are the lifeblood of Internet connectivity and, amidst the rubble of the telecom bust, competitive fiber providers are playing an essential role in enabling an Internet-driven society to create economic prosperity and a higher quality of life.

The Front Range plays a uniquely important role in the resurgence of the Competitive Fiber Industry. The three largest competitive fiber providers in the U.S. are Level 3 Communications, tw telecom, and Zayo Group, all of which are headquartered locally. The majority of competitive fiber constructed since 1998 is now owned and operated by these three companies. All three are growing their Colorado-based headcount. All three are led by executives who trace their roots to MFS.

In this conference, we will examine the dynamics of competitive fiber networks, with leaders of the top companies providing opening keynote addresses and expert panels providing different perspectives on how the sector developed and where it is headed.


  • Phil Weiser
    Hatfield Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School
Keynote Speaker
Panel 1: MFS, The 1996 Telecom Act, and the Creation of the CAP and CLEC Industry
  • Phil Weiser — Moderator
    Hatfield Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School
  • Dale Hatfield
    Spectrum Policy Initiative Co-director and Distinguished Advisor, Silicon Flatirons
  • Roger Noll
    Professor of Economics, Emeritus, Stanford University
  • Chris Savage
    Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine
  • Robert Quinn
    Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory & Chief Privacy Officer, AT&T
  • Blair Levin
    Fellow, Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, Executive Director, Gig.U

Keynote Speaker
  • Dan Caruso
    Co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer, Zayo Group
Panel 2: The Internet-Driven Telecom Boom and Bust
  • Phil Weiser — Moderator
    Hatfield Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School
  • Paul Margie
    Partner, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP
  • Colleen Boothby
    Partner, Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby, LLP
  • Thomas Navin
    Partner, Wiley Rein LLP
  • Craig Moffett
    Senior Analyst, U.S. Telecommunications, Cable & Satellite Broadcasting, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. LLC
  • John Siegel
    Partner, Columbia Capital

Keynote Speaker
  • Tom Ray
    President and Chief Executive Officer, CoreSite
Panel 3: The Resurgence and Future of Competitive Fiber Networks

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