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Fiber optic service may face some obstacles in Detroit

Apr 9, 2015

Fiber optic cable
Credit Flickr user Firas / Flickr

On yesterday's Stateside, we met the co-founders of Rocket Fiber, the ultra-high-speed Internet service coming to downtown Detroit later this year and to Midtown Detroit next year.

The prospect of fiber optic cable delivering an Internet that's at least 100 times faster than what most of us are used to is mighty appealing.

But this isn't the first time a group has tried to bring fiber optic Internet to the city.

Larry Gant, professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the School of Art & Design, says there have been two previous attempts to use fiber cables in the city.

"The reason that this current group is actually using the fiber is because it's been there," Gant says. "It's simply not being utilized."

In the early 2000s, there was GigaTrans and around 2005 there was Clearwire.

For GigaTrans, Gant says their business model simply didn't pan out. They planned to charge corporations a large sum of money, and then use it to subsidize high-speed Wi-Fi for the surrounding residential areas. But Gant says not enough companies signed up because of the high price point.

Clearwire's demise was different. Its money was invested in a technology called WiMax that eventually lost to better models like LTE and other Wi-Fi solutions.

So does Rocket Fiber have a chance?

If they can find a large enough customer base, Gant says maybe, but he's still skeptical.

He says there are still be some technological problems. "The majority of fiber is in downtown. If you want to go out to other neighborhoods, you're going to have to punch that out with some kind of signal transmission, you can only extend the cable so far."

"It's really, really unlikely that there'll be any more fiber being laid," Gant says.