Imagine a city water distribution system that doesn't deliver water to buildings and residences because its pipes don't reach far enough. Much the same situation exists for America's high-speed data-transfer network. The multibillion-dollar optical-fiber backbone that was built to bring truly high-performance multimedia services to office and home computers across the nation has come up a bit short--for nine out of 10 U.S. businesses with more than 100 workers, less than a mile short. Despite swelling user demand, the prospect of delay-free Web browsing and data library access, electronic commerce, streaming audio and video, video-on-demand, video teleconferencing, real-time medical imaging transfer, enterprise networking and work-sharing capabilities, as well as numerous business-to-business transactions, still lies just over the horizon--actually, buried under local streets and sidewalks.
Traditional copper wires and coaxial cables connecting buildings to telephone and cable television systems simply do not possess the gigabit-per-second capacity necessary to carry advanced bandwidth-intensive services and applications, whereas optical-fiber bridges needed to connect millions of users to the optical-fiber backbone would cost too much to install (between $100,000 and $500,000 a mile). As a result, only 2 to 5 percent of that nationwide network is being used today.