While SpaceX was busy launching satellites for their Starlink satellite internet service, Facebook was quietly installing fiber optic cables between its 13 data centers. The progress has not been fast, but it has been consistent, and Facebook now has a relatively large network that can reach some consumers.
Facebook needs little introduction. What started as a social networking service for college students morphed into a social media juggernaut that just about everyone—and their moms—interfaces with. While Facebook has largely remained focused on social media, which currently requires 13 data centers in the U.S., it has branched out into other endeavors, including virtual reality headsets.
Facebook Building a Fiber Optic Network
All of the data that Facebook houses has to be transmitted between its 13 data centers, and since the second data center went live, that has meant that Facebook has had to rely on internet service providers. That began to change in 2017 when Facebook laid 200 miles of fiber-optic cable between its data centers in Texas and New Mexico. The project was time-consuming and expensive at $250 million, but it also resulted in one of the highest-capacity networks in the country. That made it a success, and Facebook soon began making plans to lay fiber-optic cables between its other data centers.
The Motivation Behind It
Prior to building its own network, Facebook was limited to what local ISPs could provide. In many cases, that was not good enough in large part because the Facebook data centers are in rural areas where the major ISPs have little incentive to expand. Government funding was and is still expected to provide that incentive, but Facebook could not wait and took it upon itself. While some have speculated that Facebook aims to become a major fiber-optic ISP, this is certainly not the case as of yet. Facebook simply opts to sell capacity that it does not need, which helps to offset the costs of these projects and also has a very real positive effect within the communities where they have this option.
Current Progress and the Future
Facebook has already established the aforementioned network between New Mexico and Texas. The next phase took place in North Carolina followed by West Virginia. It is currently establishing a network in Indiana and plans another in West Virginia. It also has data centers in Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Virginia. The Texas and New Mexico project was an experiment. Facebook was determined to succeed but did not really know what it was doing. It had learned a lot, though, and it was in establishing the North Carolina network that it realized that it would have a surplus that could generate a profit. It was in 2019 that Facebook first publicly stated that they intended to work with third-party ISPs in order to provide public access to residences and businesses.
How Facebook Fiber Could Affect You
It is important to note that Facebook has no current plans to provide internet service directly to customers. What it does instead is partner with a third party, such as the North Carolina Research and Education Network. NCRN already has almost 4,500 miles of fiber-optic infrastructure, and it purchases excess capacity from Facebook to expand service to its customers. Whether you will be affected by the Facebook effort really depends on whether or not its chosen partner in your area is able to provide service to your home or business.