The universities also used the unused fiber to tie campus networks to city buildings that housed major telecommunications carriers, according to a report published by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit group that advocates for educational technology.

Northwestern University in 2004 joined 11 partner schools in using the Chicago Fiber Ring, a high-speed fiber optic ring that began as dark fiber.

A dozen Committee on Institutional Cooperation member schools purchased the fiber network and paid about $13.2 million less than if each school had purchased a smaller but similar network on its own.

The EDUCAUSE report warned campus technologists that colleges and universities should act quickly if dark fiber is the best way to bolster campus internet connections.

With “further consolidation within the telecommunications industry, we do not expect that our community will be able to acquire this critical raw material indefinitely,” the report said. “Thus, for the U.S. research universities and their collaborators, time truly is of the essence in developing facilities-based, regional optical networking capabilities.”

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