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Open Fibre Data Standard: Understanding the True Extent of the Internet

As the value of being connected to the internet increases, the need to make internet access available and affordable to all citizens becomes ever more urgent.  But how many people actually have access to the internet? Statistics are often quoted about what percentage of the world has access to the internet but those numbers are inevitably fuzzy, relying on varying definitions of internet access and varying levels of reporting quality.  In order to understand the true extent of the internet, we need to start with the basics, the physical infrastructure that carries the internet around the world.

The first step in developing a solid foundation on which to understand the growth of the internet are terrestrial fibre optic networks, the high-capacity backbones that carry thousands of terabits of internet traffic every day across vast distances. Fibre optic networks are the “deep water ports” of the internet, offering orders of magnitude of greater communication capacity than any other access technology. Research has shown that just living close to a fibre optic network is positively correlated with higher employment levels.

But fibre networks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from underground to aerial, from a few fibre strands to hundreds, from old technology to new. We can’t map the full extent of the fibre optic network infrastructure underpinning the internet without a common framework for describing them. And that is where the Open Fibre Data Standard comes in.  It provides a common framework for describing terrestrial fibre optic infrastructure that can be used by operators, researchers, governments, and regulators.

Building on Open Data principles, Mozilla has partnered with the World Bank, the International Telecommunications Union, Mozilla Corporation, the Internet Society, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, CSquared, and Digital Council Africa to support the development of the Open Fibre Data Standard and to promote its adoption. Thanks to financial support from the World Bank, the Open Data Services Cooperative (ODSC), a consultancy with extensive experience and expertise in Open Data standard development, was contracted to provide technical assistance in the development of the standard.

The Open Fibre Data Standard has gone through extensive development and consultation.  Beginning with an Alpha and Beta release, it is now in release 0.2.  Mozilla staff will travel to Ghana, Kenya and India in March and April of 2023 to build technical capacity for operators and regulators in the implementation of the standard and to support participation in its further development.