Dark Fiber – the Answer to Passive Aggressive Intermediaries

Is there such a thing as a passive intermediary on the internet? Can you talk about “dumb pipe” anymore? Has there ever been such a thing anyway?

There used to be a time when “network neutrality” was the gold standard. Telecoms would pride themselves of on not interfering with the data. “Traffic shaping” was an ugly word. Then came ban on roaming, cheap subscriptions, 4G, 5G, new players, integration of infrastructure, services and content and so on. Network neutrality became regarded as a naïve vision, far from the needs of self-driving cars and telesurgery. With the lines blurring, some argue that today nobody’s passive any longer (so therefore all should be regarded as passive… strange logic.)

But look close enough and you may find that there are some true neutrals still around in the wild. These are the real passive providers: Say it now and say it loud, I’m passive and I’m proud!


Stokab is the fiber infrastructure provider in my hometown Stockholm. It is owned by the city and provides what it calls “Dark Fiber” – a passive fiber connection between two addresses on the network. Nothing more, nothing less. Stokab does nothing with the traffic, only provides the capacity. According to its website, more than 100 clients use Stokab to provide services to their customers. Stokab doesn’t care what they do with it, it only provides the infrastructure. Dark fiber, a smarter way to say dumb pipe!

Open Fiber

“To travel all at the same speed” is the motto of Italy’s Open Fiber. That sounds a lot like network neutrality, no? Open Fiber is a “wholesale-only” operator which is rolling out an “ultra-broadband” optical fiber network to all Italian regions. This is how it describes its business:

We have chosen a “wholesale only” business model to guarantee access to all interested operators, under the same conditions, and to provide users with a wide array of choice.

If that is not passive, I don’t know what is!

So far, Netopia has found two truly passive providers in Europe. Let us know if you know of more! The era of passive intermediaries is not over. In fact, it may have just begun.