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The effect of dispersive, linear propagation (e.g., in single‐mode optical fiber) on the intensity noise from semiconductor lasers is investigated. Relations between the frequency and amplitude noise variations of semiconductor lasers are obtained from the laser rate equations and used to calculate the change in the relative intensity noise (RIN) spectrum that occurs during dispersive propagation. Propagation in fiber with positive dispersion (D≳0) over moderate distances (several km for standard single‐mode fiber at 1.55 μm) is found to reduce the RIN over a wide range of frequencies. Measurements with a 1.56 μm distributed feedback laser confirm the main theoretical results and demonstrate reductions in RIN of up to 11 dB with 4 km of standard fiber. © 1996 American Institute of Physics.