More Fiber, Less Waiting

I hate waiting. It’s time-consuming, annoying and incredibly frustrating. No one likes waiting.

On behalf of the Fiber to the Home Council, I recently testified before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Technology on the subject of waiting — or rather how to make sure providers deploying all-fiber networks don’t wait. While my testimony focused on one key point: we can and should do more to make the process for deploying all-fiber networks more convenient and more efficient, and therefore, less expensive.

Construction costs are between 60 to 80 percent of a next generation fiber broadband deployment. Over the last few years, the fiber industry has made considerable strides and technological advancements in making ultrafast broadband easier and cheaper to deploy. Techniques like “micro-trenching” have reduced the costs of in-ground fiber deployment and, equipment vendors have developed simple plug-in devices to reduce the need to splice fiber cable. But while the advancements in technology make a big difference, government agencies at all levels have a major role to play, and they need to work harder to streamline the process of deploying these networks and otherwise lower the costs of these large-scale construction projects.

One public policy many government agencies have implemented to stop “waiting” is “dig once.” When new roads are being built or opened for maintenance and conduit is not already in place, “dig once” policies that involve the installation of an oversized conduit bank within the right-of-way to accommodate future users can have significant benefit. Once the conduit is in place, any company that wants to add fiber can just route their cables through that existing conduit — reducing the need to tear up the streets each time a new broadband provider wants to bring service to an area. This simple, low-cost policy could cut the cost of fiber construction by an enormous amount, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and we urge all government agencies to adopt it.

In addition to deploying fiber underground, next generation broadband deployments run cables along existing utility or telephone poles. This usually can be done faster than underground trenching and at a lower cost, but there are concerns. The flow of both sidewalk and road traffic can be disturbed, work can be noisy, and construction equipment can be an eyesore.

Right now the process to make a pole ready too often works like this: a new broadband provider negotiates access to poles in a given area and then waits…and waits. Other providers or entities that have equipment attached to those poles get in line, and one after another, bring construction crews in to move their own equipment around on the poles to make way for the new deployment. This process is referred to as “make-ready.” Everyone involved in the make-ready process loses: the existing users of the poles who have to move their equipment, the community residents who suffer through weeks and weeks of construction and the would-be broadband provider, who waste money as they wait.

Today, we’re releasing guidance on how to streamline these make-ready policies to facilitate broadband deployments. All government agencies should adopt “one touch” make-ready policies for utility poles, which would allow a single construction crew — with enough skill and experience to be on an approved list and chosen by the pole owner itself — to complete all the work necessary to make a pole ready for the attachment of new equipment. This is similar to guidance offered in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which called for “allow[ing] prospective attachers to use independent, utility approved and certified contractors to perform all engineering assessments and communications make-ready work…under the joint direction and supervision of the pole owner and the new attacher.”

These policies are effective ways to reduce the disruption and inconvenience that come from work by many construction crews, while reducing wait time. These policies are equitable: an authorized contractor protects the pole owner and other companies or entities that have equipment attached to poles. And in the long run, adopting these policies would make it easier for private companies to invest in Internet connectivity, making communities “fiber ready.” And best of all: cut down on waiting.