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At first glance, the pole attachments process seems simple and fair.
Pole owners have rules for how attachers apply to build on their poles, and then attachers follow those rules, paying make ready costs to build as well as rent for their attachments. The FCC regulates fair timelines and implements rules like “self-help” that get fiber and antennas up on poles faster.
So where’s the problem? As it turns out, timelines aren’t always met, existing attachers haven’t always followed the rules, and pole owners aren’t always transparent with applicants about the process.
Straight from a project manager who has applied for attachments with more than a dozen pole owners in nine different states, here are some suggestions for pole owners to improve the process in their territory.
- Communication is key.
When it comes to the pole attachments process, having documentation of how your team accepts attachment applications is a big deal. Further, having contact information available for your third-party attachments team shows applicants that your team is engaged and interested in supporting broadband deployment in your territory.
It’s also crucial for pole owners (or their engineering contractors) to communicate clearly during the attachments process. Between design, surveys, invoicing, make ready engineering, and construction, the process often surpasses the timelines allotted by the FCC, yet attachers have no idea which step of the process their applications are in. It’s a lot easier to manage customer expectations when you have a clear understanding of your application’s status.
- A uniform process would make it easier for everyone.
There’s a different process to attach to poles in every market. Some pole owners use a portal and photos to manage third-party applications, while others process applications by printing out physical pole profile sheets with a sketch of existing conditions.
While pole owners will never agree on the best way to manage the pole attachments process, the FCC provides some uniformity in federally regulated states using timelines and other helpful rules.
Additionally, photo documentation is becoming the new standard for the process. Photos can provide evidence of existing conditions, which assists both sides during make ready disputes and can be used to check that attachers are building their new network up to distribution specifications. As more and more pieces of the process become standard (pole loading, photo documentation, online applications), pole owners can better incorporate best practices allowing attachers to deliver communication service faster.
- No good deed goes unpunished.
Unfortunately, the pole attachments process often puts attachers in a difficult situation where following the rules is slower and more expensive than building their attachment without permission. The penalty for illegal attachments is often a slap on the wrist compared to the true damage illegal attachments cause.
First, they are often built in an unsafe manner that puts their workers at risk of injury or death due to their close proximity to the power space. Second, they are charging customers at a price that will likely skyrocket when the pole owner becomes aware of the illegal build. And third, they force new attachers (who do follow the rules) to pay additional make ready to fix their mistakes.
The newest FCC Order speaks to this last situation, and utilities are beginning to hold existing attachers liable for any violations preventing a new attachment. Additionally, those with unpaid invoices for existing violations may be suspended from submitting new applications until their invoices are paid. This is an opportunity to send a very positive message about the pole attachments process. If you penalize those who break the rules, you send a message of support to those who follow them.
- Leverage technology to make the process more collaborative and efficient.
We live in a world where technology and data organization is nearly ubiquitous, yet the pole attachments process often seems stuck in a previous era. In a perfect world, pole owners would have a live database of each distribution pole in their territory along with with necessary information for make ready and pole loading, such as pole specs, insulator sizes, wire tensions, and existing attachers on the pole.
With a database such as this, pole owners could provide contact information for existing attachers when a new applicant needs to contact them to move their facilities. Further, this information could accelerate the process by allowing applicants to perform their own pole loading and make ready, which would then be reviewed by a distribution engineer or contractor familiar with the pole owner’s (and NESC) standards.
Lastly, having an online, photo-documented record of existing conditions allows parties to sit down over the phone/web and talk through engineering decisions that were made and help attachers better understand the pole owner’s distribution standards and what to look for when conducting the initial route determination. As attachers gain a better understanding of the pole owner’s specifications and standards, their team can deploy broadband faster and cheaper.
Ultimately, our objective is to make the pole attachments process a transparent and collaborative effort, as opposed to an “us vs. them” conflict many attachers and pole owners feel that it is. Better communication is the first step, and folks like Justin are helping push pole owners in the right direction.
By Adam Schmehl, Marketing Operations, Katapult Engineering
June 21, 2019