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Breaking Open the Black Box

With the right business intelligence and data, communications providers can predict potential problems before they even arise. With technological advancements to hardware, they can get ahead of service interruptions, respond to issues from miles away, and improve bandwidth for customers.


Ironically, a critical part of broadband deployment is the pole attachments process, which, unlike every other part of fiber deployment, is rife with mystery. 


So while providers can (and do) track everything from upload speeds, downtime, homes passed, network capacity, and more, they can’t predict how long it’ll take to get a railroad permit approved or estimate make ready construction timelines. 


There are a few black boxes that add major confusion to the process:


  1. Walkout Process - Service providers traditionally send out techs or subcontract walkout/strandmapping that is done offline. They get a batch of maps and field data instead of daily or real-time information that lets them pivot or adjust to new information. This often means that OSP project managers are guessing whether or not they are collecting enough or too much information. 

  2. Pole Owner Requirements - Until the aerial route has been decided, service providers don't know who the pole owner will be or what the requirements are to submit for pole attachments. It can be a monumental effort to get a licensing agreement in place, let alone submitting a single application that will be approved. 

  3. In-Progress Make Ready/ROI - Providers don’t know who else has applied for the poles or what make ready costs will be until after engineering has been finished. A pole that looks like it has plenty of space may be overloaded and cause an expensive pole replacement to be performed.

  4. Timelines - Providers don’t know how long the process will take. They don’t know if pole owners or their vendors are tapped out, or if they can hire an approved OTMR contractor to expedite Simple make ready work. They don’t know how long it’ll take to get permits from rights’ holders. They don’t know if existing attachers are going to drag their feet, preventing them from building safely. 


Providers have to invest precious time and resources to get any clarity on the process, timelines, and costs.


Because they can’t begin to estimate costs until they’re already wrestling through the process, funding dries up a lot faster than expected, and fewer underserved communities receive reliable internet.


With pole attachments in the spotlight, we are starting to see steps in the right direction. But the process is always going to be complicated because two things will always be true: 


  1. Every pole owner is different. 

  2. Safety and reliability take first priority. 


Pole owners have the responsibility to build a process that best serves the regions they oversee. So trying to strongarm owners into following your preferred process just doesn’t work. We have to find solutions that follow the pole owner’s methods while still delivering wins for new providers. Because as great as broadband is, keeping people safe and the power on always comes first. 


All that being said, the pole attachments process isn’t doomed. And BEAD funding is a new chance to do things better. Sometimes small, concrete steps can be the healthiest way to build better systems


Here are three ways to start:


  1. Do your research. Figure out the pole owner’s process and requirements before sending teams out, and find ways to get what you need while still delivering the info pole owners require. Gather as much information as you can to make sure your application doesn't get stalled. 

  2. Be as transparent as possible. Online mapping tools, photo measurements, and online application submissions present one version of truth. Keep data as transparent and measurable as you can. 

  3. Invest in relationships. Don’t underestimate the power of trust. Going above and beyond, setting conservative estimates, following the rules, and being willing to make the first move towards transparency have disproportionately positive impacts on your bottom line. 


Thanks for reading! If you're feeling stuck trying to make your Aerial OSP projects win, we'd love to help. Give us a shout at hello@katapultengineering.com.


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