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The Katapult Story

Updated: Apr 17

Does Your Work Matter

But most of us have one thing in common: we’re seeking meaning. We want to know that our life has a purpose and that our time and energy are spent making the world a better place.

Except, for some reason, when it comes to work. A lot of us take crappy jobs with crappy bosses and crappy customers. We count the days until retirement. We spend 8-10 hours a day having the life drained out of us, trying to shore up whatever defenses we can so it doesn't infect the rest of our life.

Why do we do this? One-third of our lives are spent at work, which might be more than any other single category across our relationships and activities. When we spend more waking hours with our co-workers than we do with our family, we should probably choose co-workers very carefully.

But the problem is a lot bigger than just co-workers or work culture. Other things just aren't working about work:

  • employers aren't forthcoming about their priorities

  • teams are often dysfunctional

  • we treat work like a zero-sum game

Employer Priorities

Have you ever worked for a company that printed its core values on the walls?

Most core values are aspirational—a wish list of things employers want their staff to be. If a company actually values those things, you’ll see them in every person at the company. Hiring, firing, rewarding, and promoting decisions are based (at least partially) on them.

Most employers’ priorities seem to be about maximizing the returns of stakeholders. There's nothing wrong with this, but if all of your policies and decisions come back to a financially-driven target, you can lose sight of the bigger purpose and create an unhealthy work environment.

Dysfunctional Teams

In "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," Patrick Lencioni writes a brilliant parable and business model for the things that prevent teams from thriving. You'll notice that the foundation for this model is trust.

Do you trust your co-workers? Lencioni would argue that if you do, you are probably more likely to engage in healthy conflict. When you trust your team and get a chance to have your voice be truly heard, it's easier to commit—even if you don't agree completely. This leads to increased accountability and, of course, better attention to the results your team needs.

For most of my life, I've heard the people around me complain about work and their co-workers. I don't think there's a lot of trust going around these days.

The Zero-Sum Game

Perhaps the root of our problems with work treating it like a zero-sum game. Every hour spent at work takes away from time at home, right? Success at work must cost you something, right?

But what if you genuinely enjoyed your work? What if your work made the world a better place? What if you learned and grew and became a better person every day?

When the answer to these questions is “yes,” our work isn't a zero-sum game—and I believe we should consider everything else unacceptable.

What Can We Do About It?

There are a lot of things we can do.

  • Read The Truth About Employee Engagement - Lencioni describes three signs of a miserable job, and I think we all should make sure we push hard to find the inverse in our work (Measurement, Relevance, Being Seen/Heard).

  • Discover your core values - EOS® has a pretty cool approach (here is something similar) to this in which you examine your top employees—your role models—and find what they all have in common. Once you feel like you have your core values outlined, repeat them often and use them in all your business decisions.

  • Work the Venn diagrams - If you're familiar with the hedgehog concept or Ikigai, you know what I'm talking about. The Hedgehog Concept (as outlined by Jim Collins) encourages businesses to simplify based on what they're passionate about, what drives their economic engine, and what they are capable of being the best in the world at. Ikigai is a bit more subtle but focuses more on the individual than the business. Both can be used to zoom out and gain some perspective on how your work is impacting the world.

The Noble Cause

Everyone needs a reason for work that is beyond profits, and it can't take mental gymnastics to connect day-to-day work with that purpose.

If you clean bathrooms at a middle school, your purpose isn't to clean toilets. It's not sparkling mirrors, either. It’s probably related to positively impacting future generations or making sure the educational environment is ideal for growth.

If you take pictures of utility poles, your purpose isn't to take great photos or to be the fastest fielder this side of the Mississippi. It's probably to protect the reliability of the electrical grid or to ensure that local communities have access to reliable, high-speed internet.

Does your work matter? Do you know why it matters?

The Invisible Heroes

In the world of pole attachments, it’s fairly easy to question if your work does truly matter. When you find yourself jumping through hoops you don’t understand and or hitting roadblocks in a project, it can be hard to see how something like data collection serves a higher purpose. 

But let me ask you a different question. 

How are you reading this right now?

Sure, you may be on your phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a PC. But how are these words showing up on your screen?

I’m pretty new to the Katapult team, and I’ve been trying to figure this out myself. Here’s what I know:

It all comes down to telecommunications.

All the information we could ever want or need, more than ever before, is at our fingertips. Anywhere, anytime, instantly—because of telecommunications.

Telecom is a manner of communicating over distances. It’s a modern answer to an age-old question:

how can I, in this place where I am, communicate with you in the place where you are?

Technically, this whole thing started with smoke signals, flag waving, and lit beacons— ancient communication methods over great distances. Fast forward to the mid-1800s, when modern telecommunications was born with the invention of the telegraph.

For the first time, people began communicating using tiny electric signals through Morse code to get complex messages across long distances. This is all happening at the same time as the Pony Express, which was the fastest means of sending and receiving information at the time. Think of it—news of Abraham Lincoln’s election to President traveled from the east coast to the west in only eight short days!

But the Pony Express wasn’t faster than the telegraph. Poles quickly took over the country, making cross-country communication possible in seconds. (When Abe was assassinated, news reached California instantly.)

From the telegraph, we rapidly moved to the telephone. Poles carried telegraph, telephone, and electric lines, creating monstrosities like this early 1900s pole.

From telegraphs to telephones, television, and computers, we finally got to the internet. From there, things really sped up. I mean, connection was everywhere—homes, offices, cars, and even your pocket!

As devices became more prevalent, we learned to make them smarter and faster. You could talk, text, share, email, tweet, repost, play, stream.

You could get an education, learn a language, go to work, and see your doctor—all over a screen. And it kept getting faster and faster, more and more advanced, with unheard-of download and upload speeds.

Cell phones had access to 3G cellular, then LTE, and now 5G ultra-wideband and were nearly as versatile as computers and laptops. And then?

A global pandemic.

Thankfully, we could still attend class (in the shower), Zoom into meetings (from our beds), and make calls (with no pants on).

But not everyone had those options.

Covid-19 demonstrated our deep dependency on reliable, high-speed internet. It also highlighted the communities that desperately lacked it. Even now, years later, we rely on ubiquitous internet access to go about our daily lives. Everything from cooking dinner to navigating new cities to catching up on sports requires dependable internet service.

Yet across the country, underserved communities still struggle to keep up with a world that sees online education, telehealth, cloud backups, streaming services, and video calls as a given.

Before we write those folks off as the few (or as stubborn luddites) in Alaska or Wyoming, remember that 1 in 10 households have speeds less than 25Mbps and 1 in 3 internet customers have speeds less than 100Mbps.

The US government is working hard to provide public funding to incentivize providers to build networks in rural areas. RDOF, BEAD, and Internet for All are efforts to provide high-speed internet to the areas most in need. Providers are leveraging public and private capital to chip away at the number of underserved communities while also hitting ROI goals.

Their best option for broadband deployment?

You guessed it— the humble utility pole.

Maybe not the same as those death traps of the 1900s, nor the ones carrying news of Lincoln’s assassination. But the poles you pass every day, stretching from cell towers and standing tall over suburban neighborhoods (where everything goes underground). The poles that carry internet to the most rural areas and beyond.

So, how are you reading this? How can you check your email, call your mom, like a post, or stream TV?

All thanks to the utility pole. And the heroes who keep the lights on. So does your work matter? If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. 

The Virtuous Cycle

Still, those heroes have a tough job, and operate in a world of rules, requirements, and tensions.

Even though we’ve attaching communications cables to poles for nearly 200 years, we're still wrestling with the best ways to do it safely and quickly. In most places in America, it works like this—and this is a gross oversimplification:

  1. A communications provider allocates private or public funds to bring service to a new place.

  2. They plan out their route and identify where they can go underground and where they can go overhead.

  3. They send someone out to collect data from the field so that they can submit requests to attach.

  4. They submit permits for each pole to the correct pole owners.

  5. The pole owner reviews their submission and puts it through their process, which solves all necessary items like billing, engineering, and construction.

  6. Once the necessary electrical work has been completed, the applicant is responsible for coordinating all other construction work needed from existing attachers, who are their competitors, to create space for their new attachment.

The Perfect Storm

Two key issues in this process are causing headaches:

  • Issue one - Every pole owner has slightly different standards for engineering and construction, which means the permitting process varies drastically from one region to the next. Some pole owners only require locations and pole ID numbers, and others require full engineering (make ready and pole loading analysis). Most of the time, the applicant either over- or under-collects data in the field, so they've either already wasted time and money, or they're about to.

  • Issue two - Existing attachers are incentivized to draw this process out as long as possible. The longer they wait, the better. Why would they spend time and energy helping a competitor get on the pole quickly?

The conditions are now ripe for a vicious cycle.

Applicants are losing calendar days due to misunderstanding the pole owners’ priorities, only to finally get things right and find that their competitors have the power to slow them down even further at the one-yard line.

So some of them cut a corner. Or two.

Maybe they build based on existing guying instead of following the design package. Maybe they build before space has been made on the pole. Maybe they don’t ever submit an application and just continue to build out their network.

At first, applicants who choose to follow the rules are left in the dust by the few bad actors who break them. They start to wonder why the system seems to incentivize bad behavior. System-wide audits are rare enough that most unauthorized attachments go years without being caught.

Maybe this leads more attachers to break the rules. Maybe it doesn’t.

Eventually, and inevitably, something goes wrong. There’s a lawsuit, or unauthorized attachments are discovered and investigated. There’s an outage that could have been prevented. Someone gets hurt.

At this point, the pole owner must respond with more stringent standards, processes, and proactive defensive action. There’s hesitation now, and trust is eroding quickly. And the cycle continues.

Pole owners are forced to adapt processes to catch bad actors, and those playing by the rules have to adapt, too. Frustration builds, mistakes keep being made, and on and on and on.

But we believe there is a way out.

One-Touch Make Ready

This feels like an important preface: the FCC didn't come up with the concept of one-touch make ready, but they have championed it as a part of reports and orders over the past five years.

OTMR describes a new protocol to escape the vicious cycle. It works like this:

  1. Certain types of engineering and construction are Simple and need a streamlined process to expedite the pole attachments process.

  2. Communications providers can approach approved contractors (or bring their own qualified contractor) to perform Simple work on the pole.

  3. The approved contractor ensures that their Simple make ready engineering is performed safely and correctly, and any work requiring Complex make ready will go through the standard process.

  4. Once all the Complex work has been completed, the approved OTMR construction contractor performs all existing attacher moves and the installation of the new attachment—all in one go.

  5. A post-construction inspection is performed to ensure that everything was moved and built according to the engineering design and that no new safety issues were created.

One-touch, when executed skillfully, flips the vicious cycle on its head.

A great OTMR process contributes to a healthy joint use program by building trust between all parties involved:

  • Safety and Reliability - pole owners are able to maintain their engineering and construction standards for all make ready, and still utilize their internal processes for all Complex work. They also review as-built documentation to ensure the construction process was performed to their safety and reliability standards.

  • Full alignment - approved one-touch contractors are hired by attachers but also have a reputation at stake with pole owners. This healthy tension leads to decisions that expedite the attachments process, but never at the expense of safety or grid reliability. Because a misstep could result in their approval being revoked, OTMR contractors are very likely to push back on unsafe pressure or practices.

  • Inaction leads to progress - existing attachers are invited to review the make ready plan and raise flags—but they can no longer bring the attachment process to a halt by dragging their feet. The one-touch make ready process provides attachers with full transparency and a platform to vocalize concerns.

What's Coming

Early versions of one-touch are taking shape in markets across the country with varying success. When complemented by an already healthy joint use program, OTMR is a useful arrow in the quiver, but it still doesn't solve every problem.

The FCC will likely continue to update OTMR expectations as it regulates the pole attachments process. The FCC is also seeking input on how to improve broadband deployment across the nation. Many states self-regulate this process, however, and will be making their own determinations about whether or not OTMR is a valid approach.

One-touch is just one opportunity to provide tremendous impact within the industry. And while it may not be sexy, joint use represents another excellent chance for improvement. 

Too Important to Overlook

That’s why I balk at negative remarks— managing pole attachments has the potential to be a positive source that improves the quality of life for people across the globe. 

But on the flip side, these comments make sense. They come from being stuck in a tricky place. Failure in this arena is very public, and success comes with minimal glory.

Pole Attachments in the Spotlight

With broadband front and center in the public eye, and pole attachment requests steadily climbing, pole owners have been under immense scrutiny to streamline processes and improve timelines. The FCC has even put new regulations in place to apply pressure to pole owners across the country.

Some of the bigger communication providers respond to delays by taking utilities to court.

What's Worse than a Lawsuit?

Pressure from the FCC and attachers is significant, but it isn't the biggest challenge of joint use. The most important problem to solve is safety.

Every day, construction takes place across a utility's service territory. Human lives are at stake with every truck roll. Pole attachments aren't the reason for every construction project, but they do represent an additional dimension of safety risk—communication workers.

The typical workflow for a new communications attachment involves every existing attacher sending out their own construction crew to move their cables.

While working in the communication worker's safety zone is considered "low voltage," each new telecom attachment increases the likelihood of accidental injury or even death.

The concerns don't end with worker safety. Poorly engineered communication attachments can cause poles to bend or break—which leads to injury, property damage, fires, and outages.

You Can't Fully Enjoy Netflix When the Power's Out

Another major concern is the reliability of our electrical grid. Keeping the lights on requires active measures to improve distribution infrastructure, as well as defensive measures to make sure half the grid doesn't lose power every time the wind blows.

A single communications attachment doesn't typically put the grid at risk, but it's a different story when there are many attachments going in multiple directions with unbalanced loads. Improper engineering and construction add further volatility and increase the likelihood of avoidable outages.

It's tough to argue that broadband deployment should be priority number one, especially if you know a lineman or if you've ever lost power in the middle of the winter or the middle of the summer.

What Healthy Joint Use Looks Like to Me

It's obvious that the stakes are high when it comes to managing pole attachments as an electrical utility, but what does success look like? I'd like to break it down into four categories:

  1. Clear Priorities: attachers will cut corners and resist delays as long as the pole owner's priorities are unclear. Explaining safety and reliability concerns and how the attachment process addresses those concerns can build trust and get all parties involved on the same page.

  2. Organized Process: between agreements, billing, applications, and construction, joint use departments have a lot to manage. Accurate, up-to-date records and reporting can reduce pain while also providing clarity to vendors as well as attachers and their contractors.

  3. Transparent Workflows: the attachment process takes weeks (and sometimes months), and the status of applications is often unclear. Transparency builds trust with attachers and helps highlight where energy should be spent to improve processes. This doesn't solve the black box that is DOT permits, but it relieves pressure from the team constantly fielding questions about the status of applications.

  4. Accountability and Results: a healthy program should be constantly improving. Success should be evident across measurables like safety, reliability, and time to build. Post-construction inspections should be used to provide feedback to construction vendors, and attachers should have a chance to voice concerns without resorting to legal escalation.

A healthy joint use program may not be sexy, but it's absolutely essential to bringing reliable utilities to people. The crossroads of electrical distribution and high-speed internet are uniquely positioned to improve life for Americans.

It’s a noble cause, and we’ll keep writing software that makes their work a little easier. And keep in mind: as of the last decade or so, the joint use world has been flooded with pole attachments requests. 

Reliable Utilities for People

Even before things shut down in 2020, requests were steadily climbing. In some markets, telecom attachment applications had doubled, and the teams managing these requests were often weeks or months behind.

The pandemic highlighted something that was becoming increasingly clear—our quality of life in America is hugely dependent on our access to reliable, high-speed internet. Now, it feels like an all-out sprint for communication providers to be the first to light up these underserved communities using public funds.

There are many ways to bring reliable internet to people: going underground, using fixed wireless, or even through satellites. Each has its own unique cost-benefit analysis, but attaching to utility poles is still the primary channel to maximize the impact of broadband dollars.

There are a lot of problems with the pole attachment process. I've outlined some of them above, but they can be summarized like this:

  1. The biggest communication providers want to use a universal approach to applications even though every pole owner has a different process

  2. Pole owners and their vendors are struggling to keep up with the volume of applications while keeping workers safe and the grid reliable

  3. Existing attachers have too much power to slow their competition down

The Attacher's Perspective

The OTMR approach we outlined above creates a win-win that allows teams to do more work without sacrificing the safety and reliability of the electrical grid. And it prevents incumbent attachers from introducing friction for competition's sake. But there’s another perspective to consider— that of the pole owners. 

Joint Use Management in Katapult Pro

Joint use management portals are the best option for managing the headaches of joint use.

We have decades of experience solving the toughest challenges of joint use, both firsthand for a major utility and by supporting software customers across the country. Here's what we've learned and built along the way:

Fully-Administered Standards

The most important priority of a joint use department is to ensure that telecom attachments don't jeopardize the safety or reliability of the grid. Pole owners honor this priority through every step in the pole attachments process, from setting up initial agreements to post-construction inspections and attachment audits.

Attachers would love to steer the process toward an approach that fits their design workflow and timelines—and the FCC is working to make OTMR an option for certain types of work. But as pole owners, these expectations often distract from safety and reliability.

The Katapult Pro application management portal puts the power in the pole owner's hands to ensure consistency from their vendors. The portal facilitates pole owner standards for:

  • Attachment records

  • Standard and non-standard application processes

  • Make ready clearances and rules

  • Overhead power maps and pole locations

  • Pole loading standards and equipment specs

  • Construction packages

Creating these transparent, shareable standards allows pole owners to split work between trusted vendors to match incoming demand without sacrificing safety, reliability, or consistency of process.

Customer-Facing Attachments Portal

You can play defense against a flood of attachment requests by automating your process and providing transparent access to each application's status and next steps. The two approaches complement each other by reducing the risk of litigation and drastically cutting administrative costs.

Allowing attachers and their contractors to submit their own applications is critical to reducing the cost of joint use. It's also an opportunity to put the attachments process on rails and ensure that all applications are pre-vetted for completion.

In Katapult Pro, you can allow attacher admin users to manage their own users and permissions. You can also change what information is required to submit an application, as well as the statuses, timelines, notifications, and other actions taken as an app moves through different steps of the process.

Applicants can view all applications at a glance and see the real-time status without calling or emailing for a status update. This lets both you and them focus on the applications that need attention.

Integrated Engineering Workflows

The best engineering teams across the US use Katapult Pro to design, collect, engineer, and deliver make ready solutions. We built these engineering tools so that teams of any size can do great engineering work and deliver transparent data to build trust with their clients and partners.

Katapult Pro's suite of engineering tools uses the same real-time engine as our application portal and can be configured on your server, which means vendors can do great work while:

  • using a familiar tool

  • operating within your standards and specifications

  • producing consistent, standardized deliverables

  • keeping records and info accurate and up-to-date

And they can do this with existing staff and established workflows to offer a better price and or service.

Education, Scalability, and Growth

Healthy programs must be able to adapt and grow. Increased regulation can cause pressure, as can technology changes, process tweaks, new standards, staff turnover, or a flood of attachment requests from billions of dollars entering the market.

Our approach to support growth is threefold:

  1. Configuration, Training, and Certification - Katapult Pro workflows and models are extremely self-configurable. We have out-of-the-box default workflows that kick-start your project, and our onboarding process includes extensive training to assist you as you own and conquer even the most custom of implementations. Our certification program allows you to evaluate vendors' knowledge of Katapult Pro tools and workflows and gives us confidence that our training is sticky and that teams have been properly equipped.

  2. Continuous Improvement Packages - We know that something always comes up, and workflows and processes need to be invested in to grow and thrive. Our packages include monthly credits for custom coding, training, configuration, and more—so your most pressing issues can be solved quickly. Your vendors likely have a similar budget, which should give them the flexibility to capitalize on any opportunity you throw their way.

  3. World-Class Support - We love what we do and we care about the impact of our work. When you call or email us, we'll respond quickly. Our experienced, empathetic support staff work closely with our software and engineering teams to understand the scope and relevance of the work you do. We'll always do our best to communicate clearly, resolve issues quickly, and take accountability if we ever make a mistake.

A Noble Cause

Joint use can be an awkward landing place in your career—and it's almost impossible to explain to family and friends. Despite this, it's an incredible opportunity to positively impact others. As broadband deployment becomes a hotter topic, joint use departments across the nation will have an opportunity to steer the ship in a healthy direction. By pushing the telecom attachments process to be better and faster without sacrificing safety or reliability, these teams will be instrumental in bringing two critical utilities to communities across the country.

Raising the quality of life for Americans—that's work that matters.

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