In our line of work, we care a lot about poles and need lots of data to make sound engineering decisions about them. Whether it's a new attachment application, pole loading jobs, make ready calls, or distribution engineering—it's our job to know as much as we can about utility poles and how the pole attachments process works in various regions of the country.
Outside of the utilities and telecommunications industry, most people don't really care at all about utility poles or the attachments process. However, I think there are a few things everyone should know about this niche industry:
1. Distribution engineers work really hard to keep your lights on
The transmission and distribution of electricity in our country is amazing. Distribution engineers are always looking for ways to protect poles and keep power flowing to your home and office. They create standards for distribution pole builds that are designed to handle even the toughest of storms, and find new and creative ways to test their pole lines to ensure these standards are working.
2. Your electricity, TV, and internet rates are lower because of poles
Though utility and telephone poles can be quite the eyesore, aerial distribution is often much cheaper than going underground. Power is much more affordable on a macro scale because utilities can leverage aerial distribution for most of their service territory. Thanks to this existing infrastructure, communications companies have a massive distribution system to deliver internet and TV to business and homes across America.
3. Pole owners are required to let other people put attachments on their poles
Most of the time, pole owners don't have much of a choice about allowing attachments on their poles. Whether regulated by the FCC, their state, or their municipality, pole owners are mandated to allow other parties on their poles. Things get messy because each additional attachment affects a pole's load, so poor engineering can result in outages, injury, or even death. Beyond this, competition is another complication for the process. Some poles are owned by communications companies, who are highly incentivized to keep new fiber off their poles. The regulations are constantly changing, due in part to the fine line between providing much-needed internet access families and businesses across the US and making sure the electrical grid stays safe and reliable.
4. Many people are still using paper, pencils, sticks, and wheels to do utility pole engineering
Until very recently, the best way to collect data about a pole line was to send someone with lots of experience out in the field with a wheel, a measuring stick, and some profile sheets. We still have teams doing this in 2019, but the industry is making a major shift towards pole survey technology. Pole owners are starting to manage third-party attachment applications online, and engineering contractors across the US are using photogrammetry, LiDAR, and drone data to perform utility pole assessments for the toughest data collection challenges. As high-speed internet and lightning-fast 5G make their way to communities across the country, sketches of poles won't be enough. Data collection will have to accurate and defensible, and those engineering the attachments must be prepared to do so in a manner that ensures the robustness of the electrical grid.
Thanks for reading! If you have questions about the pole attachments process, shoot me an email at email@example.com!