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What Happens When Two People Apply For The Same Pole?

Something started happening to us a few years ago. The attachers we serve in Pennsylvania started applying for poles that were already in the middle of the make ready process. Not just a couple times—this started happening constantly. 

Overlapping attachment applications complicates things in a big way. 

Problem 1: Safety

It's tricky to engineer a new attachment safely while you're still helping someone else build on the pole.

I've drawn a quick sketch to highlight a few of the issues:
poles with multiple proposed attachments
multiple proposed attachments = make ready design chaos!

(1) The pole clearance between proposed attachment A and proposed attachment B. 

We can theoretically design a safe solution for both, but the ultimate safety of our communication workers comes from how things are built—not how they're designed.

(2) The pole clearance between proposed attachment B and low power. 

One of the most important safety clearances is distance from top comm to low power. This is really easy to understand and solve when the top comm height is known—it's really tough when the top comm is in an unknown, proposed state.

(3) The midspan ground clearance of the lowest comm. 

Depending on the environment, the lowest communications wire has to be at least a certain height for safety and reliability purposes. We often lower existing comms to create more space for new attachments. Theoretically, we can assume that the tension/sag will remain the same after such a move, and we can also assume that all other comms will attach at the exact intervals needed to accommodate two new attachments, but between bolt hole spacing and actual construction, it complicates what should be a simple make ready call. 

(4) The midspan clearance between proposed attachment B and low power. 

Similar to situation number 2, we need proper space between comms and potentially energized conductors in the span. A properly grounded system can help mitigate the stringency of these clearances, but it's still difficult to know how much space there will be when two construction variables are in play. (And that's without getting into how the catenary shapes change with the environment...)

Problem 2: Deployment Costs and Route Feasibility

Until recently, the movement of new communications deployment to the same poles was relatively glacial. There was so much opportunity, and most of the funding was private, so overlapping pole applications were exceedingly rare.

This slow movement also meant that there was enough breathing space for the full construction process to settle in between attachment efforts—reducing both the complexity of engineering and the amount of conflict between attachers working in the same markets.

The nature of broadband deployment is to go to the places with the highest ROI, often places with existing comm attachments and barely enough space for ONE new attachment. 

When a second attacher picks the same poles, the deployment costs skyrocket due to Complex, expensive make ready construction like pole replacements. Most applications have some amount of this work, but we see it become especially prevalent in overlapping applications—where two new attachments need to be added.

Increased visibility on in-progress applications for new attachers could help make sure that providers get a great ROI and we focus on impactful work instead of over-building a well-served area.

Problem 3: Convoluted Make Ready Process

Depending on the amount of time lapsed between overlapping applications, the make ready process might be fairly straightforward, or it might present a nightmarish hellscape for make ready engineers and designers. I made a crappy sketch:
difficulty of make ready engineering for overlapping over time
when overlapping applications are submitted very close or very far apart, they're a lot easier to solve
When attachment applications are submitted back to back, it's relatively straightforward to handle. You can do your field data collection to capture existing conditions, then propose a construction plan that creates enough space for two new attachments. We call it "previously proposed" and "new proposed."

In this scenario, you still have to deal with the unknowns of construction, but you at least have the chance to propose a solid make ready plan before any action has been taken.

We're continually evolving our engineering tools so that designers can pull locations, measurements, and make ready calls from a previous application to complete design of an overlapping attachment request.

Similarly, if they are submitted with enough time in between them, construction has likely occurred and you can simply begin the process from the beginning without complication.

The time in between is what's really tricky. You have to go out and assess the state of every pole in the application to see what make ready construction has already occurred, and figure out whether or not it has been done according to design. Conceptually, it feels like a type of Post-Construction Inspection for construction that is still in-progress! What a mess.

We have great PCI tools that don't require full recollection, and allow us to transfer make ready calls to new photos to understand how much construction has occurred and whether or not our first solution is being followed. This information can then be used to provide make ready for the overlapping application.

We see overlapping applications as a joint use pain point that will continue to rise as broadband dollars flood the market. Our Application Management portal can streamline communication and warn attachers of existing applications, and our Make Ready Engineering toolset can support engineering efforts when those applications come through anyway. 

Healthy joint use and impactful broadband efforts are challenges worth solving the right way!

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