Proactive Pole-ing Practices

July 1, 2020
Follow These 4 Steps to Ensure You’re Small-Cell Compliant — 5G is anticipated to create an estimated 3 million new jobs, and to pump $500 billion into the economy. “The […]

Follow These 4 Steps to Ensure You’re Small-Cell Compliant —

5G is anticipated to create an estimated 3 million new jobs, and to pump $500 billion into the economy. "The telecommunications industry is positioned to spend more than $275 billion while building
5G infrastructure."1

The 5G network is expected to provide technological and economic benefits to consumers, businesses, and municipalities. Critical infrastructure including utilities, hospitals, schools, transportation systems, and first responders, will be profoundly impacted by the new world of 5G. Developing Utility Smart Grid Solutions such as Fault Location, Isolation and Restoration (FLISR) may be enabled by 5G.

Much of the 5G network will be deployed using small cell antenna systems which, depending on network configuration, provide wireless signal coverage of less than 1,000 feet. The fiber optic cabling required for small cell backhaul and the small cell equipment, due to its small size, can and is currently being attached to utility structures such as stand-alone streetlights, traffic signals, and utility distribution poles.

Regulatory Requirements Impacting Utility Pole Owners

Utility transmission and distribution poles are the backbone of the nation’s critical infrastructure, and provide the pathway for the electric and telecommunications lines and equipment that power and connect the nations homes and businesses. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has enacted regulations requiring that investor-owned utilities and incumbent telephone local exchange carriers provide non-discriminatory access to the poles, conduits, and rights-of-way that are owned or controlled by the utility.

In many states, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) certifies to the FCC that the state will assume responsibility for the pole attachment process. Those certified states tend to follow the FCC provisions.

Food for Thought from Our 2022 ICT Visionaries

The FCC has implemented 2 new orders to accelerate broadband deployment that will impact pole owners in the upcoming months. The FCC’s "Accelerating Wireline" and "Accelerating Wireless" orders are forecast to result in an increase in volume of attachment requests, and may require that some utilities change existing processes, add more resources, and train personnel in new skill sets, to remain in compliance with current rules and regulations.

Pole owners will need:
A more organized and transparent way to process incoming attachment applications, and to track and share the status of applications so they can plan next steps.
Additional field resources to perform field surveys in a timely manner to identify potential rearrangement or make-ready work.
Safe and effective approaches for measuring available clearances in the power supply and communication space to ensure compliance with National Electric Safety Code (NESC) and state codes, as well as adherence to construction standards. And accurate methods for capturing attachment heights as inputs to pole loading software.
Additional engineering resources to review the attachment application and to support electric connection requests to power the new equipment.

Preparing for Small Cell Antenna Requests

An organized, efficient approach to pole attachment management ensures that pole owners meet the increased activity expected with the new pole attachment rules.

Pole Attachment Management

The ideal pole attachment management approach includes these 4 steps.

Step 1: Review Existing Agreements
Reviewing existing joint use and pole attachment agreements helps determine compliance with the new regulations, responsibility for payment, and cost-recovery mechanisms for processing applications, performing surveys and auditing pole infrastructure and attachments to those poles.

Step 2: Establish Accurate Baseline of Current Attachments Via an Audit
There are many levels of audits that can be performed. Some pole owners may choose to maximize the visit to the pole by audit crews and collect GPS coordinates, pole condition, circuit configurations, attachment information, note code violations, and even perform a full asset inventory from the substation to the meter. Some utilities may choose to settle for only an audit of the quantity of attachments.

Regardless of whether a pole owner chooses the premium audit, settles for the minimal requirements, or chooses something in between, an audit should be considered to establish an accurate baseline of what’s on their poles. That allows better preparation for the expected deployment of small cell antennas.

The audit should be performed by qualified inspectors who understand both electric and telecommunications infrastructure and applicable codes, such as the NESC and state orders as they may apply.

Skilled technicians should collect and analyze attachment data, pole condition, assess clearances, and capture images, to support next steps. These are an integral part of preparing an accurate baseline of current pole condition, circuit configuration, and attachment status.

Accurate Digital Measuring Technology should be used to collect measurements and perform detailed clearance and load assessments. This speeds the inspection and audit process, and enables a pole owner to effectively prepare their pole plant and records.

The results of the audit should be posted on a map-based, online portal that allows participants in the audit to review and interact with the data relating to their attachments.

Using a sophisticated data collection process like this delivers a faster, more accurate audit, which
allows the utility to assess the state of their pole plant and to manage their risk exposure effectively.

Step 3: Addressing Issues Resulting From the Audit Through Remediation
A properly performed audit can help you prepare for an increase in attachment requests by identifying existing code violations, substandard construction, and overloaded poles (which could delay application processing).

Two items to attend to immediately following your audit:

1. Double Wood Poles
One item discovered in many audits are replaced poles remaining in the right-of-way after the pole owner utility has transferred to a new pole. These "double wood" or "buddy poles" are a sore spot with regulators, and represent an unnecessary safety risk for the pole owner utility that should be addressed urgently.

2. Code Clearance Violations
Third party attachment clearance issues are another item to act on. Remediation of these issues involves communication with third party stakeholders (ticket management).

You also must assign resources to coordinate, design, schedule, and review, that the appropriate fixes have been performed.

Preparing your pole plant means performing make-ready engineering, pole loading analysis, and coordinating the movement of attachments, to ensure transfers to new poles are performed expeditiously and safely.

Step 4: Leveraging the Right Resources to Manage Safety and Data
One of the biggest challenges and risks to your pole management program is budgeting for and staffing appropriately to deal with the peaks and valleys of managing incoming applications.

Augmenting your current staff or outsourcing the turnkey management of your Pole Application Permitting program may be a cost-effective solution that allows you to effectively manage employee resource risk as well as code and regulation compliance. This type of outsourcing allows you to focus on your core business of delivering safe and reliable services to your customers.

Positive Pole-Ing

It’s critical that new pole attachment applications for wireline and wireless technologies be managed effectively to ensure the safe and timely provisioning of attachment requests and compliance with regulations.

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To make a joint use program successful, you must continually maintain and keep up with field data. This can be accomplished through an online Pole Application Permitting Portal that is integrated with your company’s existing Work Management System. There are numerous commercial portals that can support the receipt and tracking of all new requests, however the portal is effective only if the information collected is accurate and updated regularly.

The 4-step framework explained here ensures that you, as a pole owner, are ready and able to respond to this burgeoning technology deployment while the impact to your infrastructure is managed effectively. When all of it works together, you will be able to stay in compliance with regulations, maximize your cost recovery, and continue to provide benefits to your shareholders, customers and the community you serve.


About the Author

Ron Bilodeau

Ron Bilodeau is Director, Strategic Solutions, Osmose Utilities Services. He has more than 40 years of experience in both telecommunications’ construction and electric utility operations management. Ron earned an MBA and has a BA in Communications and Management from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He is a College Business professor and a Certified Project Management Professional. Ron provides solutions and recommendations to the utility and broadband industries on a wide-ranging scope of requirements.

For more information, please email [email protected] or visit Follow Osmose on LinkedIn: company/osmose and Facebook: osmoseutilitiesservices.