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ISE Columnist Don McCarty, OSP Expert

How to Save a Section of Cable and a Customer

Nov. 1, 2019
A cable pair from the central office or remote to the customer costs some hundreds of dollars to a Telco for engineering, placement, heating up, and installation. When a technician […]

A cable pair from the central office or remote to the customer costs some hundreds of dollars to a Telco for engineering, placement, heating up, and installation. When a technician cuts away from such a pair to restore service, it takes more than 6 years of base-rate revenue before that customer will again show as profit to the Telco. In addition, when a section is going bad, each cutover is expensive, and includes the lost revenue from the cut pair, the labor cost, and the eventual major costs of section replacement when you have a full complement of customers with pairs still going bad.

As our good friend Dave Burnett, a retired GM from a large RBOC, put it: "There’s a gold mine out there" in revenue pairs whose original (minor) problems were cut to a vacant pair.

Food for Thought from Our 2022 ICT Visionaries

Today, most operating companies are using the customer complaints for quality control and cable analysis instead of referencing their elaborate computer programs to indicate potential problems in the field. Most large Telcos have reports and test procedures that indicate a potential cable failure week, and they often know months before service is affected. Yet few react to such problems until the customer complaint is filed. Were proper preventive maintenance done, most of these potential problems would be invisible to the customer.

Maintenance technicians, who should be handling these cable problems, instead spend most of their time fixing one-pair problems such as buried drop repair or getting a single pair for new service. A maintenance technician who finds himself primarily in this business is in repair, not maintenance. The need here is to shift efforts to the causes of service interruptions, not the effect. If this is done, the cost per access line can be cut in half.

In the past, back when I was selling test sets, I spent a considerable amount of time looking at and testing bad cable sections in the distribution plant. Every maintenance technician and his brother had already looked at these sections, and had they been fixable, they would have been fixed.

As vendors, we were never shown an easy fix, so we had a great many "known bad sections" to play with. Proper analysis proved that many sections of cable could have been repaired had the cause been identified. Usually, the cause was a splice that took on water or a damaged cable sheath. However, over time, these air-core sections were inundated with water and there was no solution except replacement.

We worked with some fine, innovative, and frustrated technicians, and we learned from what they knew. Eventually, we were able to save better than 50% of the bad sections by identifying and fixing the cause, rather than replacing cable sections.

When the cause of the problem isn’t found, the section is given to engineering or replacement.

When a section is given to engineering for replacement, it can sometimes lie fallow for years before engineering gets around to replacing it because too often engineering did not get a proper business plan from the maintenance group, or it’s a lack of funding. In most instances, all this could be avoided if fixed by the first man out. This is not everybody; good cooperation with maintenance rectifies this problem.

Your service technicians are there to handle all of the single pair problems in the distribution plant. This technician can often visually identify a problem even before the customer has reported it, and the service tech can then update the maintenance technician. So free up the maintenance technician to handle cable problems. Stop this transfer of cable pairs to restore service, and get back into the proactive maintenance business.

A good example of this practice in use occurred in the Southwest years ago. They had a major problem with bad sections and unacceptable cable conditions. Cross-boxes and ready-access terminals needed replacement. The high ambient temperatures were playing havoc with PIC insulation, and the plant in general needed to be locked up for its own protection. Customer demands for new service, along with service-affecting and out-of-service troubles, were pulling the maintenance technicians from preventive maintenance into the trouble load. Plant quality was rapidly deteriorating.

A 3-Step Approach to Thorough Preventive Maintenance

A proactive administrator and his staff recognized the need for thorough preventive maintenance. They devised a 3-step approach to the problems:

Step 1. Analysis. The management team had 49 pages of high-priority projects that needed fixing. In order to attack these, the maintenance crew needed to be free from the load.

Step 2. Training. He and his staff trained and equipped the service technicians to handle the one-pair problems, such as defective drops, wires pinched or open in associated terminals, or cross-connects that were caused by other technicians in the course of their daily activity. Supervisors and managers who did not have a cable maintenance background were also trained to assist the technicians. This released the cable maintenance crews for the priority projects.

Step 3. Quality. Each and every technician, supervisor, and manager, became part of a quality team, with customer service as their primary goal. When a maintenance technician, following up a service tech’s plant condition report, identified a bad cable needing replacement, or a terminal needed to be rebuilt, locked up, or replaced, and whenever repairs couldn’t be made on the spot, the maintenance technician became the coordinator between engineering and construction. When the job was completed, the maintenance technician personally informed the service technician, who originally identified the problem, that correction had been achieved. This communication helped morale as everyone was informed of the results; they felt the company was listening and acting. And that they were an important part of the complete process.

Results didn’t occur overnight, and many obstacles had to be overcome, such as old habits and resistance to the new order: We’ve always done it like this; it’s worked fine, and The test sets don’t work. Training and constant communication between departments resolved most of these issues. The team communicated. They were continually working to improve customer service, and preparing their technicians and their customers for the fiber world.

Maintaining a quality copper infrastructure by proactive Telcos is the answer to keeping your customers until they are moved into the fiber arena.

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Signing off
I know I hammer on this problem over and over and over. Yet it surprises me how few companies understand the impact, including lost revenue and cost from cut to clear instead of save the pair if at all possible. What’s your big gripe? Let me know: [email protected] or text or call 831.818.3930.

About the Author

Don McCarty

Don McCarty is the OSP EXPERT columnist for ISE magazine, discussing the issues around provisioning, testing, and maintaining copper for all services from POTs to IPTV. Don is also president of and the lead trainer for McCarty Products, a technical training and products company training field technicians, cable maintenance, installation repair, and Central Office technicians and managers. For more information, email [email protected] or visit