If you’re seeing Ditch Witch trucks buzzing around your neighborhood (literally and figuratively) and you’ve gotten a TDS Fiber door hanger at your home, you might be wondering what’s going on. We can tell you—TDS is bringing fiber-optic cable to your neighborhood!
That means the registration you submitted at TDS Fiber is paying off. Soon you’ll have access to faster Internet speeds (like up to 1Gig fast!) and TDS TV, our all-digital TV service that comes with a whole-home DVR.
But how do we go about installing fiber in an existing neighborhood? Let us explain the process:
First: We get permission
Before we do anything, we get permission from the local municipality to do the work. We can’t just go into a city or town and start digging without getting approval to access the utility easement areas.
An easement is a permanent right giving a person or party permission to use the land or property of another for a specific purpose. In this case, TDS gets official permission to use these areas to build and maintain a fiber-optic network. Easements include the area between the sidewalk and the street— and even 6-foot wide strips on homeowner property.
The photo above shows a map showing us exactly where the easements are for one location.
Second: We install conduit
Once we have permission, we have contractors install the plastic tubes—conduit—that will hold the fiber-optic cable. This is the bright orange tubing you’ll see on giant spools.
We put this conduit in the ground to protect the cable from damage, but it also does something else really important—it allows Digger’s Hotline to locate the cable in the future. Fiber cable, because its glass, can’t be found using standard, metal-detecting scanning equipment. The conduit we usually use has thin metal cable embedded in it so it can be located once it’s buried (and if it doesn’t have a wire, we put one inside for the same reason!).
There is a multi-stage and multi-day process to install the conduit. Here’s what we do:
1. First, we locate the existing utilities. We have yards marked by Diggers Hotline before we start working so we know where the existing utility lines (gas, water, power, telephone) should be. Please don’t remove the flags or the markings! Our contractors generally remember to remove them when they’re done.
2. Next, we dig a few holes. We’ll admit, this is often when homeowners get nervous, but here’s how we do it to minimize the impact to your yard:
Our contractors come in with what is called a “vac truck” (which often has the Ditch Witch logo on the side). This vehicle acts both as a vacuum cleaner and as a pressure washer.
Workers use the pressure washer to “dig,” loosening the soil only in the spots they need to access. They use the vacuum hose to suck up the loosened dirt. This keeps the holes in your yard highly precise and keeps the mess to a minimum. Check out this hole from a recent project:
They’re nice and tidy, but most importantly, these holes allow us to actually lay eyes on the other important utilities buried in your yard, and they also allow us to do the next step…
3. We use a special drill. This drill works like a giant earth worm (but one that can reach spots about 1,000 feet away!).
It pushes through the dirt—one section at a time—to the spot where we need to start inserting cable. From above, when the drill makes it to where we need to insert cable, this is what you see:
That metal piece is actually the tip of the drill. The workers then connect the orange conduit to that open loop.
When they pull the drill back, it will also pull the conduit back through the hole, essentially “threading” it through the ground (not unlike using a needle and thread to sew).
4. We install pedestals. After the conduit is in, our contractors come back and connect the ends to those green boxes in your yard (called pedestals, or “peds” for short). If they don’t do that immediately, never fear—they cover the holes with plywood boards to prevent accidents.
In some cases plans call for inserting what looks like a flat panel in the ground. These are called “hand holes” and they’re underground vaults where the fiber cables come together and are spliced together. Hand holes are made from either a polymer concrete or fiberglass, and are strong enough for lawn mowers and even ATVs to drive over them—nice and safe for everyone.
These are generally installed in front yards because we need to be able to pull out the fiber cables into a climate-controlled truck or trailer to splice them together (fiber is picky about both dirt and temperature). They’re also more protected in this spot because the area between the sidewalk and road is likely to be disturbed by future utility or road projects.
5. We close the holes. Within seven days of opening the holes in your yard, we have to close them. This means we return and backfill those spots. We also come back to spread some grass seed and put down some hay to help restore the land to its original condition
Third: We insert fiber-optic cable
Once the conduit is in the ground, we can run and connect the fiber-optic cable to our infrastructure. This means not only “plugging in” the cable in the PED boxes, but also making changes and upgrades to the larger hub boxes.
If you have questions about the construction happening in your neighborhood, feel free to step off your front or back porch and ask! Most of our contractors are happy to answer questions—they’d rather explain what’s happening than have you upset. And of course, you can call 1-888-CALL-TDS to speak with someone.