If you’re seeing Ditch Witch trucks buzzing around your neighborhood (literally and figuratively) and/or 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 a fiber-optic network to your neighborhood!
This one-time project to install state-of-the-art technology will bring you years of fast internet and high-quality TV service (for more details about the many, many benefits of fiber, click here)—but we have to build it first. We want to share with you what the process looks like, from start to finish, so you know what to expect:
Step 1: We design
Before we do anything, we create a design for the network. That design includes where the infrastructure will need to be placed, whether it be in the ground or using poles. Once that plan is complete, we bring it to the local municipality for approval.
Step 2: We get permission
The local municipality must give us permission 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.
Much of this work will be done in easements. An easement is a permanent right giving a person or party permission to use the land or property of another for a specific purpose (generally, utilities). In this case, TDS gets official permission to use these areas to build and maintain a fiber-optic network. Easements can include the area between the sidewalk and the street— and even 6-foot wide strips on homeowner property.
The map above shows us exactly where the easements are for one location.
Step 3: 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 add one!).
It takes 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 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 the network 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 where we may 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
Step 4: 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.
To be clear, steps 1 through 4 of these construction efforts are to build the backbone of the network—not to any specific household or business.
Step 5: We connect homes and businesses to the network
Once your neighborhood’s threshold has been met (and construction completed), we start connecting individual homes to the network. We will only connect the homes/businesses of those who have registered for service. We make the connections by doing what we call “fiber drops.” A fiber drop means we run a fiber cable from a nearby network access point to your premises.
Here’s how the process works:
- You call or go online to TDSFiber.com and register for TDS Fiber.
- Once your neighborhood meets threshold, watch for an email. That communication will let you know when we’re coming to lay the fiber to your house. You don’t need to be home, but we just want to warn you when we’re coming.
- Assuming the ground isn’t frozen, we come and zip the cable into the ground—and we mean that almost literally. In most cases we use a piece of equipment that makes a small slice in the ground, gently tucks in the cable, and closes it back up again (and if hand tools are needed, we’ll use those instead). If the ground is frozen, we’ll simply lay the cable on the ground and come back ASAP on the spring to get it safely tucked in the ground.
Know that because we’re often racing Mother Nature, if you’ve registered, we may ask to get the fiber drop done before services are live. In this case, we bury the cable but won’t connect the end. This means you could have a short coil of cable next to your house until the network is ready. Just leave it be and it will be fine as the wire is not live. Also know that if it’s been rainy and wet, we’ll likely delay burying drops until the ground is more firm.
Step 6: You get services installed
When the network is ready in your neighborhood, you’ll be invited to arrange an installation time. When our tech arrives, he/she will finalize any needed outside work and install your modem/router to get you up and running. The whole-home DVR and any set-top boxes will also be installed if you signed up for TDS TV service.
Step 7: You enjoy the fastest speeds around!
After installation there’s nothing more to do than sit back and enjoy your new TDS Fiber service.
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 always call 1-888-CALL-TDS to speak with someone.
Original post date: 6/11/2015
Updated 12/20/2019 to expand on a few steps we’ve received questions about.