Nine network build facts

When we build a new network or make network upgrades, our employees and contractors work diligently to get the network infrastructure in place. That said, you may have the hardest part—waiting.

To help you understand what we’ll be busy doing in the coming months (and why it can take what feels like a long time), check out these 9 network build facts:

1. It’s more than just burying cable. Broadly, there are at least nine different steps for every fiber build. Our list includes:

  • Creating highly detailed maps of the network
  • Engineering and designing the network—both the physical cables and equipment, plus the electronics engineering
  • Constructing the indoor and outdoor equipment
  • Requesting building permits from local municipalities
  • Notifying residents that construction is coming
  • Outside construction work (this is what you’ll see in your neighborhood, along the road, in the back yards etc.)
  • Installing the electronics that makes the network work
  • Installing upgraded equipment in the cabinets/green boxes along the road and in back yards
  • Updating our billing systems
  • Installing network software updates
  • Testing the network

With Alternative Connect America Cost Model network upgrade projects, we also have to replace existing TDS customer equipment with new. Only then is the network ready for customers. Of course, there are a myriad of sub-tasks under each larger task, but you get the idea—it’s a lot more than just putting cable in the ground or hanging it on utility poles.

2. A cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work. When it comes to networks, one size and design does not fit all. Instead, each network is custom built to the unique landscape of each community or rural area. We gather information about existing utilities, easements, sidewalks, roads, rivers, lakes, etc. We also have to think carefully about the area’s climate. There can be very different design considerations for an area where it snows and is cold five months of the year as opposed to an area where hurricanes and rain are an issue. Once we have all of the pieces, then we can make decisions about the network’s design.

3. There’s more than one way to build a network. To make the most efficient use of time and resources, networks are built using two different techniques: burying cable or hanging the cable from utility poles. Typically, a combination of both is used. Aerial cables help us avoid digging up streets and sidewalks and helps keep them safe, but burying keeps the cable out of sight and also out of harm’s way.

4. Networks look like trees. If you were to look at a network diagram it would look a lot like a tree. Networks, like trees, have a central support but rather than being called a trunk it’s called a main transport line. This transport line is akin to having an 800-lane highway going directly into your community—only rather than carrying cars, it carries data. Main roads branch off this transport line, and finally the smaller ones off of those.

5. Networks grow like trees. We start construction with the trunk/main transport line. We need that main connectivity to be in place before we can start branching out. Then we get to work on the big branches and move to the smaller ones, but not necessarily everywhere at the same time. We typically group construction work by area, typically a neighborhood. We most likely will have several of these going on at once. It’s not unlike how it’s faster and easier to film movies scenes together based on the set or location. This also explains why work happens on your street months before you can call and order—your part of the build “scene” might be done, but the whole picture isn’t yet complete. Cable installation, our inside equipment work, and the electronics in the green boxes all have to be finished in every location we need to work on, before can we light up the network and start delivering services.

6. Utility easements can be complicated. Almost every property has utility easements on it. Municipalities control the placement of easements and access to these areas. Sometimes an easement (also called a right of way) is in the back yard, sometimes it’s in the front, and sometimes properties have them on all four sides. When we build, we have to request permission from the municipalities to work in these areas. Exactly which easement we use varies depending on a variety of factors including: the number of existing utility facilities in the area, safety, as well as which area best fits the network design.

7. We have to have permission. To bury cable, we need to get permission to access rights-of-way and easements. When we attach cable to utility poles, we need to get permission from the appropriate pole owner. Fun fact: utility poles are shared real estate. Every company with cables on a single pole has to follow federal guidelines and a specific sequence of processes when making changes to pole attachments. These rules reduce the risk of outages or other service issues, but they can also lead to a domino effect of work when a cable needs to be added, removed, or a pole needs replacing.

8. Safety is paramount. Like other utility companies, our contractors have all existing utilities located before they start working (in other words, locators identify where existing pipes and cables are buried and mark/flag them). We also encourage our customers to use Diggers Hotline services and call before they dig.

9. Expect the unexpected. Once permission is granted, sometimes other work has to happen first. For example, we might find we’re hitting solid rock when we dig which could take additional excavation. For aerial work, existing lines on a pole might have to be moved to make space for another—or in some cases, a larger replacement pole may be required. Note: we can’t just add a pole because municipalities have rules and regulations about how many and where poles can be located. And, don’t get us started on Mother Nature. Rain, cold, and severe weather can all cause unexpected project challenges.

Now that you know a little more about what it takes to bring a fiber network to your community, be sure to also check out our How We Build Fiber to Your Neighborhood blog. This explains in more detail what you can expect when we get to your block.

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