Is Your Distribution System Ready For Fiber?

Thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, there is an unprecedented amount of federal dollars currently allocated toward the creation of fiber broadband networks. Electric utility companies considering an investment in the fiber industry that want to seize this opportunity must be prepared for the road ahead. Is your distribution ready for fiber?

Here are five important considerations to help you answer the larger question.

1. What level of investment will you make?
This is a question with two likely answers: Electric utility providers can become internet service providers (ISPs) or create middle mile networks through existing pole infrastructure and lease that connectivity to a partner ISP that will provide the last mile connection to homes and businesses. If you create an ISP, you own and operate the connection from beginning to end, which offers greater control over factors like the placement of your cable. You’ll also be responsible for communications and marketing, which offer opportunities to explain how the new network meets your community’s needs. If you provide the middle mile infrastructure, there are opportunities for revenue without ISP responsibilities like customer service, billing, and so on. Middle mile network providers are also eligible for federal grant money through the IIJA’s Middle Mile Grant Program next.

2. How many existing poles must be replaced to meet make-ready requirements?
Aerial fiber installation—that is, running fiber lines on electric poles—is far less expensive than burying cables in the ground. But as you approach a fiber build (regardless of how you answer the first question, above), some percentage of your poles will need to be replaced. Standard distribution poles that were first installed in the mid-20th century for $150-$200 may now cost ten times as much for the combined cost of labor, construction equipment, and the pole itself. Anything you can do to reduce the number of poles that must be replaced to meet your make-ready requirements will save valuable time and money. And this consideration leads directly to the next.

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