Information about the Permitting Process - What's Involved and How long should it take?

Areas selected for LightSpeed go through a very involved planning, engineering and permitting process. We generally refer to all pre-construction prep work as "permitting." The entire process kicks off when a neighborhood is selected for LightSpeed deployment.

This "prep" work accounts for about 80% of the construction effort. It is a long and complicated process, but a successful permitting process will pave the way for quick and efficient installation of our new fiber optic network in your neighborhood.

 

Step 1 - Preliminary plans. The first step in the process is to create a preliminary design and overview of all existing utilities in the area. Depending on the size of the target area, this process can take between a few days and a few weeks. Our designers prepare maps of the target coverage area, careful to identify all existing electrical utilities because our network typically follows electrical service into the home. The final result a map of the neighborhood showing all utility poles and underground infrastructure we expect to access to reach the target coverage area.

 

Step 2 - Canvassing and Surveys. Our survey crews next will canvas the target coverage area gathering data necessary to finalize the preliminary plans. This process is very time consuming and requires a crew of people to touch nearly every inch of a neighborhood.

The largest part of this process is conducting pole surveys. We are required to survey every utility pole in the area, measuring the height of the pole as well as all existing attachments, such as the locations of phone, cable, transformers and street lights already installed on the pole. This survey process includes taking photographs of the pole, measuring GPS coordinates, measuring distance between all poles and the midspan cable height between poles.

For surveys of conduits, our crews will need to enter all of the manholes in an area and check for conduit availability. Often times our crews will need to clear out manholes or conduits that are filled with mud and water before they can access the conduit system. 

We confirm the details of where utilities enter each home in an area, taking care to insure we can plan how we will access all of the homes in the area. 

During the survey process, our crews try to stop at each home and answer any homeowner questions and spread the word about our project They leave a door hanger notice at every home as well. The notice contains a hotline for customer to call if they have further questions. 

All of the field data is boiled down into a common database format usable by our design engineers and the utility companies.

The survey process will take between several weeks and to a few months to complete, depending on the size of the area, the difficulty obtaining access to existing infrastructure, the amount of aerial versus buried utilities, rework due to preliminary plan revisions and many other factors. 

 

Step 3 - Engineering. The survey data is next analyzed by a design engineer and transferred into our design software. The design engineer will determine how and where we can install the new fiber optic cabling in the most efficient manner, with the objective of reaching every home in an area. 

Every pole span in a target area must undergo an engineering study to determine how best to attach our fiber optic lines. This study includes a structural feasibility test (i.e., can it handle the additional weight of the new cable) along with compliance with National Electric Safety Code (NESC) issues, such as clearance from the road and the other utilities who share the poles. 

 

Step 4 - Pole Permitting. The engineering plan, along with all of our survey data boiled down into a standardized format is next submitted to the utility company with a request to attach to most of the poles in the target area. Detailed plans for each and every pole in a neighborhood must be included in the submittal, taking great care to insure compliance with electric code and utility company guidelines.

At this stage the utility company begins their plan review and engineering process. Often this is an iterative process; we will collaborate with the utility companies to refine our plan taking into many factors such as upcoming utility construction projects. 

Some utility companies limit the number of permit applications they will  simultaneously accept. As a practical matter, there is a limit on the number of staff resources a utility company can assign to work on our project. Everyone is clearly working very hard and doing what they can, but there are limits on the number of areas we can work on at the same time. However, we do maintain a pipeline of engineering plans ready to submit as earlier permits are completed. 

 

Step 5 - Make-ready.

Often times our design engineer or the electric utility will determine a pole is not usable in its current state. In our experience, about half of the poles encountered require some sort of rearrangement to meet code requirements. For example, existing phone or cable lines often need to be moved up or down to make room for our new lines to be safely installed careful to maintain proper clearances from roads and other utilities. Sometimes the electric lines and street lights need to be raised, lowered or replaced to make room. If it is determined a pole cannot structurally support additional weight of a new cable, it may need to be replaced. This process of preparing the poles for our cable placement is called "make ready" and is the most time consuming aspect of the permitting process.

Make-ready involves coordination with every other company attached to the poles in a target area. If adjustments are necessary, the work must be coordinated and sequenced very carefully among all companies in order from bottom to top. Often times these companies will conduct their own engineering study of a pole and request changes to our plan to accommodate their concerns; when this happens the permit process for those poles may need to start again from the beginning. Predicting the timing of third-party compliance with make-ready work is difficult. 

It is possible because of make-ready challenges, we may be forced to change our planned coverage area. Worst case scenario, if we are unable to connect to a pole, small areas within a neighborhood may be carved out of our initial coverage plans. For this reason, we cannot guarantee our coverage area will match the preliminary design until the make-ready process is finished.

 

Step 6 - Budget review and make-ready approval

After make-ready is finalized, a final construction budget is prepared and approved by executive management. All of the business justification assumptions made pre-engineering will be tested and confirmed. Assuming the work is approved, all of the make-ready checks are dispursed and work is released to all of the third-parties. The objective of the make-ready process is to receive an approval letter from each third party involved. Things start moving along pretty quickly once all make-ready letters are obtained.

 

Step 7 - Other permits required: Right of way, drain crossings, MDOT, METRO, Railroad, Apartment Complex Easements, etc ...

We next work with the various other jurisdictional authorities for any other required permits. These can include plan review with the local municipalities, the County, MDOT and private easements to cross Railroads or enter apartment complexes. This work usually kicks off once the design for an area is confirmed. Municipal ROW permits are usually issued within 1 week. MDOT, Railroad and private easements can be difficult and much less predictable. For this reason, we try to avoid areas requiring this type of permit.

 

Step 8 - Permits released

After all of the permits are obtained, the final plans are handed over to our construction department to begin their work ... usually work begins within 1-2 weeks. We post to our website and Facebook group our most cherished words in the english language: "Permits released!"  

 

In Summary

LightSpeed was founded in May 2014. We started making plans for pilot areas in summer 2014. In that timeframe, the shortest permit interval was 3-4 months, with our first pilot customers coming online late October 2014.  So far, the longest was released recently at just over 10 months. However, we  have neighborhoods that have been in permitting since July 2014. For internal planning purposes, we estimate 6 to 9 months but every area is unique. 

Given the challenges of coordinating with so many third parties and the risk of a constantly evolving rollout plan, we do not attempt to provide delivery estimates for your neighborhood. However, please understand that everyone involved in the process is working very hard and as quickly as possible. Nobody is more eager to complete the process than us, and we promise we'll make sure it will be worth the wait!

 

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22 Comments

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    Dennis Kelley

    I would like to be an "early adopter" for Eastside 2 once permits are released! How do I go about making that happen?

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    Jason Schreiber

    So long as you are registered on our website, you will receive an invitation email once the construction begins!

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    Dennis Blankenship

    I am a resident of the "Flowerpot" (Red Cedar) neighborhood, and would be willing to assist - as a volunteer - to map my neighborhood as part of the permitting process. Basically I am willing to work for free in order to expedite the process which ends with me telling my current ISP to take a flying leap. Any thoughts on this?

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    Jason Schreiber

    Hi Dennis, Thank you for your support! Regretfully your neighborhood is challenging for a number of reasons other than permits. The primary issue is you're a bit too far from our current routes in an area that would be difficult to build new fiber. It's tucked away in a beautiful area off the beaten path, but from a fiber construction prospective things like railroads, highways, rivers and universities are the worst case scenario. There are some things we're working on to get to you, but unfortunately not something that will happen anytime soon. I wish I had better news to share.

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    Dennis Blankenship

    Thanks for your reply, Jason. Tell me what I can do to grease the skids, then. Do you just need legwork in rounding up information on rights of way? Research into records as to owns what rights to areas you need to cross? People's names? I am literally so fed up with my internet choices, as well as my current provider, that I am willing to work for free, in a Habitat-for-Humanity sort of way, to make it happen.

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    Brandon Shelby

    What is needed for Southfield?

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    Dennis Blankenship

    Seriously, Jason, tell me what I could do to make it easy for you to bring fiber into my neighborhood (Red Cedar). I have neighbors and tech people at my disposal, and we're willing to do what we need to plow your road - for free.

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    Jordan Bierman

    Greetings!
    I've been anxiously waiting to see if you folks are going to come by our neighborhood, since I think I can speak for the whole complex (Woodbridge Manor) when I say that we're tired of unreliable and unbearably slow internet. Is there a time line one when you'll make it down to South Lansing/Holt? I'm in the process of talking to the management to see if they can do anything to speed this along if possible

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    Jordan Bierman

    Greetings!
    I've been anxiously waiting to see if you folks are going to come by our neighborhood, since I think I can speak for the whole complex (Woodbridge Manor) when I say that we're tired of unreliable and unbearably slow internet. Is there a time line one when you'll make it down to South Lansing/Holt? I'm in the process of talking to the management to see if they can do anything to speed this along if possible

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    Jordan Larson

    I am also in South Lansing/Holt area and curious if we will see your service in the future or not.

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    Gabriel Martino

    It seems like I'm just at the brink of where the LightSpeed access stops on the opposite side of WhitHills Dr. in East Lansing. I was wondering, what kind of work / timeline if any could be expected to get access to the other side of the street. Would be more than willing to volunteer my free time in any and all ways to help the process. Very Excited to see the company bringing an amazing product to the area!

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    Bull Durham

    my area used to be blue (in permitting), now it is blank, does that mean it is no longer in consideration?

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    Jason Schreiber

    We are not aware of any areas that went from blue to blank. Can you provide your address please?

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    Bull Durham

    i live on south foster, 632, south of Kalamazoo, the entire area from cedar street to 127, from Michigan ave to 496 was at one time in permitting together, but now the area south of Kalamazoo to 496 and from hunter park to 127 has been separated from the rest and is now not colored either blue or green, the rest of the area has been constructed, but not the corner i am in

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    Jason Schreiber

    We continue to expand our Eastside coverage South. However, there are some areas we are unable to reach unfortunately. I do not know the status of your home but it shows that it's still part of our planned coverage area. 

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    Mohnish

    Earlier you provided detailed map to lookup neighborhood build outs. We could zoom and scroll on map to see our area. I can't find that dynamic map anywhere now. Is it still there?
    Also, any expansion plan in Okemos? I live in Briarwood community, off Kinawa Dr.

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    Trevor H'awks

    I'm also interested about Okemos, Mohnish.  At one point they were "obtaining permits" for an area off of Dobie Road, but now I don't find any news on that area.  Would love to support this local company.  Just need the opportunity

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    Peter Ramon

    What is the status for Southfield?    I have been waiting for the service since 2015. 

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    Nicholas Patterson

    Hi i live on Boynton Dr in Lansing. About half of the houses just on my street show interest. Its been over 2 years since we have heard anything. Is lightspeed not coming out here now? We all want to get away from Comcast and Att&t. Please come our way.

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    scott shirel

    Recently you installed in the Sycamore park neighborhood.  Some coverage seems to go south of mt hope and penn. What do we need to do to connect the rest of the south neighborhood. Neighbors of Scott Park? Considering the close proximity to Sycamore it seems like a nice fit. If we could get several hundred houses would you be interested? Thank you!

     

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    Thomas Pung

    I live in Colonial Village south of Mt Hope and west of Boston Blvd. I see you have a couple signs on mt hope on the south side of the street. Any information as to when you may be in the Colonial Village neighborhood.

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    Christina Rasmussen

    We live in Haslett, and see that service is up to Park Lake and Haslett Rd. Is there more planned expansion headed our way? We live on Cliffdale Drive just off Haslett Rd. past Cornell.

     

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