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!"
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!