Verizon to FCC: Streamlined pole access will facilitate small cell, fiber deployments

Verizon told the FCC that gaining access to a more efficient pole attachment process will enable the service provider to more effectively expand small cells to enhance wireless coverage and the supporting fiber facilities for wireless backhaul.

Verizon said in an FCC filing (PDF) that in order to support the network facilities it needs to support future 5G services, “the need for densification and for more ubiquitous fiber to support it will only increase.”

In order to support 5G densification, Verizon has secured fiber supply agreements through its multiyear deals with fiber manufacturers Corning and Prysmian.

RELATED: Verizon says OTMR pole attachment reforms should not be tied to union agreements

However, in order to make the network investment a reality, Verizon needs a streamlined permitting process to get access to necessary rights of way on existing utility poles and other associated infrastructure. 

“We need the ability to access poles quickly and efficiently, both to hang small cells and to string fiber that will provide the necessary backhaul,” Verizon said.

Overcoming make-ready obstacles

Verizon may be one of the largest service providers with considerable experience in navigating the pole attachment process, but the service provider admits that it has seen large delays from utilities to get access to install new fiber and small cells.

At the heart of the issue is what’s known as make-ready. Make-ready refers to attaching cables to utility poles in a way that the separation between new cables and existing cables follows National Electrical Safety Code (NESC).

A pole owner has to address a few common issues: space to locate a new attacher’s facilities, the strength of the pole and what other concessions are needed to support a new facility. 

Specifically, Verizon cited some cases where local electric companies have taken nine months to complete the pole attachment, as well as 12 months or longer to attach fiber on the pole.

“We’ve found that the sequential nature of make-ready work means that one party’s delay in completing its make-ready work often delays other parties’ ability to begin their make-ready work,” Verizon said. “As a result, we have found that make-ready is often not completed until well beyond the deadlines specified in the Commission’s rules.”

Following Google Fiber’s pleas for more efficient pole attachment processes, Verizon has continued to cite support for one-touch make-ready (OTMR), a process that would allow attachers and the pole owners the option to use pole owner-approved contractors to coordinate and do all work to add a new attachment. A new attacher could use a single pole owner-approved contractor to complete all of the work at one time.

“OTMR benefits attachers and pole owners by replacing multiple truck rolls with one and thereby speeding the attachment timeline and reducing aggregate make-ready costs,” Verizon said. “OTMR also benefits pole owners because in an OTMR structure, the attaching party has the responsibility for obtaining a survey and make-ready estimate and of notifying existing attachers that make-ready work will be performed rather than shifting that responsibility to the pole owner.”

Verizon added that “municipalities and residents benefit because there will be reduced closures of streets and sidewalks for make-ready work.”

But Verizon’s proposal also calls for new attachers to take responsibility for any issues that arise. The company’s proposal says that the new attacher would have to correct any deficiencies that the pole owner or existing attachers identify regarding the contractor’s make-ready work, and the new attacher and approved contractor would indemnify for any harm caused by such work.

Relieving local restrictions

Realigning the make-ready process is only one issue that has held back Verizon and other service providers looking to expand their small cell and fiber networks in communities.

Small cell installations have been hampered in some areas by what Verizon says are local or state laws that can cause delay. In some cases, communities have adapted procedures and costs designed for macro-cells to review small cell applications.

“We noted that there are many instances where municipalities or other entities require unnecessary reviews, or impose unreasonable (and not cost-based) rates and fees for access to rights-of-way or municipally owned poles,” Verizon said. “We encouraged the Commission to adopt proposals that would create a shorter shot clock and a deemed granted remedy for small cell applications.”

Additionally, Verizon asked the FCC to consider methods to curtail actions and decisions that pose barriers to wireless or wireline facility deployments.