Between tall buildings in our cities and along most roadways and neighborhood streets is something so crucial to our lives, yet it often goes unnoticed: utility and communications infrastructure.
Electric power and communication services keep us connected to friends, family, and jobs. Broadband keeps our culture progressing, and cable television informs us of current events.
While there are many working parts to keep our nation's infrastructure operating, there are two main contributors:
The owning and attaching companies must work together to ensure successful operations. This is the essence of joint use.
In a few words, joint use is the ability to share invested infrastructure among service-deploying companies in a geographic area. Joint use is the common scenario when multiple companies must jointly use the same pole, conduit, or tower for service.
Instead of one company owning a utility pole and using it for only their services, other providers in the same area can rent out the infrastructure to deploy their services.
This shared system requires owners and attachers to be in constant contact with one another to keep new and old services running successfully. Multi-step processes are required before attachers can rent pole or vault space from asset owners, including legal permit approvals and rental contracts. After attachers are granted a permit, ongoing contract management is required.
Before 1978, the space on utility poles was mostly reserved for electric utility and telephone providers. There certainly was not a need for broadband or cell service. And cable television was still growing in popularity.
By the early '80s, cable companies faced more demand for service than ever, which required utility pole owners to begin sharing their space with both telephone and cable providers. Then, when the internet became available to the public, around the turn of the century, broadband providers began competing for available asset space.
Today, wireless and Wi-Fi providers are creating greater demand for room on utility infrastructure. Joint use is common in all geographical areas, and most electric companies have their own departments for joint use.
With the rapid deployment of broadband across the country, joint use asset management has changed and is still changing. Joint use was once a simpler endeavor. But as technology and other communication options grow, the infrastructure landscape has to adapt accordingly.
For attachers, it is more realistic and cost-effective to rent space on poles instead of investing in their own. The space does not exist for every service provider to build or buy their own poles. And the cost to do so would be outrageous. On the other hand, the owners who are required by law to share pole space with service providers can also benefit from this arrangement, generating rental revenue by treating these assets as viable real estate.
Now that we understand joint use, let's talk about what can be considered a joint use asset.
Any infrastructure and its surrounding parts, like the cables, wires, hardware, and equipment attached to them, are often referred to as assets.
A few common examples of joint use assets include utility poles, conduit vaults, handholes and manholes, pedestals, cables, small cell attachments, cable TV attachments, cell service attachments, fiber, wires, right of way.
Each of these assets plays a different role in joint use. Some companies may work with utility poles more frequently, while others may focus on underground conduit.
It requires legal paperwork, contracts, and renewal periods to be put in place. Companies that want to deploy their services on an owner's pole must request to rent the space for each and every attachment. The attachment process can last anywhere from 30 to 90 days, sometimes longer, depending on the owner's bandwidth for joint use requests.
The increased volume of space needed on poles or in vaults by so many types of providers has created difficulties in managing the multitude of permits to attach, deployment paperwork, and contracts. Joint use departments are faced with the challenge of juggling many tasks from many departments. Jointly managing electric utility and communications infrastructure means handling service equipment and contracts of multiple service providers on a single piece of infrastructure real estate.
It's easiest to break down joint use management into three main types of joint use agreements: joint ownership, joint use, and single pole attachments.
Joint ownership is defined as when some service territories use a policy in which individual poles are co-owned by several companies.
Joint use is defined as when the pole ownership is apportionately based on an agreed percentage of the total population of poles. And a single pole attachment is when the attaching company requests to install a cable on one pole.
Just like any other industry, joint use can come with its fair share of challenges. Here are a few that we see most frequently. First, inaccurate pole data is very common because up until the third and fourth Industrial Revolutions, companies track their data through massive stacks of paperwork.
When spreadsheets became popular, most companies moved their data into spreadsheets. But rarely do companies update their data in a single, centralized platform that works for them. We will touch on this a bit more later.
Next, with inaccurate pole data comes misinformation about what load the poles currently hold. Pole overloading is simply loading the pole with more attachments and weight than it can safely hold. Often, double poles occur when a company gets behind on a pole transfer.
If a pole is old or rotting, an electric company will file to have the pole replaced by a contractor. Without clear data and joint use communication, transfers are often left incomplete because each attaching company does not move its cable in a timely manner. Additionally, illegal attachments are common and occur when an attaching company uses a pole for deploying service without the proper permit approval process.
Damage on poles is a frequent challenge pole owners face. Damage often includes overgrown foliage, cracks, rot, and weather damage.
Lastly, backlogs occur when internal departments don't have the resources to process joint use paperwork, permit to attach applications, or pole transfers. These requests build up and are referred to as backlogs.
The good news is that there are cost-effective solutions for each of these joint use challenges. In our presentation, we will cover two main solutions that are effective for multiple problems. The first solution to discuss is inspections.
Regular inspections keep pole and vault data accurate. Routine inspections also keep owners aware of pole and vault issues, including structural damage and violations. When owners know their assets' problems, they can act quickly to ensure that their field workers, their assets, and their community are safe.
Routine inspections reveal asset information that may not have been previously recorded, like asset age, location, size, attachments or occupants, and available rental space. This is important to know for future projects, like, say, a storm-hardening initiative or adjusting to a heavy volume of small cell attachments.
When vault and pole owners conduct routine audits, they can take proactive action when trespass, damage, or violations are found. A managed services and data collection company should have professionally trained inspectors with several years of experience. Further, inspection teams should itemize the funds that owners are owed for legal trespass and other violations by third parties.
Our second solution to common joint use issues is to get on a centralized joint use platform that stores data and automates joint use processes. Spreadsheets and paperwork have grown obsolete. And electric companies and their partners across the nation are switching their data over to a platform that will work for them.
With smart technology and business intelligence, every joint use process can be streamlined. A joint use platform should have communication features, pole attachment management, contract management, permit to attach applications, data storage, and reporting features. Alden's joint use platform Alden One is a modernized platform that houses all necessary joint use information in the same place.
It is designed to help joint use owners and joint use attachers manage their asset data and processes. Once the data is in the system, it's easier to keep it updated and accurate. Then, companies can use their data to make data-driven decisions.
One key component of the software is its ability to share data when the user chooses to do so. It also has the capability to automate joint use processes, which is a huge perk to getting joint use in order.
So, what will the future of joint use management look like? The key to future asset management is communication, coordination, and automation. The future of joint use aligns with automated smart processes. With integrated, easy-to-use joint use management solutions, pole owners can ensure timely transfers, manage attachment contracts, maintain poles more effectively, and be prepared for the next technological revolution in electric utility, telecom, and broadband infrastructure.
Working together is instrumental in making joint use straightforward and trouble-free.
Our team is hands-on with our clients and readily available to guide users to the next step.
Alden is here to help you and your partners modernize joint use processes. If your company needs help with automation, communication, or coordination, reach out to one of our specialists. Our team is ready to help you simplify joint use.