The rise in remote work and learning has led to a massively increased demand for high-speed and reliable internet access. While the number of communications companies and services is more varied than ever, many communities are cut off from these offerings. Federal broadband expansion funds, like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) fund, have prompted communications providers to develop broadband internet implementation plans for unserved and underserved areas. These implementation plans have led to a greater need for a more robust communications infrastructure.
An improved communications infrastructure means a greater demand for utility poles. Communications companies of every stripe require their use to provide essential services. However, these companies rarely own the utility poles they’re using. It’s more likely that they are tenants, or attachers, on utility poles owned by either by electric utilities or municipalities. This means that each attacher renting space on a pole must share that pole with several other companies; this is known as pole joint use.
As you might expect, joint use management can be complicated. Fortunately, new developments in software have significantly streamlined the process.
How Does Joint Use Work?
Utility poles are far and away the fastest method of providing all kinds of communications services, including fiber-based internet. It is immensely time-consuming and costly to lay and bury miles of fiber or erect poles specific to broadband services. And if every communications company was responsible for constructing its own poles, pretty soon, dozens of poles would clutter the public right of way. Needless to say, this would not be practical and would force a lot of services to simply not be provided.
Enter the concept of pole joint use. The utility pole—and all related equipment, sometimes including elements such as underground cables—are owned by one entity or organization. Any business that requires a utility pole can pay the pole owner to attach to their pole.
There are several advantages to this process. As we’ve mentioned, it eliminates the need for each company to set its own pole. It ensures critical communication services can continue to function without interruption. Finally, it expedites the broadband expansion process and reduces the cost of implementing fiber, allowing communication companies to spread their services to as many communities as possible.
Who Maintains the Poles?
We depend a great deal on utility poles for our daily lives. If there is an outage with one of the poles, it can lead to a loss of critical services for a large number of people. For this reason, the poles must be maintained regularly and in good working order. Of course, this is also in the interest of each organization attached to a utility pole. They don’t want an interruption in their services either.
Who is responsible for maintaining these all-important utility poles? Generally, that responsibility falls to the owner, but how does the owner know when upkeep is needed? Wear and tear can occur gradually, and utility poles can be in remote locations. That means they can fail unexpectedly if they haven’t been maintained in some time. If there is a problem, owners need to be able to contact all attachers to arrange repairs. This is one of the reasons proper joint use management is vital.
Common Utility Pole Problems
Besides the gradual wear and tear we’ve mentioned above, several other issues plague utility poles. For example, the fact that nowadays, so many parties are interested in attaching to a given utility pole means that the poles can easily be overloaded if not correctly managed. This, of course, can lead to the poles failing during inclement weather and a loss of service for customers.
Utility poles can also be damaged by outside influences, such as an overgrowth of nearby trees or even by third parties who knowingly or not illegally attach to the poles, effectively stealing services while overloading the poles.
Without proper joint use management processes, pole owners also face immense workloads caused by inefficient workflows. The RDOF and BEAD funds have encouraged many communications companies to make thousands of attachment requests on utility poles across the country. If a pole owner manages hundreds of requests, rental billing schedules, permits, and utility pole construction tasks in a spreadsheet or through emails, they will quickly be overwhelmed. This will ultimately slow broadband implementation, denying customers of increasingly necessary access to fiber internet.
How Can It All Be Managed?
Success in joint use management requires effective communication between all parties and an incredible level of organization. Leaving this in the hands of one or several people would mean multiple full-time jobs for workers and could still eventually lead to failure. Hence the need for software to do the job: this is known as joint use management software.
Using Joint Use Management Software
The management of utility poles must be centralized. That is to say, every element should be carefully organized in a central location. Instead of compartmentalizing aspects such as maintenance, repair, contracts, and billing, the right software can combine the management of all of these.
Software like Joint Use 365 can handle every element of joint use management for utility pole owners, minimizing the risk of service interruption. It’s perfect for utility pole owners since it allows you to manage every step of the process, starting with applications sent by prospective new attachers. It tracks all past maintenance and ensures that the poles are kept in good working order, ensuring that the joint use of your utility poles is always kept streamlined and functional.