The concept of multiple providers jointly occupying space on physical assets is nothing new; for decades, electric utilities and telephone service providers have shared space on utility poles. However, the past few years have brought huge increases in the number and frequency of joint use transactions as communication and information technologies evolve and rapidly expand. Professionals in the joint use community are now faced with a landscape that has grown more crowded and complicated with each passing year.
In this dynamic environment, capturing, tracking, and sharing up-to-date utility asset records has never been more important. The process has also proven to be more difficult than it used to be. A recent Washington Post article explored the “utility futility” that may — at first — seem to be inevitable for those charged with managing utility pole data. The continuing rollout of 5G infrastructure, including the deployment of many thousands of small cell attachments, is compounding the difficulties.
Joint use today may be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The keys to making the process work are:
- Accurate and efficient field data collection
- A smart, streamlined data management system
- A smooth, effective method of communication among joint use partners
Bridging the Gaps
Too often, the frustrations arising from problems with communications between joint use stakeholders have made relationships between asset owners and attaching companies unpleasant and even adversarial. However, solutions exist that can help foster cooperation, competence, and consistency. At Alden, we understand that we work better when we work together.
Over the past 13 years, Alden Systems has been creating new software tools and processes that enable an interactive database of poles, which renders methods such as paper files or computerized spreadsheets obsolete. Our mission has been to make the data easy to access, update, and share.
Time is becoming increasingly critical in joint use interactions. A provider attempting to deploy, for example, small cell attachments across a service area must seek approval from asset owners and needs a timely response. The FCC’s One Touch Make Ready order that took effect in 2019 established new deadlines and requirements that asset owners must meet when responding to attachment requests. A stated purpose of the order was to speed up broadband deployment across the nation.
To rule on the plethora of attachment requests within the mandated period, the pole owners and/or custodians must have accurate data on each pole. To ensure any new work can be done safely, engineers must know the condition of the pole, how many and what kinds of attachments are already on the pole (and where on the pole they are attached) to make a determination of how much additional weight the pole can bear. There is quite a bit of relevant information that must be easily accessible to conduct this business effectively.
Alden One — our joint use asset management platform — automates the joint use business process, offering the advanced mapping capabilities necessary for asset owners to satisfy their own concerns efficiently and stay on top of projects all the way through the process while enabling their external joint use partners, such as contractors, to stay on schedule.
A Common Understanding
A crucial element in joint use is communication, both among internal departments and among the various stakeholders involved in the process — asset owners, attaching companies, and engineering and service firms.
However, before effective data management and cooperation can occur, companies must have accurate field data.
A Better Approach to Field Work
Field data collection is a big job and modern technology is stepping in to alleviate some of the burdens while reducing time spent in the field.
Alden’s field data app, Task Agent™, can be used on a smartphone (the app is available in the Apple and Google Play stores) or on Leica Geosystems' BLK3D handheld imager. Technicians capture the necessary attributes and transmit them seamlessly into the Alden One joint use management platform.
Creating a Conversation
Through the Alden One platform, our clients are steadily building the sense of cooperation necessary to reduce stressful interactions among utilities, communications, and other stakeholders. People who choose to work together as members of the greater joint use community are tirelessly performing the work that benefits all our communities. Our goal is to help them achieve their mission.
We believe that it's possible to get everyone talking about utility poles in the same way as well as exchanging and understanding the same data sets. We’re all moving into a shared future full of exciting new technology and many common challenges.
If you want to learn more about how Alden is helping solve problems for the joint use community, book a meeting here.