If you’re a school and determine for funding year 2016, self provisioning a fiber network is the most cost effective option for you, the next question is, how will you operate your network. First though, we will first give a brief explanation of the term “self provision”
Self Provisioning a Fiber Network
Self provision really means self construct. Self provision is a term used by the FCC and means when a school builds their own fiber network.
For example, the school has contracted with one or more companies to build a fiber network. The building of the fiber network includes the design of the fiber path, engineering the fiber path, obtaining all necessary permits to dig up the road and place fiber underground, or place fiber on poles above ground. Several companies may be involved because an engineering company may be responsible for the fiber path engineering, obtaining all permits, creating “Issued for Construction” prints and also inspecting the work of the construction company. The construction company would be responsible for taking the “Issued for Construction” (IFC) prints and performing all work, for example, placing the fiber either underground or on poles as indicated in the IFC prints, placing hand holes, and marking the IFC prints (red lining) to show exactly what was done, if the IFC prints could not be followed exactly. The construction company would then pass these ‘red lined prints’ to the engineering company that would then produce “As Built” prints, to show what was actually built.
I’ve laid out the high level actions here for the self provision or the construction of a fiber network. Now that you have a fiber network built, how do you operate the network. This is a key question, and obviously very important if you’re thinking about self constructing or self provisioning a fiber network.
Operating a Fiber Network
One key point to understand is that USAC, through the E-rate program, will help subsidize the operation of a self provisioned network, but only if you competitively bid and outsource the work items. If you decide as a school to handle the operation of a network yourself, you will not be reimbursed by E-rate. This is a key point to know and to prepare for. I would recommend you outsource as much as you can, thus obtaining re-imbursement at your standard E-rate discount level. The average E-rate discount is approximately 70% across the nation, with many schools having a discount of 80% or 90%. Thus, you can have 80% to 90% of your operation reimbursed by E-rate. The other benefit of course of outsourcing, is that you don’t need to train your stuff or purchase necessary equipment.
We will now describe the work items that you’ll need to out source or do yourself if you decide to build and operate a network. We’ll provide a description of
- Scheduled or routing maintenance
- Unscheduled or emergency maintenance
We’ll describe each of these items.
Lets assume somebody is wanting to do some plumbing repair on the water pipes near where you have buried fiber. The plumber has to dig up the ground to access the water pipes, however, before they start, they would call a number marked on a nearby fiber identification pole and request for the location of all the utilities to be marked. The plumber does not want to damage any other utilities while they are digging up the road for the plumbing repair.
After the plumber has called the number, somebody will come out and mark the ground with the location of existing utilities. These marks (typically spray paint on the grass) inform the plumber where not to dig, to not damage existing utilities.
You, as a school, can either do the marking yourself, when called by the central statewide locates authority or the preferred option is to engage a marking or locates company that will deal with the marking themselves. As mentioned above, when you outsource this function you will get reimbursed by E-rate up to your standard category 1 discount.
Scheduled or Routine Maintenance
This work item covers the routine maintenance activities on the fiber path. For example, when your fiber was first buried in the ground, if your construction company did a good job, they should have put fiber markers periodically along the fiber path. If last week a strong wind came to your town, and blew down some markers, then your routine maintenance activity should result in standing up the markers again or getting new markers.
What if you notice a hand hole lid missing from a hand hole, you would want to replace the hand hole. Or if you notice damage to a hand hole, you would want to replace the hand hole.
Routine maintenance also should include ‘checking the fiber path’. This means you physically walk and drive along the fiber path, checking each hand hole, checking each marker, and generally checking everything is in order along the path. You would want to out source this activity, to be reimbursed by E-rate.
Unscheduled or Emergency Maintenance
Lets assume you constructed your fiber route above ground on poles. Everything is working fine, until one day, a driver decides to drive into a pole and knock it down, taking down everything that was on the pole, including your fiber cable. Your fiber cable snaps, and now, you have a break in the communication path and a loss of the data path. You need somebody to go out immediately and address the issue. Addressing the issue here would mean splicing the two ends together to create a continuous data path.
Or if you have fiber buried below ground, and a squirrel decides to make a home in your hand hole, and chomp its way through your fiber cable. You don’t notice, until one day, the squirrel bites hard and breaks all your fiber strands (the squirrel had very strong and sharp teeth ). Again, you have to have somebody go out and repair the hand hole, remove the squirrel and splice together the two ends of the fiber cable. Splicing the two ends of the fiber cable means physically joining the fiber glass strands together one by one. I will go into more detail about splicing in a later post.
Imagine the town you’re living in suddenly discovered an amazing ancient civilization that was superbly preserved in the clay and mud. The artifacts from the civilization become a big tourist draw to your town and your town starts attracting a lot of visitors. The main road into town was two lanes, but now, to accommodate all the new visitors, the town council decides to widen the road. At first you don’t mind, then you realize that you buried your fiber cable along the road. So what happens ? You would be required to relocate the fiber, for the segment of road that is being widened (which could be a particularly large segment). You yourself would be responsible for the costs of the relocate. Here again, you would want to engage an outside construction company to do the actual relocate. And right now, we have a question into the FCC whether this expense would be reimbursed. In theory, the relocate expense should be reimbursable. We will report back when the FCC releases the funding year 2016 eligible services list.
Lets assume a year after you constructed your file cable, a new school building gets built right next to your fiber cable path. You want to connect the building to your network so what do you do ? You will need to run fiber from the new school building to the nearest hand hole. The hand hole should contain a “slack loop” of fiber cable, typically 100 foot loop of fiber cable. You then cut into this loop and physically join the cable from the school to the cable from the slack loop. You have now joined the school to your network. I have definitely glossed over a lot of detail in this splice process and there will be another post shortly focused on splicing.
These work items are the key items to consider and budget when operating a fiber network. You would want to outsource these items to receive reimbursement from E-rate. If you do any of work items yourself, as the E-rate applicant, then please be aware you would not receive reimbursement.
Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email with any questions you have.