Thursday, March 19, 2009

Look Ma! No Poles!

Something In Nature Doesn’t Like Wires on Poles
Last year, in southwestern Ohio, we were hit with violent sixty mile an hour bands of wind from hurricane Ike—which hit Texas, yet affected us hundreds of miles away in Cincinnati. No rain—just unbelievable winds that took out utilities—for weeks in some neighborhoods. The Governor declared a national disaster, and once more Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) dollars poured in to stand up poles and restore power and telecom. Just two months ago, an ice storm took down utilities in the North East—once again closing down communities for several weeks. Is the nation really going to endure outages in perpetuity as taxpayers subsidize a fragile, 165 year old utility pole infrastructure that topples at the whim of nature’s wind and ice storms?

Whose Land Is This?
How should we handle utility poles in the future? Can we eliminate them? What takes their place? Utility poles are located in public right-of-way which is nine feet of land on each side of every road. Let’s look at who controls and maintains the nation’s four million mile national highway system? 75.2 % of roadways are under the jurisdiction of local governments, 4.3% are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, 20.5% of the total 3,933,985 miles, including the entire Interstate System, are controlled and maintained by the State governments. So government has the authority to assign the location of utilities in the public right-of-way and the federal government can mandate highway right-of-way management to states and local entities.

Gimmie Shelter
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) could leverage it’s ‘highway infrastructure’ and ‘smart grid electric’ project investments by implementing a policy I call “JULIET”, an acronym for “Joint Underground Location of Infrastructure for Electric and Telecommunications”—which is an underground conduit system. JULIET’s mandated purpose is to house all electric and telecom wires underground in conduits. JULIET would replace the nation’s antiquated utility pole infrastructure—so we could finally say “Look Ma! No Poles!”

OK! How Much Will It Cost?
Let’s launch JULIET by issuing stimulus grants and loans. JULIET would become the nationally mandated conduit system installed in public-rights-of-way or utility corridors. JULIET deployment loans would be paid back from fees levied on conduit tenants—fees that would be less than pole attachment and maintenance costs when factored over time. Implementing the JULIET fee structure allows the conduit system to become self-sustaining without imposing an additional burden on tax payers.

JULIET could become the signature, 21st Century conduit infrastructure that saves the most money and makes deploying the national fiber/wireless networks and smart grids feasible. Conduit availability transforms power and fiber upgrades by eliminating pavement cuts, thus finally making deployment affordable. Conduit costs $5,000 per rural mile and $15,000 per urban mile when installed while pavement is open. Once conduits are in place, pulling new fiber infrastructure through reduces project deployment costs from $100,000 to $30,000 per urban mile—a 70% savings.

Installing conduits simultaneously with every road, bridge, dam, railroad, water, sewer, gas or electric project adds $15,000 to the cost of every urban project mile—a rounding off number for most construction projects. However, once JULIET is in place, fiber and electric lines can be pulled through conduits anytime in the future without cutting streets ever again—forever.

Bonuses That Everyone Will Like
Locating electric and fiber underground significantly improves service reliability and security—no more weather instigated outages. Smart electric grids need fiber to support computer managed electric generation and distribution networks. Wireless, WiFi and WiMax networks use fiber backbones for signal backhaul. Millions in FEMA dollars wouldn’t be needed to restore outages because there are no poles and wires to fall down in wind or ice storms. Local economies stop dead during outages causing businesses and hourly workers to lose millions in income—most of which is not reimbursable by FEMA. So, let’s stop senseless waste and finally put all utilities underground.

Wow! It’s Beautiful!
America the Beautiful. Let’s restore the beauty of our living spaces and our vistas. Imagine the visual improvements resulting from a ‘no poles’ policy. JULIET helps America save money, improve services and look her best—an affordable, transforming make-over for the 21st Century.