Fiber to the Premises (FTTP): Force Them To Pave?
Jay T. Spurgin, P.E., MPA
Deputy Public Works Director/City Engineer
City of Thousand Oaks, California
Member, APWA UPROW Committee
Presenter, 2007 APWA Congress
The demand for a higher-speed, greater-bandwidth communications network in the City of Thousand Oaks was set against the equally important need to maintain aesthetics of public infrastructure. A major element in Verizon-City negotiations regarding a new Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) project was whether streets would be resurfaced where open-cut trenching occurred. Previous construction of a citywide cable television network resulted in tremendous public outcry from residents upset over the patchwork appearance of trenched streets, resulting in significant general fund cost for a multi-year resurfacing project.
The Verizon FTTP project necessitates new conduits being installed in over half of the city's 380 miles of streets. Through involvement of City Council, City management and Verizon executives, and cooperation and compromise on both sides, project conditions were established that helped City staff manage and control the project. These conditions included a public outreach program, limiting the number of permits issued, individual approval for locations of each new fiber distribution hub, requiring trenchless construction techniques for new conduit installation, street resurfacing for open-cut trenched areas, and use of Verizon inspectors to oversee contractors and address complaints from the public. The project is about 20 percent complete as of this writing, and challenges remain, but overall the success of the new FTTP network based on addressing the aesthetic concerns of the community seems assured.
Balancing Conflicting Needs of the Community
The demand for a higher-speed, greater-bandwidth communications network in the City of Thousand Oaks and the importance of public infrastructure aesthetics set the stage for another classic conflict between competing public policies. Could a new fiber optic-based communications network be constructed throughout the city while maintaining the aesthetics and structural integrity of city streets? Or would public outcry resulting from a large portion of city streets being trenched be a fatal flaw to the proposed construction of this cutting-edge technology? As will be discussed in this article, a major element in Verizon-City negotiations regarding a new fiber optic network was whether streets would be resurfaced where open-cut trenching occurred. Also presented are practical measures to help public works staff manage and control a citywide telecommunications network project, including involvement of City Manager and City Council, limiting number of permits issued, and requiring trenchless construction techniques or street resurfacing for open-cut trenched areas.
Thousand Oaks is a community of about 127,000 residents located 42 miles northwest of Los Angeles in Ventura County, California. The city encompasses 54 square miles, about 40 percent of which is publicly-owned open space. Citizens enjoy a high standard of living, including the highest mean housing prices in the county. Aesthetics of the public infrastructure is very important to residents. In fact, as with every community, the average citizen's impression of the state of public works infrastructure is determined during daily trips to and from home, through their visual observation of the condition of city streets.
Thousand Oaks is the center of the "technology corridor" along the 101 freeway from western Los Angeles County to eastern Ventura County, home to such high-tech companies as Amgen, Baxter Pharmaceutical and Verizon. Eighty percent of Thousand Oaks households have computers connected to the Internet. High-speed broadband Internet technologies available to the community have been either DSL at up to 1.5 megabytes per second (mbps) or cable modem at up to 5 mbps. Newer fiber optic networks boasting up to 30 mbps Internet download speeds would benefit the community, and would help keep Thousand Oaks as the premiere city in the region. The capacity of a fiber optic network that provides high-definition video service would also provide competition for the current single cable television provider in the community.
In September 2004, Verizon, the national telecommunications company with western U.S. operations headquartered in Thousand Oaks, approached the City with a proposal to install a citywide FTTP high-speed broadband network system. The proposed FTTP network would utilize fiber optic cables, as opposed to traditional coaxial or twisted pair copper wire technology, to connect residences and businesses to voice, Internet and video services. The fiber optic lines would run from existing central offices of Verizon's three wire centers in Thousand Oaks to fiber distribution hubs (FDHs) located throughout the city, and ultimately to Optical Network Terminals (ONT) located at subscriber homes or businesses. The FTTP system has capacity up to 100 mbps, far in excess of competing network technologies. Verizon calls this new network system "FiOS," for Fiber Optic Service.
Verizon's installation plan revealed that over half of the city's 380 miles of streets would need new conduit installed. Remaining streets have either overhead utility lines or existing underground conduits of sufficient size to accept new fiber optic cables, so no pavement cuts would be needed in these areas.
In 2004 when Verizon initially approached the City about an FTTP project, California legislation to provide for statewide cable/video franchises had not yet been introduced. The legislation, Assembly Bill 2987 authored by State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, was later signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger on September 29, 2006. Pursuant to state law and city municipal code, Verizon and the City began negotiations for a new cable television franchise agreement to cover cable/video service of the FiOS "triple play" bundling of telephone, Internet and cable/video services. Telephone and Internet services were already covered under statewide franchise. Franchise agreement negotiations continued through 2005 and most of 2006, with final City Council approval on September 12, 2006. Although Verizon could have waited for a statewide franchise, it was not known if or when AB 2987 would become law. Verizon was working on the new FTTP project design as negotiations proceeded; nonetheless, the length of negotiations for the new franchise agreement was not atypical in the city's experience.
Previous Citywide Cable Project
As a backdrop for franchise negotiations with Verizon, several years prior the city endured the construction of another citywide project. From 1996 to 1999, GTE, the telephone provider for most of the city at the time, constructed a citywide cable television system, called GTE Americast, that included trenching 140 miles (40%) of city streets. GTE was later acquired by Verizon in 2000, and Verizon subsequently sold the Americast system to Adelphia. The project was constructed using open-cut construction methods that required both longitudinal and transverse trenching. The trenches were properly repaved but the streets were not resurfaced, so all of the trenches were visible. The City received hundreds of complaints from residents and businesses regarding the poor aesthetic conditions of the trenched streets. A multi-year slurry seal project was undertaken to remediate the aesthetic impacts, at a cost of over $1 million to the City's general fund.
As a result of the GTE Americast experience, the City informed Verizon that it would have to resurface streets, with a treatment such as a slurry seal, where open-cut trenching construction methods were used for the new FTTP project. This became a major area of disagreement; in fact, Verizon considered this a deal breaker. The City Manager and Verizon executives became involved, and ultimately the issue was brought to the City Council for direction. The City agreed that resurfacing would not be required where trenchless (horizontal directional drilling) construction methods were used, or where the City had plans for slurry seal or asphalt overlay of an affected street within the next three years.
As part of the compromise reached to eliminate the street resurfacing requirement, Verizon agreed to adhere to certain encroachment permit conditions. Where new conduits for the FTTP system needed to be installed, first priority for construction would be within parkways or sidewalks, followed by horizontal directional drilling (HDD) within the street, and lastly open-cut trenching. Other key elements of permit conditions included: (1) use of flowable fill (one-sack cement sand slurry) for trench backfill; (2) final paving of trenches within 30 days; (3) posting a $200,000 performance bond; (4) specific approvals for each FDH location; (5) a public outreach program; (6) limiting the number of permits issued at any time; (7) compliance with NPDES stormwater requirements; (8) Verizon inspectors onsite; and (9) full-width slurry seal for any street where open-cut trenching is needed. These conditions were in part derived from the experience of the neighboring City of Camarillo, where a Verizon FTTP project had been underway for two years.
Areas where new conduits needed to be installed were coordinated with City plans for street maintenance projects over the coming two to three years, including slurry seals and asphalt overlays, so that these neighborhoods would be constructed first. Some City projects were adjusted to better coincide with the FTTP project, and vice versa. Clearly, all involved in the project did not want to see new FTTP conduits installed closely following the completion of street maintenance.
The City was concerned that public works inspection staff would be unable to adequately cover multiple FTTP construction sites along with other development, capital and encroachment project workload, or ensure that work in one area was completed before additional work began. Verizon offered to reimburse the City for additional inspection costs if outside inspectors needed to be retained. The City wanted to limit the number of permits open at any time to help manage the workload. A compromise was reached wherein the City would issue up to 10 encroachment permits for new conduit construction, and Verizon would provide three roving company inspectors/supervisors to monitor contractor work. The inspectors were retired Verizon engineering/construction employees, and have proven to be extremely effective in controlling the quality of construction work, as well as being readily available to address resident complaints. No limits were placed on the number of permits for installation of new fiber optic lines in overhead areas or where existing conduits can accommodate new lines (i.e., areas where no trenching was needed). As of the date of this writing, a total of about $44,000 in permit fees have been collected for 25 encroachment permits, roughly 17 percent of the citywide project.
Verizon engineers prepared and submitted a "master plan" for the FTTP project broken down into the three existing telephone wire centers covering the city. Each wire center was further broken down into fiber distribution areas (FDAs). An FDA is typically a neighborhood comprising up to about 400 customers. Each FDA required a separate FDH installation, and the City issued individual encroachment permits for each area. There are a total of about 150 FDAs in the city.
The design of the FTTP system included five fiber optic lines between the wire center central offices and each FDH. These lines were typically installed within existing telephone backbone system conduits. From the FDH out to customer homes, typically 288 fiber optic cable, made up of 24 12-fiber ribbons, was installed. A 432 FDH capable of serving over 400 customers was typically specified for each FDA, with at least 20 percent spare capacity provided.
In older neighborhoods with existing overhead service, Verizon overlashed the new fiber optic lines onto the existing telephone lines. This accounts for about 20 percent of the city. Construction in these areas began as early as January 2006, nine months prior to approval of the franchise agreement. Newer neighborhoods where existing "pre-positioned" Verizon telephone conduits are of sufficient size to accept new fiber optic lines account for about 25 percent of the city. FiOS services were offered first to customers in the overhead and pre-positioned neighborhoods as the FTTP installation was completed before other locations. The remaining 55 percent of city neighborhoods had existing direct bury telephone cable or otherwise required the installation of new underground conduit for the fiber optic lines. The first encroachment permit for new conduit construction was issued in October 2006, immediately following franchise agreement approval.
Trenchless construction through HDD has been employed by Verizon's contractors in all locations where new conduit installation was required. The City allowed a 24-inch cover depth for the new FTTP conduit to help avoid conflicts with other utility lateral lines, typically constructed at 30-inch or deeper depth. Nonetheless, at all utility line crossings, a 2-foot by 3-foot pothole was excavated to ensure the horizontal drilling operation did not damage water, gas, telephone or other utility lines. Rolled 2-inch diameter PVC conduit was back-pulled by the HDD machine. Handholes measuring 17 x 30 x 24-inches deep or 24 x 36 x 24-inches deep were installed flush with grade typically adjacent to existing telephone handholes or vaults.
Due to the geology of the Thousand Oaks area, very hard soil or shallow bedrock conditions were encountered in a few locations. These hard soil or rock conditions made it impractical to install the FTTP conduits with HDD construction methods, and the City allowed open-cut trenching. Where trenching was approved, a 6-inch rock wheel was typically used. To meet the street resurfacing requirement of the encroachment permit conditions, the City agreed to accept a cash-out payment for slurry seal in these areas. A unit cost factor of $0.20 per square foot was established. The funds generated by cash-out payments were added to the City's pavement maintenance program, with the intent that affected streets would be added to a slurry project within the next two years. At the time of this writing, the City had received about $73,000 cash-out from Verizon for street resurfacing.
For many residents, the streets and sidewalks within their immediate neighborhood are the most immediate example of city infrastructure. As the aesthetics of residential neighborhoods is a very real concern to most residents, approval by City inspectors for each FDH box location was required. Once approved, Verizon included a detail and photo of the location on construction plans. The 432 FDH above-grade box measures 48 x 30 x 20-inches. Locations selected were adjacent to existing telephone hub boxes, at side yard property lines, or within landscaped areas. Colors were chosen to either match the existing adjacent box, typically tan, or light green in landscaped areas.
The number of citizen complaints has been low and limited to lack of notification, dissatisfaction with FDH box locations, damage to landscaping or other private improvements, and general construction-related cleanup issues. All complaints are forwarded to a Verizon inspector and followed up by City inspection staff to assure prompt resolution. In this area, Verizon has been very responsive.
Project Successes and Challenges
Initially, City staff learned of the Verizon FTTP network to be constructed in Thousand Oaks through design contractors requesting record drawings for large portions of the city. This was frustrating at first as the full scope and schedule for the project was unknown, and staff were reluctant to research and copy plans and drawings on a piecemeal basis. Verizon responded to these concerns by preparing and submitting a "master plan" for the ultimate FTTP project, along with a proposed construction schedule. A special account was set up on the City's computer network so Verizon employees and contractors could directly access and copy digital copies of record drawings, minimizing staff time.
At the time of this writing, the FTTP network has been installed in about 25 FDAs, or roughly 17 percent of the citywide project. Project completion is expected by the end of 2009. Throughout the construction phase, Verizon inspectors have worked exceptionally well with City inspection staff, and have enabled the City to manage the project without additional staff or excessive overtime.
Verizon's initial estimate was for a three percent new subscriber "take" rate. The actual take rate has been 35 percent, and, at the time of this writing, over 1,000 customers have subscribed to the FiOS triple play service. The author signed up for the triple play service plan shortly after the fiber optic lines were installed in his neighborhood. The $120 monthly cost is more than $50 less than what was paid previously for separate telephone, Internet and cable services. Internet speed is considerably faster and television quality is noticeably improved.
Buried construction is always a challenge, but potholing each utility crossing has virtually eliminated conflicts. The density of development in Thousand Oaks with limited open parkways has forced most conduit installation into the paved street area, and future public outcry about numerous pavement patches in residential neighborhoods cannot be ruled out. The City anticipates that it may need to expand its slurry seal program over the next few years to address aesthetic concerns of residents.
Was the City of Thousand Oaks able to "Force Them To Pave"? Through cooperation and compromise on both sides, the answer is "We didn't have to." Reasonable conditions and constraints placed on encroachment permits have mitigated most issues with the FTTP project. FTTP and similar fiber optic-based projects are being implemented in many communities nationwide. If your agency has not yet experienced such a project, customer demand for this technology will ultimately bring it to you.
Jay T. Spurgin is a member of APWA's Utility and Public Right-of-Way Committee and Right-of-Way Management Subcommittee. He will give a presentation on this topic at the 2007 APWA Congress which takes place on Tuesday, September 11, at 10:00 a.m. He can be reached at (805) 449-2444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.