AT&T: Streamlined permitting is accelerating FTTH deployments

AT&T (NYSE: T) is may be keen on advancing its FTTH rollouts, but like any service provider the biggest potential obstacle that could get in its way is the local permitting process to install fiber to each premises.

As the service provider has announced new markets for its GigaPower 1 Gbps FTTH service, it is finding that more communities are willing to work with them streamline approval processes.   

Rehan Asad, AVP, broadband operations for AT&T, told FierceTelecom that the customers' needs have to match with a community's local rules.

"The fundamental part that has become clear when I talk to my peers is that we need cooperation and help from the local governing authorities for permitting," Asad said. "It does not matter whether if it's us or another competitor that wants to build fiber."

Asad said that while there are certainly differences between aerial deployments that use existing utility poles and digging underground to trenches to lay fiber, having cooperation with the local municipality is the first critical step.

"There's only two ways to build fiber: you have to either underground or over ground aerial," Asad said. "The customer need has to be there and that has to match the permitting journey."  

One state where it has found a favorable permitting regime is North Carolina.

In 2014, AT&T struck a deal with the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN), a regional initiative focused on stimulating the deployment of next generation networks to North Carolina.

As part of that agreement, AT&T agreed to bring its GigaPower offering to six communities: Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

Along with offering FTTH services, the agreement includes options for Wi-Fi hot spots, free 1 Gbps service at 100 public sites and extending fiber to up to 100 business buildings. In addition, the service provider will offer a free 3 Mbps U-verse broadband service to 10 affordable housing complexes and bring U-verse to Durham.

"All of these cities came together and said they will streamline all of the permitting processes and they invited everybody to participate," Asad said. "All of our friends from California and others participated and they gave us one single point of permitting and we really like the model they offered and we built out our network in Raleigh-Durham in less than 12 months."

However, in other cities like Los Angeles the permitting process was a major challenge not just for AT&T but all telcos and other utilities.

Whenever it wanted to build out FTTH, it had to deal with 34 different offices to get a permit for each part of the LA metro area.

"If I get permission from one mayor it does not mean I can go to the next suburb," Asad said.

The city later hired an outside CIO, who would be tasked with serving as a permitting liason with each city within the LA metro.

"Rather than going to 27 different municipalities, we can go and submit all of our filings to one person and he can coordinate across the mayor's office who needs to review and who needs to approve," Asad said. "After they did this, we made an announcement we'd triple the Gigapower deployment in Los Angeles."

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