Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for the episode 48 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Scott Lazenby on conduit policies in Sandy, Oregon. Listen to this episode here.
Lisa Gonzalez: Hello. This is the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And I'm Lisa Gonzalez.
In this episode, we talked to Scott Lazenby, City Manager of Sandy, Oregon. As we've reported in the past, Sandy is well-known for its extensive wireless network. The community is now planning for a fiber network, and is using every opportunity to bring more access to more people and businesses. As part of Sandy's plan, the community now requires conduit installed for a future fiber network in all subdivisions. Scott talked to Chris and me about the policy, and how it's been received by developers. The approach will expand the reach of the future fiber network and reduce costs considerably.
Chris Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of Community Broadband Bits. Today, we're changing it up a little bit. Lisa Gonzalez, from my organization, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, is joining me. And we're talking with Scott Lazenby, the City Manager of Sandy, Oregon. Welcome to the show.
Scott Lazenby: Thanks.
Chris: Could you tell us a little bit about Sandy?
Scott: Sure. We're a small town, a population of about 10,000. We're just east of Portland. We're the closest city to Mount Hood. We're in the foothills of Mount Hood, with very hilly terrain, very tall fir and cedar trees. A gorgeous area. We have the Sandy River running right at our -- the foot of our town, which is where we get our name. So we've got the best of both worlds -- good access to the Mount Hood recreational area and good access to Portland too.
Chris: Yeah. I have to agree. I think we talked about your town last year. And in it, I noted that the last time I'd been to Sandy was during a Hood to Coast. I just happened to be around, and seeing that famous race winding through town. And it was a lovely time to be there.
Scott: Yeah. Yean, a lot of people see it that way. We're the first city on the route. It's the longest relay race, I think, in the country.
Chris: For those who aren't as familiar -- Sandy, you have long operated a wireless ISP, that was bringing Internet access to your town. And, in recent years, you've been doing more fiber optic investments, to connect businesses, your anchor institutions. And you even had a great contest "Why Wait For Google?" in which you started thinking proactively about how to bring fiber out to everyone, and make sure everyone had these cutting-edge connections. So, along the way, you've had these conduit policies, and that's what we want to talk with you about today. And so, I'm wondering if you could just briefly note why conduit is important for a fiber network of the sort you want to build.
Scott: Yeah, sure. We, like a lot of cities, you know, we require new utilities -- new telecom utilities -- to go underground, just for aesthetics and maintenance. And so -- but burying fiber, or any kind of cable, underground, once you have developed streets and sidewalks, you know, is expensive. And so, we're trying to find opportunities to get fiber into the ground more cheaply. So, when we started our network, we did use some fiber for backhaul, to connect major facilities. And we were lucky then that we had an abandoned water pipe, going right through downtown Sandy on U.S. 26. And so, we used that abandoned water line as conduit, and just pulled fiber through that. And so, it kind of sent the message that we needed to take whatever opportunities we could, to tap into existing -- you know, abandoned pipes, trenches, and things like that.
Lisa: So, you were able to make use of what you had with the water pipes. The policy which requires developers to put conduit in, now -- it's a relatively new policy for the City of Sandy. Is that right?
Scott: That's right. And so, you know, before, we were, you know, using wireless for the last -- you know, not the last mile but the last few hundred yards, to homes. And then using fiber for backhaul to various antenna sites and things like that. Well, as the use of the system increased -- you know, it increased exponentially, as people are doing entertainment, watching movies, moving huge data files, you know, sharing pictures, and all that kind of thing that people do, we realized we were quickly maxing out the capacity of a wireless system, and figured that fiber was really the only way to go, ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Scott: ... as far as connecting individual homes and businesses. And so, ...
Lisa: Um hum.
Scott: ... once we came to that realization -- We're a rapidly-growing city. We're the fifth-fastest-growing in the state of Oregon in the last decade. And so, we do have a lot of subdivision activity going on. So it occurred to us that, just as we require developers to put in water pipes and sewer pipes and streetlights and such for the new subdivision, that, if they're doing that anyway, to drop in conduit for our fiber was relatively inexpensive. But then it would allow us to have completely fiber-ready subdivisions when the homes go in.
Chris: We've talked with some other towns that have tried to do these sorts of things, and when they've put it in the code, the -- you may have a developer that is very upset, and says, this is going to add to the cost of my development. I don't want to do it. You're foisting it on me. I understand that you've had a different experience. And I want to elevate that. So, can you tell us how developers have reacted to your ordinance?
Scott: Yeah. You know, with the recession, our subdivision activity, like everywhere else, you know, slowed down. And so it gave us time to think this through. So we did put the requirements in place, in the middle of the recession. So we're just now starting to get subdivision activity. And so, the first one that had to comply with this requirement was actually excited about it. He -- we sat down and explained that we were providing -- this is what we're providing, as a utility. We're providing 100-meg Internet service for $39.95 a month -- just under forty buck a month for 100-meg service. And he was blown away by that. And he thought, well, that's going to be a major selling feature for the homes. And ...
Chris: Yeah, I think so!
Scott: ... he was very enthusiastic. Yeah. Yeah. He understood the benefit of it, and was excited to work with us on it.
Chris: So, you haven't had any people who are viewing that negatively, then?
Scott: Nope. Not yet.
Chris: OK. And so -- and just to be clear, the cost is borne by the developer. So, they're putting in the sidewalks, they're putting in the streets, they're putting in the houses, they're -- and they're putting in, presumably, the other utilizes as well, right? So this is just treating it the same as any other utility.
Scott: That's exactly right. And so they -- yeah. And we -- we'll end up putting in, you know, some of the distribution equipment. And then probably the fiber itself -- we'll go ahead and put that through. But they'll have provided a conduit -- all the way to the house, when the house gets built. And we're also including requirements for the right kind of wiring in the new homes, too. And that's not a problem at all. You know, when they're putting in the low-voltage wires in a house, to run some extra Ethernet cable is, you know, really inexpensive at that stage.
Chris: Is that actually in the code? I mean, is it like a Cat-6 requirement? Or --
Scott: Yeah. We're -- right now, with this one subdivision that's going in, we're using that as a test case. And so we're developing some standards that are pretty simple. And the developer of the subdivision is also the homebuilder. So he's working with us closely on that. We're going to use that as a test case, and if it looks like it's working, we will put it in as a code requirement.
Chris: A lot of people are familiar with conduit. And fewer people are familiar with vaults, which is where one can get access to the conduit. And so, do you -- in these subdivisions, do you have to have the vaults put in as well?
Scott: Yeah. We do. And so we have to do a little bit of design for each subdivision, to figure out where they go. They're pretty simple, though. And -- but that's part of the installation. And it's really no different, if you think about it, than putting in a water system, where you have those small boxes, where the water meters go. Very similar to that.
Chris: For those of us who aren't familiar with how a new subdivision is built. So then, is that -- the developer works with the city, to come up with a map of where these things each have to go? Because the developer, him- or herself, obviously can't just decide for the city, I'm guessing.
Scott: That's right. And I think -- you know, it's often the case of, you know, locate one, you know, at this distance from the curb, you know, one per every two houses. You know, I don't think we get it down to the inch. But we do specify where they go. And these -- the builders are used to this kind of thing. You know, they've got to locate streetlights, and boxes for those, and, you know, all these improvements. So, the folks that are doing this, it's just -- it's not -- this isn't a new thing for them at all.
Lisa: The developers, you know, have real strict guidelines, within different communities. And, you know, one of the things that I noticed on the Sandy ordinance was that it specifically refers to this statement of "no expense to the city." And I've come -- I've seen requirements, in just a couple other places. And, first of all, I'm wondering if there was another community that you sort of modeled this after? And also, if there was a reason why you went ahead and decided to put that specific language in there?
Scott: Well, as to your first question, I know there's some cities in California that have done this for years. We don't have any specific language from them. But we did decide just to treat it like we do our own water and sewer utilities. And streetlights, too. We're now requiring the developers -- they always have to put in streetlights. But instead of the electric utility owning and maintaining those, our city is instead. We're switching to LED streetlights, and doing smart lighting systems, and things like that. So, it's really no different than that. It's just part of the required infrastructure if you're going to do a subdivision.
Lisa: And then you'd also mentioned some concerns that you had with other utilities, and, like, other conduit. And you'd mentioned that to ...
Scott: Right. Yeah.
Lisa: ... and I'm wondering if ...
Scott: You know -- and this is a practical, on-the-ground experience. We -- you know, people say, well, whenever they're doing a trench, you should just have them drop in some conduit for your fiber. It sounds simple. But, as Chris said, if you're -- if you've got, say, a, you know, water pipe that might be 6 feet down, underneath a road, and sitting on that water pipe is a conduit that you, in the future, hope to put some fiber through, well, if you haven't, you know, designed it out, with vaults and different splice points, to get at that thing, you're not that much ahead. It's down there. You know, it's down there with a pipe. But then, to back and use it is pretty expensive.
So that's a practical problem. The second one is, just having an open trench with some other, you know, utility in there -- it's not quite as simple as just dropping in your conduit, because -- like in our case of our water system -- if we have to go in and repair a water line, our public works folks don't want to be in danger of, you know, cutting through the fiber with their backhoe, when they're trying to expose the water line. So you typically try to get some separation between utilities. And we did find, in one case, we did put in a water line, and we did have to make the trench quite a bit bigger, in order to get some, you know, separation between the water pipe and our fiber conduit, just so that we wouldn't, you know, put either of them in danger when we built it. So it didn't -- it saved us some money, but not as much as you might think.
Chris: As I try to think about this in three dimensions, when you say "separation," in the way you've described it, I'm guessing you mean lateral separation, on the horizontal plane, right?
Scott: Yeah. That's typically it. 'Cause they're going to dig straight down with a backhoe, and, you know, you want to get them separated horizontally a bit.
Chris: And so, if I understood correctly, then, also, then, the problem is that you may have a trench, working on that line, but then, if you want to locate something 18 inches, you know, to the left of it, for instance, then that may not save you a whole lot of expense, because you have to make the trench a lot wider, right?
Scott: Exactly. Exactly. And the other problem, too, is, you know, in this case, we knew we wanted to get fiber from A to B, and it was along the same route that the water pipe was going. So that worked out perfectly. We went ahead and lit up the fiber right away. In some cases, though, you might say, well, we'll take advantage of this open trench, just throw some conduit in. But, in my experience, anyway, it's never at the right place when you need it, you know. You may look back and say, oh, you know, we put that there, but we need to go, you know, north instead of west, let's say. So, I think it's not a bad idea. But it's got some practical problems.
And the one thing we haven't done is -- we haven't required the telecom utilities to do that. Just -- you know, you can imagine there might be some kind of political push-back if we were requiring them to put our Internet utility in a -- you know, in the cable company's trench. So --
Chris: At the same time, I'm curious if, when there's major street work -- they may be ripping up an entire street, for instance -- are there any opportunities where you've taken advantage of those situations to get some conduit in an area where you haven't before?
Scott: You bet. We're doing that right now. And it's saving us a ton of money. But it's one of these situations where we were just thinking, how were we going to get from A to B? And then the state required some highway work of the developer. And that solved it for us. So, yeah, we definitely take advantage of that where we can. And we're building a major water line project ourselves. And we're putting in conduit -- and vaults -- and we've kind of thought it through. And an interesting thing is that the City of Portland uses fiber to manage their water system, which is in the Mount Hood area. And so they're cooperating with us, and installing their own fiber conduit, along with ours too. So it's a really good partnership. And we're all saving money on it, because, yeah, the trench may have to be a little bit bigger. But it's a pretty big water pipe, anyway. And it's a main, where we don't anticipate any taps into it in the future. So, yeah, we're definitely taking advantage of that.
Chris: So, if we can, I think, summarize the discussion, it basically comes down to, you know, the idea that you could always put conduit in a trench is fundamentally flawed. But there can be many opportunities in which you can. You just need to understand where it's appropriate and where it isn't.
Chris: All right. Well, this has been incredibly helpful. Is there -- are there any other insights that you can -- you want to share with us?
Scott: No. And, I think, for a town like us, we have been lucky to be pretty resourceful. Our public works folks have been pretty good. So, I mentioned the story about finding the abandoned water line. We've had a lot of opportunities like that, where we've found, you know, water lines. We did, in one project, install a couple of conduits, just to be on the safe side. And it turned out the county got a grant to put in a major broadband fiber ring through the whole county. Well, we were able to just let them use that conduit that was already in the street. So, sometimes, you know, thinking ahead, even if you're not sure of how you're going to use this stuff, you know, you really can save a lot, over time.
I wish -- in the past, though, I wish -- you know, we do have highway 26 running through our downtown. And we have a lot of stuff buried in that road. And I wish, way back when, we had built a tunnel -- a utility tunnel -- down there, that you could actually walk through. And then, with all these changes in technology, it would have been so nice to be able to just go down there and, you know, string some more cable, or fiber, and not have to keep digging up the highway to do it.
Chris: It's really good to hear that you have that positive relationship with public works. Because I've certainly heard from other people in communities where public works just says, we don't want to get involved with conduit. And the project ends right there. And that's always disappointing. I'm glad to hear you have that good relationship.
Scott: Yeah, well, they both work for me.
Chris: Right. Right. [laughs] I think -- as anyone who's dealt with cities knows, different departments can have interesting relationships, even when one is subservient to the other. [laughs]
Scott: Yes. Yes.
Chris: Well, thank you so much for coming on this show, and sharing this insight with us.
Scott: You're quite welcome. It's been a pleasure.
Lisa: Thank you, Scott Lazenby, City Manager of Sandy, for taking some time to talk about conduit policy.
You can learn more about the wireless network and fiber project at the city's website. You can also check out the "Sandy" and "SandyNet" tags at muninetworks.org , to review our coverage of the community. We want you to send us your questions and comments. You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Our handle on Twitter is @communitynets . This show was released on May 28th, 2013. Thank you to the group Eat ad Joe's for their self-titled song, licensed using Creative Commons. Thanks for listening.