So, you want to install some new high-speed fiber broadband. It’s a pretty straightforward process: Plan, design, permit, construct, splice and turn up service. At a high level, it’s simple.

Projects don’t stay at a high level for long, though. This is especially true across IFN’s network, which stretches from Terre Haute to Fort Wayne and Goshen to Sandborn. The steps might be the same to design, plan and permit for urban and rural areas, but the unique challenges encountered in executing new builds for each can lead to lengthy and expensive processes.

The Process
Whether you’re building fiber in urban or rural locations, the first step of the process is what we call “desktop engineering,” or looking at maps to determine where you’re building fiber from and where you’re building fiber to. This allows you to plan the route and estimate the cost to build fiber along that route. We then work with telecommunications design companies that create construction drawings so we can consult with regulatory bodies for permitting.

This is where the processes diverge.

Urban Fiber Builds

For urban area builds, the permitting process can be pretty quick. We work with city-county personnel to present drawings and request permits on a regular basis. In Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, for example, the permitting process can be turned around in as little as 24-48 hours.

While planning and permitting may be quick, construction takes longer. Sidewalks, electric boxes, buildings, stoplights – these are all objects that can get in your way with urban builds, and those objects are owned by different individuals and organizations. To lay fiber, you must work with each owner to navigate their objects on your route.

In a perfect world, an urban fiber build takes between 90 and 120 days to execute a project from start to finish and costs tens of thousands of dollars per mile.

Rural Fiber Builds

Rural builds require additional flexibility. Maps in the desktop engineering phase don’t necessarily correlate one-to-one with what’s actually on (or in) the ground. Once a plan is accepted, a project manager and the telecom design company will go out and visit the routes. Farmers’ fields, drains and railroad tracks are just some of the obstacles to navigate, and a route plan has to be malleable to accommodate for these obstacles.

Once the initial plan is done, you still must be flexible when working with the permitting bodies, which can further change the design of the plan. In rural areas, the permitting process can involve county drainage boards, county councils that may only meet once per month, and any other property owners who may fall along the route with their own objections.

Planning and permitting take longer to finalize in rural settings, but construction can be fairly quick, depending on the size of the build. Again, in a perfect world, rural fiber builds take 90-120 days. The cost for a rural fiber build runs approximately 10-15% less than an urban fiber build.


If it costs more to build fiber in urban areas than rural areas, why aren’t more developers building rural fiber?


A common but complicated challenge in rural builds is when crossing railroads due to their unique property ownership. To cross any railroad, telecom companies need an additional permit gained through a separate permitting process. This can be a slow process that adds time to a build. Not to mention, it’s expensive. Building under a railroad can cost an additional five figures per mile to rival or exceed the cost of an urban build.

Customer Density

End-user costs are often the biggest determining factor in the viability of a new fiber build. As noted, it costs more to build fiber in urban areas, but in that one route mile, there could be 25 different customers who can share the expense of utilizing the new fiber, therefore driving down a customer’s ultimate price and increasing the fiber builder’s return. In a rural route mile, there may only be one customer available to absorb the cost of paying for fiber access.

This is the ultimate cost of laying fiber: Weighing the pros and cons through cost analysis.

The internet is necessary to conduct business, whether your office is in Indianapolis or Lapel or in the cab of a corn harvester. And with so many communities working and learning remotely today, the need for fiber-based bandwidth only increases. Funding from programs like Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program and innovative partnerships across industries are some of the ways we can continue to lower broadband costs to connect Hoosiers everywhere with high-speed fiber. Unfortunately, it won’t happen overnight, and it’s not cheap. But it is increasingly everywhere a necessity, not a luxury.

Mike Wannemacher is the Director of Outside Plant Facilities for Intelligent Fiber Network (IFN). He has more than two decades of experience in the telecommunications industry.

Story Continues Below