By JOHN H. WARD Monroe Journal | Dec 2, 2020
Crews in white bucket trucks and four-wheelers with spools of cable have been busy the last couple of months working during every available daylight hour to bring rural broadband to parts of Monroe County through M-Pulse Fiber.
The work is a collaboration of the Monroe County Electric Power Association (MCEPA), Conexon LLC and Ervin Cable Construction Company, among others. Ervin Cable crews on the ground and in the air are under the direction of project manager Mark Franklin of Pinson, Alabama, who is assisted by field office manager Mindy Stockton of Huntsville, Alabama.
“We had 225 to 230 miles of fiber hung by Thanksgiving of the over 1,100 miles worth to cover the county,” Franklin said. “We’re on schedule to meet the requirements of the CARES Act funding by year’s end.”
The product hung from one pole to another is actually a combination of rubber-coated fiber braided together with galvanized cable with a tool called a lasher that is pulled along from the ground.
“The fiber is not strong enough to support itself over long distances, so the galvanized cable provides the backbone,” Franklin said.
A post on MCEPA’s Facebook page in early November stated it took six months of planning and too many phone conversations to count just to get M-Pulse Fiber across the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway near Bigbee along Highway 6.
“This required permits and permission from many different people and places,” MCEPA General Manager Barry Rowland stated in the post. “A boat had to be in place to stop local traffic because of danger of breakage and things dropping into the water, which happened twice.”
The installation process begins with laying out a run with cable and fiber.
“We maintain close contact with MCEPA to resolve any issues as we go along,” Franklin said. “We build the strand and mount bolt hangers on the poles.”
ATVs pull the strands of cable ahead of the trucks with chain hoists on booms that raise the portions of cable into place.
“The cable comes in 5,000-foot spools. We do two to three spools at a segment,” Franklin said.
Once the cable is hung in place and braided with the lasher, fiber splicing crews follow to install fiber taps, which look like boxes mounted on the pole 12 feet above the ground. From there, drops are run to individual customer’s homes.
“We’ll light it up to the house. Crews from MCEPA will finalize the connection with subscribers,” Franklin said.
He said a time period of approximately two months is projected to get service up and running once all the connections have been made.
Rural broadband service has Ervin Cable crews in high demand as the company currently has all the work it can handle. In addition to Monroe County, the Sturgis, Kentucky-based company currently has 34 other locations across the southeast where fiber cable is being installed.
“We have crew members from places as far away as Texas, Missouri and Georgia, as well as local people,” Franklin said of the local work. “Mindy handles the electronic stuff while I route the crews.”
Crews for the M-Pulse Fiber project work out of the former MCEPA office in Amory, which Franklin and Stockton describe as one of the roomiest facilities they have ever worked out of, complete with ample outside storage for trucks and spools of fiber, galvanized cable and two-inch diameter orange conduit for underground runs.
Work proved challenging for the crews braving remnants of five hurricanes that have impacted the southeast this season.
“We’ve gotten bogged down in the mud, and farmers have told us to feel free to knock on their doors to come pull us out with their tractors,” Franklin said. “Everybody has been so nice to us that we don’t like to return to big city life with all its hustle and bustle.”