Randon Brown, City of Houston technology director, right, and Doug Sutton, a system technician, in the command center that monitors Houston's fiber system that is bringing fast internet to homes and businesses. It operates from quarters in the Houston Storm Shelter. Construction of the system continues in the community. Credit: BRAD GENTRY | HOUSTON HERALD

Members of the Houston City Council last week hired a firm that will help accelerate connections to its Fiber-to-the-Home internet system that began construction about two years ago.

The council budgeted $14,000 for the work across the city, which is divided into areas to make oversight of the system more manageable. Each is called a PON — which stands for Passive Optical Network. Each has a cabinet that allows service technicians to focus on any one of the areas.

Randon Brown, the city technology director, says the city is currently focusing on two phases south of Highway 17 that includes residential and business customers.  The first section has been under construction for several months (known as PON 3 North) and is close to completion with required splicing just weeks away. The final remaining phase (PON 3 South) is currently in the bidding process and includes a lot of additional buried work which tends to slow things down due to the digging permit process, labor, and machinery that is required. 

Houston had hoped to tap funds for additional construction costs from the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. When winners were announced Monday, most of the $261 million went to rural telephone companies and rural electric cooperatives. The only successful recipient in south-central Missouri was the Steelville Telephone Exchange that serves Iron, Crawford, Washington and Dent counties.

In PON 3 in southern Houston, work will consist of contractors running main distribution lines on city-owned utility poles.  Once completed, quality checks are performed.  The next step involves fiber optic splicers who will splice the main distribution lines into a black cylinder seen on poles that is known as a “dome enclosure.” These lines run back to the cabinet where they are spliced to connect everything together to the rest of the city’s network.  The final step from third party contractors involves testing the network for quality assurance to ensure it is ready to serve customers.  “This step is very critical to ensuring that city fiber crews do not run into issues when in the field,” explains Brown.

In Houston, PONS 1, 2 and 4 are activated and customers can sign up, Brown said. (See map)

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HOOK-UP, INSTALLATION PROCEDURES OUTLINED

Once quality assurance tests are completed, city crews make contact with a customer.  An on-site walkthrough is scheduled to assess the location and network to determine what the customer’s needs are.

If the location includes a business or commercial entity, there is an additional questionnaire that must be filled out by the customer’s IT staff that includes the specific needs of their network.  Brown said this allows City of Houston staff to allocate resources to programming to ensure that the customer’s business needs are met.  Once completed, city hall staff sets up the account information.  This ensures that billing and services are set up correctly for billing services. 

In the meantime, city electric crews will splice a fiber run that goes from the home/business into the cylinder enclosures located on a nearby utility pole that corresponds to that particular home.  City crews splice the fibers into the dome enclosure which is an involved process that involves careful preparations of the cable.

City crews will then place a box on the side of the home/business which is known as a NID (Network Interface Device).  A fiber optic “pig tail” (A fiber without an end) will be connected from the line to the NID.  City crews will drill a hole into the customer’s home/business.  A fiber jumper cable will be run from the NID to the inside of the house and terminated to a wall plate that is mounted to the wall. 

 Another fiber jumper cable will be run from the wall plate to the router also known as an “ONT” (Optical Network Terminal).  City staff in the storm shelter then perform any necessary programming to ensure that services are live and operating correctly.  City crews will take pictures of the work performed that are then loaded in the customer management system to ensure quality of services.  The job is then completed.  Billing notifications are sent via email to the customer.  

MORE ABOUT THE CITY’S FIBER PROJECT

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