Conduit Lease/IRU Pricing
james.jun at towardex.com
Sun Feb 5 18:13:43 UTC 2023
On Sun, Feb 05, 2023 at 11:21:09AM -0600, Mike Hammett wrote:
> I know that location matters, but I hope to be location agnostic.
> How have you seen empty conduits sold? Entire route only, or is a partial route okay? Twenty years only or less? Price compared to cost of construction? Ongoing maintenance costs?
Yes and yes. Yes on both partial and full route conduits.
Generally speaking, most telcos and utility owners will not sell you conduits. The commonly opportune time for you to "buy" a conduit or buy rights to use a conduit in perpetuity or for long periods is to join into a common trench when a joint trench construction is proposed in the area. In this instance, in most cases, you don't even have to do any construction yourself, you simply specify the size/number of ducts you want as a customer and you pay pro-rata share of the joint trench construction costs.
Where you can buy an existing conduit, from published projects, I've seen them going for sale usually between $100 to $290 per linear foot, this is in Boston. If you do the fine prints and math, when purchasing an empty conduit (even buying a municipal conduit), you may find that post-construction conduit sales are generally higher in price than what it costed to build it in the first place. This is because most sellers will consider the current market rates and field conditions (i.e., they will approximate how painful and costly will be for you to re-open the street and build a new duct system for yourself, and whether local authorities would even allow that to happen based on how full the street is, and based on that difficulty, price will often commensurate accordingly).
One thing to note here is that federal law stipulates (47 USC Sec. 224) that attachment rates shall be 'just and reasonable' (Note: I am not a lawyer, seek legal advice from an actual attorney). As such, this is one point of consideration that sellers do often consider, when developing pricing for selling a conduit-- attempting to make high-return profits off of an empty conduit that is in multiples of construction costs (e.g. many PE or investor backed companies will demand high returns in short term after construction), could potentially subject them to a regulatory complaint by a telecom attacher to the state PUC. This is one of the reasons that was cited by one investor-backed utility in my area, as to why they will refuse to 'sell' empty conduits-- however, they will lease conduit space to you for annual recurring fee at reasonable rates, so they're compliant with the law.
So, often more common approach to acquiring access to ducts is leasing at a recurring fee, as outright purchasing them post-construction is not something many utility owners do. Here, most conduit leases from publicized figures go from $0.05/ft/year to $3.5/ft/year for leases by privately held or investor owned utilities, and $1-$100/ft/year from state transit agencies.
If you lease a conduit, usually ongoing maintenance costs are baked into the cost of your annual lease. If you purchase an empty conduit outright, or buy long-term rights to use it in lump sum, you are often charged pro-rata share of O&M costs, similar to that of condominium fee, to cover ongoing expenses, such as utility costs to invest in crew safety training programs, plant protection (Dig Safe/USA/one-call locate responses to mark the trench, etc), weekly trench patrols, manhole inspections, etc. You will also pay an inspection fee every time you enter and work in a utility-owned manhole, generally priced similar to that of hiring a police detail. These are all reasonable costs and you should expect to pay them accordingly when working in a utility conduit system.
You will also find that leasing conduit is a difficult topic in itself. Usually it may be easier to engage a heavily regulated incumbent LEC or another public utility who is regulated to provide telecom duct space (electric transmission owners providing UG duct space for telecom, etc). Process will take long, but these guys are regulated and required by law to provide you conduit license at affordable, "just and reasonable" rates.
Another aspect that cannot be ignored when it comes to obtaining duct space, is asset trading/exchange agreements. Telcos (both ILECs and CLECs) love this, as much as we network operators in NANOG love peering--you can propose to give them duct space in conduits you already have that they don't have (or even fiber optic cable capacity in some cases), in exchange for them giving you their conduit space to you, in a trade. Just like IP peering, many asset exchange/trade agreements are often settlement-free, but commercially settled exchange arrangements are also very popular, specific terms of these agreements and negotiations are often confidential.
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