Fiber Builds at Breakneck Speed

When people think of the massive fiber builds that are happening, the term “Google Fiber”  seems to get the most publicity, so I did an internet search of that phrase and it brought up some really great stuff. Phrases like, “connections up to 1,000 megabits per second,” “super fast downloads,” “TV like no other,” and “endless possibilities.” Sounds great, right?

I tried the search again, only adding the word “damage” to the equation. Everything changed. Suddenly, the page was dominated with phrases that would make anyone in the damage prevention industry cringe: “repair bill,” “causing a big mess,” “fiber-related damage,”  damages cost contractors thousands,” and “complaints, costs grow.”

• According to the Charlotte Observer, the City of Charlotte sent contractors more than 41 claims totaling more than $688,000 during 19 months of analysis of the Google fiber installation in that city.
• The Tennessean claims digging for new gigabit fiber internet in Nashville caused $261,889 in water main damage from 71 incidents in 15 months.
• My Statesman reported that in 2015, 363 complaints connected to internet providers’ construction and installation activity were filed with the city of Austin.

And that’s all just on the first search page. To be fair, not all incidents are specific to Google projects. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others have their own massive fiber builds and there are plenty of damage incidents to go around.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to place blame on anyone or imply that someone isn’t doing their very best to try to protect these utilities. Of course,
no one wants to see damages occur. But the truth is, when these high-speed  networks are installed, a massive, street-by-street construction project descends on neighborhoods and more often than not, the system in place may not be structured to handle the surge. One Call Centers may not have enough
staff to handle the often doubled or tripled load of 811 tickets;  municipalities don’t have the budgets to deal with the financial burden from the necessary increase in locate requests; and there is often a shortage of trained locate technicians to complete the jobs in a timely manner. Fiber owners are working against the clock to get their projects done, contractors are working on extremely tight deadlines, and all of these factors contribute to a higher-than-average likelihood of damage to rights-of-way, cut buried gas lines, cracked city water and sewer lines, and more.

Many of the damages caused by this could have been eliminated by strict adherence to the One Call process: 1) Call 811 in the US or Click Before You Dig in Canada, 2) Wait the required time, 3) Confirm all utilities have been marked, 4) Respect the marks, and 5) Dig carefully. This process is still our best protection against damages that could impact a company’s bottom line, disrupt a community’s access to services, or even cause injury or death to workers and the public.

In October 2016, Google’s parent company halted further expansion as it considers alternatives, including wireless and fiber partnerships, that do not necessarily require the building of a full network. But let’s be honest, the end user is always eager for “newer and better” when it comes to digital access and until alternatives come along that don’t cause ground disturbances, the industry needs to find a better way to handle these large builds to lessen the impact on our communities.

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