As United's Internet Faces High Internet Costs
For Repeated Accidental Damage to Fiber-Optic Lines,
The Co-Op Must Begin Charging Cutting Culprits a Repair Fee.
The beginning of the New Year can often bring time to plan new projects and installations for homeowners. Maybe it’s time to reshape the flower beds, till a future vegetable garden or prepare to pour a new driveway.
Before any plans involving digging up the ground are put into motion, United members must first remember to call 811 to locate buried underground utilities, said Clay Turner, United’s outside plant manager for high-speed internet. While he understands that homeowners may get excited to complete home improvement projects, they often forget about all the underlying infrastructure under our feet that is necessary for our home to operate and inadvertently dig up a shovel full of trouble.
And starting this year, that shovel full of trouble may include a cost to restore service.
“We see the most accidental damage to buried internet lines in the springtime when people are starting to get outside,” he said. “Gardening, landscaping and flowerbeds, driveways, septic tanks and pools are usually where the trouble begins. Once they cut the line, that means we must go out there and reinstall the drop. As per national standards, United’s drop is going to be buried only 4 to 6 inches below the surface. Most big tel-com companies lay the drop on the ground prior to sod being installed, so a lot of drops from other companies may be only an inch or two below the top of the grass. I think a lot of people don’t know that the internet drop is there, or that shallow, and I think a lot of people will think they’ll be okay to start digging without calling 811 for a utility locate first. However, we have had several people cut through the fiber-optic lines over and over again.”
In 2021, members and their hired contractors severed fiber optic cable at an average of 35-40 a week, Turner said. When a fiber-optic cable is severed, repairs don’t adequately correct the problem, and so a new fiber optic drop must be run to restore service properly. The cost to do this is significant. At this current pace, the total repair cost to the cooperative would be over $22,000. If this pace continues over a year, it would cost the cooperative nearly $300,000.
Homeowners often make risky assumptions about whether they should get their utility lines marked, Turner said, but every digging job requires a phone call – even small projects. Buried utility lines are everywhere and can shift location in some soils. Installing mailboxes and fences are examples of projects that absolutely require a call to 811 to know what’s below before digging. Hitting a utility line not only can disrupt both electrical and fiber-optic internet service to homes and neighborhoods, but also it can result in damage claims or serious injury.
“I would say some days we’ll get five or six of these at a time,” Turner said. “Some days, one or two. We have had up to 10 in one day. When someone cuts their drop, it slows down production of getting internet service to members who don’t have it yet because we are having to pull crews off installations to fix what has been damaged.”
Average drops to homes are about 200 feet, Turner said, and cost about $600 to replace. However, large fiber-optic cables could cost $15,000 to $20,000 to repair.
Marcellus Nixon, vice president of internet services, said the high number of damaged drops created the need to change the policy.
“As a fiscally responsible entity, United Cooperative Services had to implement a policy to help counter the significant cost expended for these maintenance activities,” he said.
“Beginning January 2023, United Cooperative Services will implement a $250 charge to members’ bills, should the member or the hired contractor fail to call 811 to locate the underground service.”
Members should always call 811 to locate existing utilities as to prevent potential damage to the infrastructure that serve their homes. The location service is free for all Texas residents. Residents need to provide advance notice of two working days and no more than 14 days. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Residents can also visit call811.com.
When members or their contractor do call 811 for locates, they should save their reference number for tracking. Should members or contractors call 811 for locates and provide the tracking number in the event a fiber-optic cable still gets damaged, United will NOT charge members $250 for the cut fiber.
If members need help finding their ticket number, they can search the 811 website by visiting texas811.org/form/ticket-search. United also uses this site to verify if an 811 ticket was established before the work began.
Nixon said United will continue to monitor its network for issues that may hinder service or the feasibility of service moving forward. United has always taken the position of keeping the entire cooperative in mind when making decisions, and he said this policy is no different. To continue to make this project a success, and to continue to keep internet service rates as they are, this policy will ensure affordable, reliable, high-speed internet for years to come.