Why are so many cables being cut in Buckingham County?

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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The phone lines were down. For a period on Tuesday, May 16, the Buckingham County Sheriff’s Office had trouble connecting with anyone.

“We are currently having problems with our phone lines!” officials from the sheriff’s office announced on Facebook. “Dispatch is unable to call or receive calls on our admin lines. 911 is having some issues as well.”

The issue was fixed for the sheriff’s office, but that wasn’t the only problem happening last week. Over the course of two days, three cables were cut, causing the internet and phone lines to go out for some portions of Buckingham County. But multiple companies say the problem isn’t the work crews who are digging and placing lines. The issue is how previous ones were (or weren’t) marked.

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Brightspeed is the internet and phone service company that acquired the customers of Lumen Technologies, the parent company of CenturyLink. On Wednesday, May 17, the company reported outages three times within two days, reporting that it was caused by cut cables by a third party.

Workers from Drew Powell’s company AAP Construction were the ones who cut the lines. According to Powell, his team was following the markings that were supposed to indicate where the cables were. Unfortunately, those markings were incorrect.

How does it work in Buckingham County?

When digging to install new fiber, the company calls Virginia’s 811 and requests a Miss Utility code. This is when a locating company is called in to mark where cables, water pipes or anything else that might be underground is located on behalf of the company whose lines are buried there within 36 hours.

In this case, Brightspeed was responsible for hiring the locating company Stake Center Locating Inc. A standard procedure for doing this includes attaching the transmitting clamp physically to the wire in the pedestal and then following the tone with the receiver and marking along the route of the line.

“The paint locators aren’t always dead on so you have to give about one to two feet of space on either side to make sure not to accidentally hit something,” said Powell. “The fiber was six feet off the mark.”

When digging, Powell’s team dug six feet away from the mark all three times that they hit a cable. According to Powell, this is getting more and more common with companies incorrectly marking the buried lines. Kinex Telecom Inc. reported a similar issue with Stake Center Locating Inc. in January, reporting markings as far as 10 feet off the mark in Prince Edward County. Stake Center said soon after they fired the individual responsible for those incorrect markings.

“We work closely with dozens of vendor partners to ensure our network is operable and maintained,” said a statement from Brightspeed. “When our customers experience interruptions to their service, we move quickly to restore it, and that often means working with vendors. Unfortunately, after investigating the situation in Buckingham County, we learned one of our facility locate vendors hadn’t followed all of the proper protocols to identify the exact location of our underground facilities. Now that we have restored service, we are addressing the issue with our vendor partner to protect against further customer interruptions. Providing fast, reliable internet to our customers remains our priority.”

Cleaning things up 

Even though Stake Center is responsible for covering the costs of fixing those damaged cables, Powell’s team stepped in to make it right. On Wednesday evening when another cable was cut, no one could come out to fix it until the next morning, leaving numerous people without services. Powell paid his team to work and fix it that night.

“We take a lot of pride in our work and even though it wasn’t our fault, we wanted to make sure it was fixed and people had their services again,” said Powell.

According to Powell and Brightspeed officials, the company now has a representative present when Stake Center is marking, to make sure it is done correctly.