Will July 1 law change stop broadband lines being cut?

Published 8:59 pm Monday, July 3, 2023

As broadband projects are making their way across the state, problems have arisen due to buried lines being accidentally cut in the installation process. The issue has popped up multiple times here in Prince Edward and Buckingham counties over the last year. Changes, including higher fines for this mistake, will go into effect on Saturday, July 1, but will it make a difference?

The Virginia General Assembly originally passed the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act in 1979, which defined the stakeholders’ responsibilities to prevent damage to underground utility lines during excavation or demolition. This law has had many changes but one more round is on the way. In the newest changes, fines will now range from $2,500 to $5,000 for incorrect information given on the utility line locations.

According to James Garrett, president and CEO of Kinex, he believes that the fines could help discourage those who disregard the laws. However, he does not see this as the solution to preventing these cuts. 

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“I really don’t know that the fines will solve anything,” he said. “When the locator is responsible and they have to pay for the repair, then if you report them to the State Corporation Commission for a fine, that does nothing more than jeopardize the relationship that is invaluable in this day and time of labor shortages.”

Moving forward with broadband

Currently, Kinex Telecom Inc. is working on a three-year project laying down broadband fiber in Cumberland, Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties. In order to lay down this fiber, Kinex contacts the Virginia Utility Protection Service to inform them that they will be digging in the area. Then, the Virginia Utility Protection Service informs the companies who have cables in the area so they can hire someone to come out and properly mark where these cables are buried. 

Brightspeed, the telephone company that bought CenturyLink, is the owner of these lines and hired Stake Center Locating Inc. to mark their lines for this project. Unfortunately, there have been numerous cases of the markings being multiple feet off causing cut lines. Garrett has worked with Brightspeed to get these cuts under control while working in the area. 

“I met with their highest national level management for copper and fiber facilities every week until last week when we moved our crews into Verizon territory,” said Garrett. “I can really appreciate their emphasis on solving the problem and reducing the cuts.”

The only change they made was creating better documentation of who was at fault for cutting the lines. After Stake Center had marked the lines, Garrett reported that some markings were six feet off when there was only a foot for error. According to Garrett, the ultimate solution was for Stake Center to put more emphasis on quality and timeliness. 

“The real solution is to communicate, so the problem can be identified, then work to solve it,” said Garrett. “That is what Brightspeed did and I appreciate their time and effort.”