How the Telecom Industry Can Transform U.S. Subsurface Damage Prevention

Telecom Companies Embrace Their Leadership Potential

How the Telecom Industry Can Transform U.S. Subsurface Damage Prevention

Telecom Companies Embrace Their Leadership Potential

Stakeholders in the telecommunications sector have an opportunity to transform the U.S. damage prevention system, according to a white paper recently released by the Common Ground Alliance.

The CGA issued Telecom’s Critical Role in Reversing Utility Damage Trends in December 2023, highlighting how the ongoing, rapid deployment of fiber throughout the United States is significantly impacting the country’s damage prevention system.

“As both substantial contributors to and recipients of damages, telecom stakeholders have much to gain by enhancing prevention efforts,” CGA President & CEO Sarah K. Magruder Lyle wrote in the white paper. “…While telecom rightfully prioritizes expanding its networks and customer base, a competitive advantage does not need to come at the expense of safety. Boosting damage prevention’s profile internally and collaborating more extensively with partners are pathways to improved outcomes…”

The unprecedented expansion of fiber optic lines and other telecom systems comes courtesy of historic levels of federal funding for these projects. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021, for example, includes a $65 billion investment to expand affordable and reliable high-speed internet access in communities across the U.S.

As highlighted in the CGA’s white paper and the organization’s other published findings, this historic build out has put telecom in the center of ongoing efforts to mitigate subsurface damage.

Telecom and natural gas remain the most damaged facilities when subsurface damage is reported, according to the CGA’s 2022 DIRT Report. Telecom workers also contribute to the most damages, and telecom and water/sewer operators are the largest contributors to instances in which excavators cannot legally begin work.

The CGA conducted video interviews with 17 individuals involved in the telecom sector and issued an online survey to 520 damage professionals as part of its research for Telecom’s Critical Role in Reversing Utility Damage Trends.

The white paper includes four key findings regarding the U.S. telecom sector’s impact on the U.S. damage prevention system:

  1. The telecom sector has the most potential to impact the U.S. damage prevention system – and its own bottom line: The CGA argues that the amount of existing underground telecommunications infrastructure across the U.S., coupled with the boom in new telecom installations, makes telecom an influential damage prevention stakeholder and provides the sector considerable incentives to reduce damages.
  2. Growth and customer satisfaction are prioritized over damage prevention by many telecom stakeholders: In the interviews conducted by the CGA, professionals in the telecom sector most often mentioned business growth and customer service/satisfaction as their top priorities over safety – including damage prevention.
  3. Rather than focus on long-term national standardization strategies to reduce damages, telecom can achieve more timely results by improving internal practices and contracts: The interviewed telecom stakeholders believe that consolidated 811 centers, a national 811 law with more stringent enforcement, and required certification programs for locators and excavators would lead to vast improvements in the 811 system. The CGA, however, argues that these strategies would take years to implement, and internal changes to damage prevention practices within telecom companies is a quicker path to damage mitigation.
  4. Securing executive-level buy-in from telecom facility owners/operators on rigorous damage prevention standards will be necessary to reverse the upward trend of damages to U.S. infrastructure: As processes such as damage prevention strategies are most often dictated by executives within telecom companies, the CGA says that intervention from those decision makers is vital to reversing recent, troubling trends in subsurface damages.

Despite the noted challenges, Magruder Lyle wrote that telecom leaders “are embracing their potential to lead” the CGA’s ’50-in-5’ challenge, which is a call to action to reduce subsurface damage by 50% over the next 5 years.

The CGA recommends 6 key actions for telecom stakeholders to take to help mitigate subsurface damage:

  1. Ensure executives are at the damage prevention table, and are engaged and active participants.
  2. Update facility maps, regularly share them with 811 centers and contract locators, and provide 811 ticket-level facility visualizations to excavators, designers, and engineers.
  3. Coordinate with other stakeholders in advance of large projects.
  4. Improve damage data collection processes with a focus on root cause analysis.
  5. Evaluate contract structures with locators and excavators: Consider incentives versus penalties, best-value versus lowest-bid contracts, and reimbursing potholing.
  6. Become Damage Prevention Institute accredited, and require locators and excavators to do so as well.

“When telecommunications companies treat damage as unacceptable rather than inevitable, they can transform their operations in ways that both improve public safety and strengthen their market positioning,” the white paper states.

How Can GPRS Help You Avoid Subsurface Damage?

GPRS utility locating and mapping services address the CGA’s concerns and provide telecom companies a streamlined path forward for eliminating the risk of subsurface damage on their projects. For over 20 years we’ve worked closely with telecom companies to develop and implement specific processes that benefit these contractors and service providers.

GPRS has assisted in the large-scale adoption of 5G networks and continues to help in the nationwide build-out of fiber.

Utilizing ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic (EM) locating technologies, our SIM-certified Project Managers can find water and sewer lines, electrical conduit, buried fuel tanks, and more. By locating these items before you break ground, we save you time and money you’d otherwise lose to downtime and repairs. More importantly, mitigating subsurface damage means ensuring the safety of your workers and the surrounding community.

All the data our Project Managers collect on your site – including utility locates, concrete and 3D laser scans, leak detections and video pipe inspections – is instantly uploaded into SiteMap®, our industry-leading facility management platform where you can review, annotate, and securely share your data anytime, anywhere, and with anyone.

You receive a complimentary SiteMap® Personal subscription when you hire GPRS to perform a utility locate. This means you’ll have the data you need, at your fingertips, to mitigate subsurface damage on all your projects.

From skyscrapers to sewer lines, GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World® to keep your projects on time, on budget, and safe.

What can we help you visualize? Click the links below to schedule a service or request a quote today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How is fiber cable installed?

One of the most common methods for installing fiber and other utility lines is a trenchless technology called horizontal directional drilling. This method of installing utilities involves drilling into the ground to gouge out a route for the utility lien to then be fed through. The problem with this technology is that, if professional utility locating and video pipe inspection services aren’t conducted prior to breaking ground, catastrophic subsurface damage such as cross bores can occur.

What is a cross bore?

A cross bore is an inadvertent intersection of utilities that most commonly occurs during the utilization of trenchless technologies such as horizontal directional drilling. Cross bores can have catastrophic consequences such as explosions, which is why utility locating and sewer inspection companies like GPRS are committed to helping prevent them from occurring.

Does GPRS offer same day private utility locating?

Yes, our nationwide team professional Project Managers can respond rapidly to emergency same-day private utility locating service calls on your job site.