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Crews challenged to install fiber without knocking out services

Posted January 15

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— Across the Triangle, contractors for Google and AT&T are racing to be the first to upgrade to fiber and get new business for high-speed Internet.

The crews face a very specific challenge- snaking the fiber underground without knocking out the services that are already there, including water and natural gas.

Stitching together the new fiber lines is somewhat of an art form. Metal bits are pushed through the soil a few feet at a time. Orange conduit is then pulled back through the hole, creating a tunnel where the fiber lines will live.

“It’s not like digging a subway, you don’t have to dig up the whole street,” said author Scott Huler. “You put one hole here, one hole there, and then there is a hundred yards of cable under there.”

Huler has researched and written about the wires and waterways that go unnoticed because the bulk of modern infrastructure is hidden underground.

“The fact is, they don’t always know what’s where. That’s the reality of it,” he said.

Maps aren’t always accurate so crews use spray paint to mark an area before digging.

“Orange means communication, fiber or cable, blue means fresh water, green means waste water, yellow lines mean gas,” said Huler.

A mishap with one of the yellow lines signifying natural gas caused a geyser of fire in Cary a few years ago, closing a major intersection for several hours.

“You do what you must to make the thing work, and then you expect a little bit of surprise of stuff you didn’t expect and then you move along,” said Huler.

Homeowner Jenny Skinner didn’t take any chances when she found out crews would be threading fiber through her neighborhood.

“I worked very hard to protect my yard,” she said.

She marked her sprinkler system and the underground dog fence and said, so far, she has had success. Crews tunneled through her yard without issue.

“It’s amazing. And AT&T did come and string a whole lot of wires,” said Skinner.

Wiring the utility poles for fiber has its own set of rules.

“At the top of the regular poles are the distribution lines, that’s electricity. You push it to the top so nobody messes with it,” said Huler.

Underneath the distribution lines is the wiring for telephone and cable TV, because those wires do not pose a danger.

Threading new fiber into the community is a tedious process, but one Huler calls “an incredible accomplishment.”

"To think what we're doing is wiring the city for its brain is unimaginable," he said. "I'm really thrilled by it."

4 Comments

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  • Michael Clemmons Jan 17, 2016
    user avatar

    If you see one of these contractors using huge air compressors to drill the conduit in just get ready for something to get cut! The use of these "moles" should be outlawed because they have no real control of where they go once they start it pounding through the dirt.

  • charlie2 Jan 16, 2016

    they cut my invisible fence for the dog in 3 places, did not plant any grass seed in areas they dug up, cut most of roots for my large gardenia I have been growing for 10 years, cut next door neighbors phone and internet line, destroyed another neighbors flower bed, and the ground wires to 3 street lights that took weeks to get fixed. I am not impressed with the contractors they are using. Talk to them if they are starting at your house; get a name, phone and business card from whomever is doing the digging, you may need to call them to try to get them to pay for repairs later.

  • Aaron Whaley Jan 16, 2016
    user avatar

    Ok well... guess I might see something out here in the sticks in about another 10 years. Building like crazy and oversubscribing the existing infrastructure so nothing works well anymore.

  • Roy Hinkley Jan 15, 2016
    user avatar

    Come on Google, get to me!!!