Connectivity at Risk: The High Stakes of Telecom Infrastructure Strikes

Telecom companies should take immediate, pragmatic steps to improve their onsite construction experience to avoid utility strikes.

May 12, 2024

Telecom faces challenges, and there’s no quick fix.

The 2023 Common Ground Alliance (CGA) white paper “Telecom’s Critical Role In Reversing Utility Damage Trends” spotlights challenges and opportunities key telecom stakeholder groups face in infrastructure damage and discusses ways that telecoms can contribute to systemic improvements in damage prevention. Far from an optimistic outlook, the challenges are complex, involve coordination between stakeholders, and dramatic change will be anything but long-term. Let’s review the major points and look at a potential workaround to consider in the meantime.

Seven points to ponder

The report takes a sobering look at the complexity that limits optimism on a short-term dramatic improvement, based on seven key factors that we’ll summarize in brief:

  1. Prevalence of Damage: Shallow depth and ubiquity of cables, together with high rates of deployment nationwide to match demand, mean that telecoms sustained more damage than any other utility type, indicating both high risk and high frequency of infrastructure strikes. 
  2. Impact of Telecom Work: Telecom excavation work contributed to the majority of damages to all types of buried infrastructure, highlighting the need for improved practices within the industry. 
  3. Late Locates: Telecom companies are more likely to deliver late locates of their own facilities, which can delay work and increase the risk of strikes and corresponding costs. 
  4. Federal Funding and Infrastructure Expansion: With $65B in federal funding being deployed to expand high-speed internet, the telecom sector bears a responsibility to the government and citizens to prioritize damage prevention strategies to keep pace. 
  5. Growth vs. Damage Prevention: Many telecom stakeholders prioritize growth and customer satisfaction (in other words, revenues, market share, and other business goals) over damage prevention, which they consider “the cost of doing business.” This mindset must change. 
  6. Need for National Standardization: The telecom industry is being called to focus on long-term national standardization strategies to reduce damages. Naturally, the more stakeholders and regulations required, the longer this will take. 
  7. Executive-Level Engagement: Securing executive-level buy-in on rigorous damage prevention standards is essential to reverse the troubling upward trend of damages to U.S. infrastructure. 


Taken together, these challenges underscore the telecom industry’s critical role in the U.S. damage prevention system and the importance of adopting strategic measures to mitigate the risks of infrastructure strikes. In short, they both cause and suffer the most damage.


The Troubling Takeaway from the Report

The problem isn’t going away, despite the CGA’s ambitious call to join its “50 in 5” initiative to reduce strikes by 50% in 5 years. In fact, the outlook is troubling: Over 50% of those in the telecommunication sector—much, much more than in liquid or natural gas, excavation/roads, or professional locators—report they are not prepared or not prepared at all to prevent damage.


This is particularly troubling, as the sector ought to be taking the lead. As the report states: “Telecom stands out among other facility owner/operators for valid reasons: the relative risk of striking this kind of infrastructure as compared to energy and high-pressure water, the shallow depth of telecom facilities, and again, the high volume of telecom infrastructure.

Water and gas line strikes are, indeed, particularly dangerous, impactful, and expensive to repair and clean up. But telecom is the core of internet communications, a mission-critical resource for security, medicine, education, business, and, in short, all sectors, geographies, and populations. The data may not be literally pouring out of the pipe and into the ground, but cutting a cable means it can’t get through to those who need it.


The Need for Short-Term Solutions

With few quick fixes or short-term solutions, telecom faces a dilemma. Yes, top-down, all-encompassing strategies are being developed and launched across the country, but they represent only the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s a long tunnel.

In the meantime, it’s in the best interest of telecoms not to wait for the entire industry to coordinate on issues like reporting, regulations, and coordination, but to improve their own safety, save money, and avoid delays with the tools they can independently adopt and deploy.

One of the report’s key findings supports this: “Rather than focus on long-term national standardization strategies to reduce damages, telecom can achieve more timely results by improving internal practices and contracts.


Take Utility Strike Prevention into Your Own Hands

Leading the charge in excavation technology, RodRadar’s exclusive Live Dig Radar® (LDR) stands out as a game-changer that telecoms can deploy independently, immediately, and cost-effectively, redefining safety standards in utility excavation work…today, not tomorrow. The innovative LDR Excavate™ system uses advanced radar technology integrated right into the digging bucket to provide the excavator operator live, accurate detection of underground utilities. It supplements all mandatory and recommended industry processes by looking out for infrastructure as you dig, sending a just-in-time alert to the operator at the controls before a potential strike.

Serving as a crucial safeguard — an additional step to extend conventional precautions — this forward-thinking device is transforming excavation practices by giving operators real-time alerts while digging, including their location and depth, including shallow ones such as Fiber optic lines. Gone are the days of uncertainty and the hazards, delays, safety risks, and costs linked to reliance on old utility maps. When unexpected underground obstacles arise, the LDR Excavate™ is an indispensable tool, bringing unparalleled transparency and assurance to the professionals responsible for our critical infrastructure.


We recommend you read the full report to fully grasp its sobering conclusions: In parallel to the CGA’s ongoing recommendations and campaigns to up our collective game in preventing damage to utility infrastructure, telecom companies (and the excavators they contract with) should take immediate, pragmatic steps to improve their own statistics and move the dial, company by company, dig by dig.

Contact us to learn more.

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