Many Orange pipes for fiber optics in a large city road construction to connect high speed internet (Photo by ChiccoDodiFC from Shutterstock.com).

IMDA: Earthworks contractors to have greater clarity on the work requirements in vicinity of underground telecommunication cables

Earthworks contractors will have greater clarity on the requirements they have to comply with for projects carried out in the vicinity of underground telecommunication cables by 1 June 2019 to prevent cable cut incidents, which have been the main cause of telecom service disruptions in recent years, the authorities announced in a press release on Monday (18 March).

The Earthworks Requirements were jointly developed by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Facilities-Based Operators (FBOs) through an industry consultation together with major contractors, to prevent damage to the FBOs’ telecommunications cables.

IMDA said that the Earthworks Requirements set out detailed, step-by-step procedures and comprehensive safeguards that earthworks contractors must observe before commencing and while undertaking earthworks.

Another goal by implementing the requirements is to provide greater clarity for both FBOs and earthworks contractors in terms of the requirements to be adopted.

They also specify the measures that contractors must comply with when FBOs’ telecommunication cables need to be diverted, it said, noting that failure to comply with these requirements would be an offence under the Telecommunications Act.

IMDA stated that its investigations into past telecommunication cable cut incidents revealed that most incidents had occurred due to earthworks contractors not following procedures laid out by the FBOs, and failing to exercise due diligence when undertaking earthworks.

In addition, these procedures are not standardised among the FBOs today, and vary in terms of standard and comprehensiveness, it noted.

More than 20 FBOs have underground cable infrastructure with differing sets of requirements/procedures for contractors today, which may lead to confusion among the contractors.

Therefore, the Earthworks Requirements will enhance clarity and facilitate compliance for earthworks contractors, who will now only have to comply with a standardised set of requirements, even when undertaking projects with different FBOs, IMDA said.

Another requirement is that FBOs have to do their part in assisting earthworks contractors. For example, the Earthworks Requirements will mandate FBOs to attend joint site meetings and trial hole inspections to verify that the earthworks contractors have ascertained the locations of the FBOs’ telecommunication cables before commencing any earthworks.

Failure to comply with the requirements will be an offence under the Telecommunications Act.

Mr Chye Hoon Pin, Chief Operating Officer of NetLink Trust, said, “As the owner and operator of an extensive nationwide fibre network, we are fully supportive of the revised process. The additional measures will further reduce accidental damage to the critical fibre network infrastructure which can cause unnecessary inconvenience to the service providers and their customers.”

Mr Tay Yeow Lian, Singtel Managing Director of Networks, said, “Having put in place preventative measures for contractors, we welcome the move by IMDA to implement tighter regulations and promote greater cooperation across the industry. This will raise operational standards in the industry, help reduce inadvertent cable cuts and minimise disruptions to customers.”

Ms Aileen Chia, IMDA’s Deputy Chief Executive and Director-General (Telecoms & Post), said, “Our Digital Economy is built on resilient connectivity. The standardised Earthworks Requirements will ensure that contractors and FBOs have the right processes when they work on our telecommunication infrastructure. We are encouraged by our industry’s positive reception to this initiative, and will continue to work with them and the construction industry to prevent telecommunication cable cuts and reduce inconvenience to our consumers and businesses.”