Cable laying gives city dwellers a bumpy ride

Thomas R. Temin

Thanks to the laying of fiber-optic cable, driving Washington's streets has become a bone-jarring, wheel-bending and hubcap-popping experience.

Blocks and blocks of pavement are bizarrely patterned by long, geometric depressions, remnants of sloppily filled trenches dug by cabling companies.

The District's lack of oversight led to more than lost fees and angry voters. It also wrecked streets because of repeated digs in the same areas. In several instances, one company would dig a trench, lay the cable and fill it in, only to be followed by another company. Following the public outcry, the mayor temporarily halted the trenching projects so city officials could figure out how to proceed.

Washington's experience provides a good case history of how not to manage the conflict between the new economy and the existing one, especially when it comes to infrastructure matters.

Municipalities everywhere are dealing with the need for new fiber-optic cable, to benefit both government agencies and local businesses. Availability of modern wiring is an advantage in the competition for attracting new businesses and keeping existing ones.

New York City, where the disruption of dug-up streets has attained cultural status, hopes it has found a creative solution for building a fiber-optic network. As GCN/State & Local's Page 1 story reports, the city is exploring the possibility of using abandoned water pipes, once used for firefighting, as fiber conduits.

In their search for alternatives, New York officials discovered some cities, including Tokyo, have laid cable in former sewer lines. Other cities have allowed trenching only at prescribed times, forcing cable owners to cooperate and use a single conduit.

Conflict over network infrastructures hasn't been confined to the streets. It has occurred in the air, too, as wireless communications systems proliferate. Antenna towers also trigger complaints from citizens. In some affluent areas'such as Wellesley, Mass., and Potomac, Md., where many high-technology executives live'wireless phone service is lousy precisely because the rich have succeeded in keeping towers out of their back yards.

In response to the realities of getting towers built, the wireless industry has shifted its business model to a shared concept, with several carriers co-locating antennae.

No matter the technology, cities and contractors will have to stay flexible and creative when it comes to building next-generation digital pipes.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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