It’s always nice to hear from my readers. In December 2018, I wrote about aerial fiber optic cables, and that column prompted a very interesting inquiry. Usually these inquiries are technical in nature and come from contractors, installers or sometimes from network owners and operators, but this was from a legislator in an Eastern state who had an unusual question.
This legislator wanted to know if there were standards covering neatness for the installation of aerial fiber optic cables. He was particularly concerned with the large, messy coils of fiber optic cable left hanging on poles and cables in his area. It was unsightly, and while aerial cables are particularly vulnerable in natural disasters, giant hanging coils of fiber on the cables seemed to make the situation worse.
My response was simple: No, I do not know of any codes or standards on the installation of aerial cables that address installation neatness.
A few years ago, the Fiber Optics Association (FOA) ran a contest in its monthly newsletter, challenging readers around the world to send in photos of the worst aerial cable installations they could find. The winner was Cebu City in the Philippines. Granted, that photo was a mess, but it’s not that much worse than the pole at the end of the alley behind our building in Santa Monica, Calif.
On the lower messenger wire, I think at least 10 cables are lashed together. Above that is another messenger with a couple more. Around one pole, three fiber closures are lashed to cables and one closure, which I’m fairly sure is copper. Recently, several service loops were hanging off of those cables. Down the street, sitting next to a pedestal is a nitrogen cylinder used to pressurize old copper cable. I have not seen one of those in decades.
I also took photos of a coil of maybe 100 meters of cable hanging on a cable right in front of the CATV provider office here in Santa Monica. In semi-rural California, I found what appeared to be close to a kilometer of cable hanging on a pole at the end of a road, ready to be run when the road was finished.
California is not the only place I’ve seen these messes. On a trip to Maryland last year, I saw a copper splice closure hanging down several feet from the cables. But nothing beats the photo here that I took of a pole across from a friend’s house in a Boston suburb. On the pole, installers had run new cables after Hurricane Sandy and left not a loop of cable but a large wooden spool of cable hanging from the pole!
In my December column, I also wrote the Federal Communications Commission’s new one-touch-make-ready rule allows contractors installing new cables to do all the work themselves. That means the pole owner, whom I assume has some interest in keeping the pole safe and neat, may not have any control over what happens to that pole when new cables are installed.
Aerial cabling seems to get no respect. Nobody likes poles in their neighborhood, and many areas are burying cable. New developments almost always require underground cables. A lot of effort has been expended to create new installation methods that are less disruptive, like microtrenching. Rules such as “Dig Once” ensure whoever digs up a street installs ducts for future cable installs to prevent continually digging up the streets.
However, there are simple ways to make aerial cables neater. If it is necessary to leave long service loops, plastic gadgets usually called “snowshoes” or “banjos” enable one to store long lengths of cable neatly lashed to the bundle of cables.
We all know we’re going to continue using aerial cables because the poles are already there and it’s cheaper (by a lot), but there is no reason not to have rules that define what it means to install aerial cables in a “neat and workmanlike manner.”
That phrase was used a lot when the FOA partnered with NECA to create the NECA/FOA-301 fiber optic installation standard two decades ago, and I use it often today. Also, we all know, when we look at the workmanship of a cabling (or electrical) installation, if it’s neat, it’s probably done right.
Ask around where you live to see if your city or state has any requirements for aerial telecom cable installation (not electrical), and let me know.