New guidelines for earthwork contractors aim to reduce telecom cable cuts

Workers at a site in Boon Lay Avenue where repair works were being carried out. A cut fibre-optic cable in Jurong West disrupted Internet and fixed voice services for almost 30 hours in April 2017, the longest such outage to date.
Workers at a site in Boon Lay Avenue where repair works were being carried out. A cut fibre-optic cable in Jurong West disrupted Internet and fixed voice services for almost 30 hours in April 2017, the longest such outage to date.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - A set of requirements for contractors who carry out earthworks will take effect on June 1 in a move to reduce incidents of underground telecommunications cables being cut by mistake, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said on Monday (March 18).

The guidelines were developed by the IMDA with the telecom system licensees which operate Singapore's cable network. Under the new requirements, they will be required to assist contractors before earthworks begin.

For example, joint meetings must be held at the worksite among the licensees, contractors and a licensed telecommunication cable detection worker to ensure there are no discrepancies between the service layout plan, the cable detection worker's report and worksite conditions.

Licensees and contractors will also be required to inspect trial holes dug together to verify the location of all cables and determine whether diversion works are needed.

Similar procedures already exist but differ in standard among the 22 licensees here. The new framework thus standardises the procedures contractors must follow before starting earthworks, giving more clarity to contractors, the IMDA said.

The new requirements also specify the measures contractors must comply with when telecommunications cables have to be diverted.

There have been 26 cable-cut incidents since February 2016. Most were due to earthworks contractors not following procedures and failing to exercise due diligence, the IMDA said.

A cut fibre-optic cable in Jurong West disrupted Internet and fixed voice services for almost 30 hours in April 2017, the longest such outage to date. A similar incident disrupted Internet services for more than 24 hours for 10,000 customers in the eastern part of Singapore last November.

 
 
 

Under the Telecommunications Act, those found guilty of damaging telecommunications cables while carrying out earthworks can be fined up to $1 million and jailed for up to five years.

Fibre network operators here welcomed the new requirements.

Fibre operator NetLink Trust's chief operating officer Chye Hoon Pin said: "We are fully supportive of the revised process. The measures will further reduce accidental damage to the critical fibre network infrastructure which can cause unnecessary inconvenience to service providers and their customers."

Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo agreed that the increased clarity was a step in the right direction but called for a further streamlining of approval processes.

He added: "No one wants to damage anything on purpose and more clarity is always good. But earthworks are only one stage of any construction project and it would be more productive if there was a one-stop authority that oversees all the requirements and can approve the commencement of works in one go."