Although the committee had listened to Comcasts allegations, we had no proof and some of us were sceptical. Two members of the committee, Kernan Chaisson and Gabe Ruiz, volunteered to visit three Verizon worksites to investigate in person together with Comcast representatives who knew of Verizon activity in the area. I'll let the report speak for itself with an excerpt of the site-specific part:
Site 1: Lescot Terrace, Olney, Maryland
Installation crews had worked in the cul-de-sac the day before. There were reports of five cuts to Comcast lines during the work. There were also a reported three cuts to non-active lines in the area.
The resident at 16636 Lescot Terrace spoke to us about his experience the day before. He felt the crews were ignoring the MissUtility markings. Besides the Comcast damage, he said the crews pulled up a survey stake on his property and were installing a junction box on his property instead of in the public easement because they were using the wrong property plats. It appeared they used the tracks in the lawn made by the owner's dog as the property line. Verizon agreed to move the box off the private property. They cut through the 'invisible fence' that he had installed for his dog and was unable to get the CableCom worker to understand he should stop damaging the line because the only person who spoke English and the resident ended up having to repair the cable himself. he expressed concern about observing the crews hitting on the gas lines with their shovels. The resident reported that within 90 minutes of calling in the problem, Comcast had repaired his damaged cable. There were obvious marks of disturbance, but more work was to be done; so it was impossible to evaluate how well the area was being restore after the Verizon work.
Site 2: Debenham and Fox Valley Drive, Rockville, MD
Crews were actively working at this site in an area running along roughly three blocks. The area showed that installations were underway with equipment, conduit, and other materiel around and many holes dug along the side of the streets. The Line of Disturbance was roughly what could be expected from a job of this nature. It appeared that many of the homeowners were away, so there was no way to determine what outages had been caused by the work. A disturbing find was a worker sitting in a hole dug for installation of a junction box. he was in the process of splicing a TV cable. Mr. Ruiz was able to find out that the line has been cut while digging the hold for the junction. The young man said they decided to lengthen and reroute the Comcast cable. Mr. McNichol checked, there had been no trouble calls (although the homeowner seemed to be away). The CableCom worker said instructions were if it was a single line (to a subscriber's house) and not a trunk line just repair it and not call the damage in. The crew supervisor validated this instruction. The crews said this is what they were instructed on other jobs while working installations for Comcast in other areas; but Comcast had not approved this for this job. This patch compromises the integrity of the line by inserting connectors and new cable and exposing the line to possible mud contamination may show up as degraded digital or broadband performance or trouble sometime in the future.
Site 3: Gold Mine Road, Brookeville, MD
This was a restore side, work had been done days before. Restoration was sloppy, at best. There were spots that had apparently been dug up and had gress seed put down with a pile of straw over the top. At this site Comcast had run 1500' of cable above ground because there had been multiple cuts in the original cable. This got the subscribe back on line quickly, and a crew would come back to bury the line properly.
Clearly what they found was astonishing. Some crews were careless, rushing, and doing dangerous things such as cutting through cable and wires and hitting gas lines. Some of the workmen didn't speak English so residents were unable to communicate with them directly. And the policies of how to handle cable cuts were all over the place, and didn't make much sense, and in any case, at odds with official policy. (According to Verizon policy, crews are to report all cable cuts.) The idea of a Verizon workman taking it upon himself to lengthen, reroute, and reconnect a Comcast line (a trunk according to Comcast) was incredible. While some of the Verizon crewmembers may know how to splice cable properly, they don't have access to Comcast's boxes for proper testing. And even if they do get splices working at the time, all of these splices are underground, a harsh environment, and if they aren't done exactly right, they can work for a while, weeks, months, and then fail. Months later, the public will have long forgotten Verizon was mucking around in the neighborhood and Comcast will be left with stains on their reputation that they don't deserve.
Jane Lawton, MC Cable Office Adminstrator, remarked that when Comcast did its upgrade (a few years ago), the County sent out inspectors to accompany crews to see work was done properly and that this was an outcome of the difference between local and state inspection. I'm not sure what she meant by that - because obviously Comcast had many flawed installations - for example, our inspectors have reported improper grounding in Comcast installs for years! Perhaps what she meant was that her office doesn't have the authority to control Verizon and what they do. Verizon remains regulated only by the state while Comcast is regulated by the local franchise authority. (Of course, both are regulated to some extent by the FCC but the FCC doesn't do inspections!)
I've been observing Verizon's work in my own neighborhood and although I've seen some of the problems that the report noted (for example, many of the workers do not speak English so I could not ask them questions), I haven't heard complaints of cable cuts or sloppy work or for that matter, any complaints from neighbors in my area. In fact, the Verizon installers (that did speak English) were more than happy to speak to me about their work and seemed quite proud of it. They happily explained what they were doing and in some cases (like in front of my house, grrr) pointed out how the Comcast cabling in the same easements was not just sloppy but violated standard practice and should be rewired or replaced completely.
Here are some pictures I took showing what the Verizon crewmembers pointed out. In the first picture, someone must've inadvertently cut the line and instead of Comcast putting in a new drop, they spliced it (shown between red arrows).
The next picture shows the backside of the pole where Comcast had installed a splitter (3.5dB loss) instead of running separate drops. The splice and splitter went to my neighbor's house. The 'good' side of the splitter went to my house.
A few other notes
A Verizon foreman said that all homes are hung with door tags with a phone number to call for problems. But when we queried some residents, they denied ever getting any such tags.
Kernan reported that digging may be automatic up to 36" deep after which it must be hand done. In the digging I observed, it's a half and half process. A backhoe makes the crude holes, the crew roughs them out further, and then drop a missile-shaped device that is aimed horizontally and automatically chews from one hole to the next. To me, the 'missile' process looked extremely crude - just aim and let go. So marking out the underground utilities to avoid them later is crucial. However, that appears to be what's going wrong - all these cuts are either due to ignoring the markings or the markings being wrong from the get go.
Of course, incorrect markings may be Comcast's fault. Comcast is obliged to mark their own wires and if they choose not to or do so poorly, of course Verizon will slice through them. Probably there's a lot of sloppiness going on - on both the parts of Comcast and Verizon. As for things underground that the residents are responsible for, such as invisible fencing, that would never be marked by MissUtility. I'm not sure what the solution is there other than to avoid laying it in easements and other places that the utilities will 'obviously' need to use.
Gabe also mentioned a term I had never heard before: Exactions. He said that the county may require developers to install conduit or trenching which is to be shared. He provided a reference to "Code 50" which I will look up at some point to find out more.
The "Mr. McNichol" referenced above is Kevin McNichol, Director of Engineering for Comcast of Montgomery County.
The bottom line is in some areas of the county, installation of FIOS by Verizon is causing serious problems. Comcast and other utilities may be part of the problem as well but clearly Verizon is at fault for sure. We're not close to the negotiations but according to Comcast statements, Verizon is reimbursing Comcast for costs related to any damage, so at least they're working together at some level. However, in the meantime, customers can have their service disrupted and potentially dangerous conditions can arise. It is for these reasons, that the city of Rockville has refused Verizon access to their rights-of-way. Verizon cannot get any permits to do installs in the city of Rockville and thus, Rockville residents will not getting FIOS for the foreseeable future.
Is Rockville doing the right thing and the rest of Montgomery County doing the wrong thing? Or vice versa?