Qwest vows to make cable cutters pay
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the construction and yardwork season hits full swing, Qwest Communications has vowed to track down cable cutters and make them pay for damage.
"If you cut us, we're going after you for our costs and, where we can, punitive damages," says Qwest spokeswoman Pam Stegora Axberg.
Last year, Qwest said 4,923 underground line were cut in Minnesota, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier.
More than $5.2 million was spent in 2000 to repair cut lines but only 78 percent of the costs was recovered, the Denver-based company said.
Qwest also wants stiffer penalties against line cutters. Under state law, contractors and property owners face fines of $1,000 a day for not marking buried utility lines or hitting the marked lines.
"That's a paltry disincentive," Stegora Axberg said.
The state Office of Pipeline Safety fined contractors $92,000 last year for unsafe digging around utility lines.
About 70 percent of Qwest's telecom network in the United States and overseas is buried. That includes fiber optic cables connecting communications hubs and the lines that run to millions of homes and businesses in 14 states, including Minnesota.
Stegora Axberg said more lines are being cut because telecom firms are burying their own cables. Contractors also are using boring drills that can rip through underground lines so quickly that equipment operators don't realize they hit them, she said.
Qwest says it charges homeowners about $100 to repair severed phone lines, which are typically buried 18 or more inches underground.
According to the company, the size of its network makes it more vulnerable to line cuts than power, natural gas and cable TV companies. People also are less afraid of cutting a phone line than an electric or natural gas line.
Xcel Energy also urges customers to locate and mark any underground lines before digging in their yards this spring. Even shallow digging can be dangerous, the power and natural gas supplier warns, because landscaping and erosion may force lines just inches below surface.
Last year, in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and North and South Dakota, underground line cuts caused 30 electrical and 150 natural gas outages that affected thousands of customers, according to Xcel.
However, the number of Xcel line cuts in 2001 was a decrease of 20 percent from the year before. About a quarter of Xcel's power lines and most of its gas lines are buried, it reports.