The “Cheap Micro-Trenching” Bill

Discussion of and Arguments Against SB-378

Search for Google Fiber and Louisville, KY and read. Micro trenching is NOT industry best practices. 

Listen for 5 minutes to this explanation of micro-trenching. It’s the cheapest possible way of laying down cable, but it has no conduit and is often so shallow that winter weather loosens the sealant, then tires driving over the cables damage them and service goes down.

Recommendations from a technical perspective on Micro-Trenching: It can support fiber, but it needs to be at a certain depth to not be problematic:

“…Since fiber is needed for everything to work well, even Starlink on the ground, fiber can always be used for good (Fiber To The Premises) or bad purposes (5G).  As far as micro-trenching goes, any underground installation is better than aerial, especially in areas with lots of trees.  The only exception to this can be in shoreline areas, but 99.9% of the time underground is the way to go. Fiber is always a better choice than wireless by any metric. 

Here are our recommendations for trenching at Raven Crest, etc. A minimum depth of 20″ (inches) using at least 1″ – 2″ (inch) schedule 40 PVC conduit and vaults every 500 feet with a minimum of 72 count (preferably 144 count) single-mode fiber.  So I would recommend against any trenching that is less than 20″ deep. This is deep enough to prevent lifting in most cases and shallow enough to prevent accidentally running into gas, water, or other services most of the time.  I would use metallic marker tape or conduit with some metal tracer in it so the PVC can be found down the road with a metal detector, since conduit without any metal in it, and only fiber, can’t be seen by metal detectors.”

This bill slipped under the radar, while California activists were devoting all their time to trying to stop some of the other terrible 5G streamlining bills.  It is being heard on April 26 (Monday) in the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.  Like all the other recent 5G bills, this one is attempting to largely remove the ability of local authority to regulate the 5G roll-out for safety and other urgent community concerns. 

This bill is different from some of the others, in that it is not specifically related to the construction of small cell facilities, and all the drawbacks of those (i.e. extremely harmful health impacts, fire dangers, lack of insurance for RF-EMR pollution, etc.)  This bill attempts to largely remove the installation of a certain method of installing underground fiber, which it refers to as micro-trenching, from local government oversight and existing state regulations.

This method of installation has proven dangerous in previous cities, as the current Energy Committee analysis explains, even leading to a big explosion and fire, when the trench was too close to other utility lines.  It allows for very shallow undergrounding, which is not safe.  There is no better explanation of what is wrong with SB 378 than the one provided by the CA Senate’s own committee on Governance–

“Who gets to choose? The California Constitution charges cities and counties with the responsibility and authority to look out for their residents’ health, safety, and welfare.  In doing so, local officials must often balance competing considerations. In the context of the installation of broadband infrastructure in the public right of way, local agencies weigh the need for affordable, reliable broadband against other concerns that can include: uses of the public right of way by other users, including residents as well asutilities such as electric, gas, and water; whether one type of installation method ensures a longer useful life for infrastructure; the timing of other improvements to the right of way, such as repaving; and the aesthetic impacts of overburdened utility poles. 

Fiber installers, on the other hand, are most concerned with providing only a single service and have a profit motive that encourages them to deploy infrastructure as inexpensively as possible. SB 378 allows fiber installers to choose their preferred method of installation, including aerial installation, even where local officials determine that another method would best serve all of the needs of the community. Supporters argue that empowering providers to choose the manner of installation will result in faster, cheaper broadband deployment, while critics argue that nothing in SB 378 requires deployment in underserved areas or otherwise improves access to broadband. Does the promise of better broadband service through SB 378 merit the restrictions on local governments to ensure the welfare of their communities?” 

And we would add, the “misleading” promise of better broadband service, since nothing in  the bill requires telecoms to serve the communities that are currently underserved.  The main purpose of the bill seems to be to save them money, at the expense of the needs of the community.   The state should ensure widespread access to highspeed internet (which we all agree is essential) through safe wired connections.