Digging in your yard can damage internet lines.

How To Protect Your Cable and Internet Lines When You’re Digging in Your Yard

You have lots of reasons to start digging in your yard: planting trees, putting in a mailbox, installing a new smart sprinkler system or a smart outdoor lighting system. But it’s a good idea to be extra careful: You don’t want to cut any underground telecom, electricity or oil and gas lines to your home.

Depending on where you live, utility wires are buried under your house and yard. There are over 20 million miles of underground utility lines in the U.S. Locations and depths of buried lines vary, and you’re responsible if they’re cut during your project. So before you reach for that shovel, read on for tips to help avoid serious problems.

The number to call before you dig: 811

The 811 “Before You Dig” service was created in 2005 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect utilities and pipelines from excavation damage. It’s free of charge nationwide. In addition to calling 811, some states also accept online requests.

Calling 811 is the law in all 50 states. Rules and regulations differ in each state. Link to your state from the national page to find out the process to follow. This simple call is super important because a lot of utility lines are located just a few inches below ground. (Yikes.) Every six minutes in the U.S., a utility line is damaged because somebody didn’t call 811 before digging.

Here’s what happens when you call 811

  • You’ll provide a representative from your state’s 811 center with information, including your address, details about your project and the start date.
  • You’ll receive a ticket number along with information about how much time utility companies have to respond and how to confirm that they have all responded before you start digging.
  • Your state’s 811 center will then contact your local utility companies. About seven to eight utility companies are typically contacted. Each utility company will send a locator to your property within a few days of your call to 811.
  • The locators will mark your yard with paint or flags in various colors that indicate where utility lines are buried. For example, orange indicates communication lines and cables, such as buried fiber optic cable and underground internet cable. Don’t dig on top of or within two feet on all sides of the utility marks.

What happens if you don’t call 811?

The fines for digging without first calling 811 vary. In California, for example, you could face up to a $50,000 penalty if you cut a utility line. In Utah, there’s a $5,000 penalty for each line damaged, up to a maximum of $100,000—and you can be fined $500 just for digging without calling 811.

In addition to hefty fines, you’ll also have to pay for repairs to any lines you damage. You may also face lawsuits if the damage disrupts your neighbors’ utility services.

And just because you’ve called 811 before for a previous digging project in your yard doesn’t mean you don’t need to call again for your next project. Erosion and root growth over time can affect the locations of utility lines. And if and when the markings are no longer visible, you may not be able to remember exactly where they were. Depending on your state, your 811 ticket is usually valid for up to a month. If you dig after that, you need to call 811 again.

Does your digging project also need a permit?

Along with calling 811, you should also check with your local government’s building office to see if you need a permit to dig. If a permit is required, officials may review your project plan to make sure it complies with building and construction codes and then grant you permission to dig.

Oops! What happens if you cut your internet and cable lines?

If you’ve taken all these precautions but still cut an internet or cable line as you’re digging, stop and immediately call your provider so they can repair it. You must also call 811 and report the damage. (If it’s an electrical or gas line you’ve severed, call 911 first and clear the area.)

If you encounter a line while digging, even if you don’t see any damage, you should still notify your provider and call 811. The damage may not be visible and could worsen over time. Better to be safe and have it inspected and repaired if needed.

All in all, follow the rules and prevent any outages from cutting a line. You sure don’t want to be without your internet service!

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