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

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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.

Frontier Fiber 200 Internet
Frontier Fiber 200 Internet

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!

8 responses to “How To Protect Your Cable and Internet Lines When You’re Digging in Your Yard”

  1. JAMES R AMERSON says:

    If I only need Frontier to mark underground cable location . . . how do I go about that ?

  2. Frontier Communications says:

    Hi James, every state runs their own 811 / call before you dig program. You can dial 811 on your phone to request utility locates or you can search 811 and your state name and you should locate their site and be able to schedule locates online. It’s not something that can be done directly with utility providers. Hope this helps.

  3. Tyler says:

    I need to relocate the wires in my yard for a new septic system. who do I contact for moving wires?

    • Frontier Communications says:

      Hi Tyler! Have you called your state’s 811 / Call Before You Dig for locates to confirm there are lines in the path you need to excavate? We would suggest that as a first step. If you have confirmed that we have lines that will require work we can help with that! Watch your inbox, we’ll be sending you an email. ^Michael

  4. Steven Scott says:

    what do I do if the sprinkler guy cut my internet cable

    • Frontier Communications says:

      Hi Steven, I hope this is a what-if question rather than something that happened to you! When this happens we do everything to restore you to working service once we know about it. Sometimes the fiber can be spliced but more often than not our technician will restore the service with a new replacement drop. An above ground temp to start and then after call-before-you-dig 811 locates a crew will return to bury. If this happened and you need our help you can report the service interruption below on Twitter, Facebook or ^Michael

  5. Tessa McCall says:

    Can someone instruct me how deep internet cables have to buried when underneath a sidewalk in residential area. Information on internet varies from 6 inches to 18 inches. Which one is correct

    • Frontier Communications says:

      Hi Tessa, thanks for the question. There is no uniform guideline for this and it can vary for several reasons. We generally keep the drops shallow unless required by local regulations that they be deeper. The reason for this is to avoid striking underground sprinkler systems placed by homeowners since these are not marked by 811 locates. Whether shallow or deeper to align with local regulations, our buried lines will be located so if you do need to dig you’ll know where the fiber line is and to use hand tools and caution if needing to excavate in that area. ^Michael

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