Engage telcos in road construction – Minister

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The Roads and Highways Minister, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, has directed contractors to regularly engage telecom companies before road construction is done to forestall the frequent cut of fibre optic cables.

That, he noted, was to halt the recurring disruption of communications services due to the cutting of fibre optic cables largely caused by road expansion and maintenance.

Alhaji Fuseini consequently planned to establish a standing technical committee (STC) to deal with frequent cases of fibre cuts that had bedevilled the telecom industry.

The proposed STC will serve as an advisory body to guide and identify cable and fibre markings before actual construction begins.

The minister, who spoke in an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, was responding to the campaign by Journalists for Business Advocacy (JBA), an affiliate organisation of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) that is committed to the promotion of private sector businesses practice in the country, on the need to halt the spate of fibre cuts by road contractors.

Telecom companies have suffered an upsurge in fibre optic cable cuts, mainly caused by road construction, in spite of the many reports to the Ministry of Roads and Highways.

Currently, there are six telecommunication companies operating locally and each one of them has reported colossal losses in fibre cuts which also disrupt communication services.

Statistics from the Telecoms Chamber suggest that in 2013 telecom companies in the country suffered a 30 per cent increase in cable cuts.

This means that last year alone 2,110 cable cuts were recorded, compared to 1,605 in 2012 and 480 in 2011.

Three-quarters of the cuts occur during road construction, followed by small-scale illegal mining, which is responsible for 10 per cent cuts.

The rest are theft, vandalism and bush fires.

But Alhaji Fuseini said he wanted a coordinated approach in dealing with the installation of infrastructure in ways that would not compromise future development needs.

“These cuts occur mainly due to the expansion in road network to meet expanding population, so some of the roads have to be changed from single carriageway to a dual carriageway.

“Though we pay compensation, we can avoid this by the setting up of the STC to serve as an advisory body to identify the markings of telecom fibre before actual construction begins,” he said.

The minister, who had already held discussions with officials of the Telecoms Chamber and the National Communications Authority (NCA), was hopeful that the establishment of the committee, made up of the NCA, the Ministry of Roads and Highways and the Telecoms Chamber, would help deal with the matter.

Fibre cuts statistics

The exponential rate of fibre optic cables cut, the operators say, is threatening their ability to expand broadband services to the consumer.

According to the NCA, the sector regulator, there were over 1,600 cable cuts in 2012, resulting in significant cost in excess of GH¢20 million to the telephony companies.

In the same year, MTN alone suffered 506 fibre cuts, spanning some 2,933 kilometres. However, in 2013 the number of cuts rose to 840, covering a length of 4,156 kilometres.

From January to June 2014 alone, MTN recorded 436 cuts, covering a total length of 4,336 kilometres.

“Fibre cables are supposed to last 20 to 25 years, but, unfortunately for us, we have had to replace cables that are just one year old,” Mr Bernard Kwaku Avor, MTN’s Field Service Manager, lamented.

“The result, as you can imagine, is that the quality of your call drops every now and then, the networks become less reliable, you feel let down as a customer and you also pay more because of increasing costs to the telcos.

“As for the reputational loss the companies suffer, it becomes akin to what Ghanaians like to call ‘hazards of the job’,” he said.

The Chief Operations Officer of Millicom Ghana, operators of tiGO, Mr Obafemi Banigbe, said the company had its fair share of fibre cut, a situation which he described as worrying.

“On the average, we record about 51 cable cuts between the Ashanti and Western regions every month and this is mainly due to the operations of illegal mine workers and ongoing road expansion projects in both regions,” he stated on the company’s website.

The fibre layout

Mr Avor said the development was frustrating the operations of the telcos, particularly MTN.

To put things in perspective, the layout is in three categories — the backbone, metro and fibre to the office (FTTx).

A cut at the FTTx affects 10 to 15 cell sites, while a cut at the metro affects 15 to 100 cell sites. However, if it occurs at the backbone, it will disrupt communications within an entire region or the entire network whose cable is cut.

When one fibre optic cable is cut, calls and Internet services to all the communities connected to it become impossible. This is even worse when the cut occurs at the backbone of the layout.

“The NCA gives us a four-hour time frame to find and repair a damaged fibre; meanwhile, it could take up to six hours just to locate a cut,” he said.

Interestingly, there are clear demarcations and signposts to indicate where telecom fibre, water pipes and electricity cables are, but some road construction workers seem to ignore the warning signposts and excavate.

Fibre cuts occur on a daily basis, and in some cases at more than one spot on a stretch of fibre connected to hundreds of cell sites serving more than one community.

source : Graphic Online