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New Committee F36 Will Develop Standards for Fiber-Optic Cable Installations in Underground Utility Pipes

Optical-fiber broadband delivers lightning-fast Internet to cities. An ingenious method of installing underground broadband uses robots and other devices to secure cables to the roof of sewer or natural-gas pipe, decreasing the need to excavate streets and clog traffic. Laser light—not electric current—passes through optical-fiber cable installed in utility pipes.

Finding a path in existing piping systems beneath city streets is no picnic. As the demand for this technology increases, stakeholders pose questions about access rights, leasing, and similar issues.

Finding a path in existing underground utility corridors is no picnic. The biggest challenge is connecting the last mile beneath congested city streets. No standards exist for engineers dealing with municipal authorities, building owners, robot-deployment firms, and others involved. Stakeholders pose questions about access rights, leasing, and similar issues.

Civil engineer Jey K. Jeyapalan, Ph.D., P.E., contacted ASTM International Jan. 21, 2001, to initiate standardization on behalf of the telecommunication and municipal engineering communities. “I felt that ASTM International had the highest visibility and the most credibility in the world when it comes to writing consensus standards,” says Jeyapalan, a consultant in pipelines, optical-fiber networks, trenchless technology, and failure investigation from New Milford, Conn.

ASTM staff and Jeyapalan gathered 165 stakeholders, forming ASTM Committee F36 on Technology and Underground Utilities. The committee includes international representatives from universities; laboratories; departments of public works, water and sewer, and other municipal authorities including a South African construction- and-technology certification authority; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. pipe associations; and a Japanese association for sewer optical-fiber technology; pipe manufacturers, specialized-materials manufacturers, and optical-fiber cable manufacturers; major telecommunication corporations, optical-fiber deployment-technology firms, and electronics or chemical corporations; construction, architectural and engineering consultants; and others too numerous to mention.

Issues raised for standard development include, but are not limited to:

• Sewer selection criteria and serviceability;
• Safety, access rights, and construction;
• Materials, design, and installation; and
• Operations and maintenance.

Standards can bring a common voice, an effective way to communicate with the world—a yardstick that the industry should follow, according to Jeyapalan. “There are many benefits,” he says. “At the moment there is nothing out there [to reference] if we were to start having disputes among ourselves on what would be the standard of care.”

Developing standards for global optical-fiber cable installations in vastly different and crowded underground utility systems is a monumental undertaking. “No two technologies operate the same way; no two technologies cost the same; and no two technologies provide the same end results,” wrote Jeyapalan in a paper describing the benefits of standardization. “Given the newness of this technology, we have an obligation to communicate to the users of our standards the drastically different attributes of various techniques that we have at our disposal.”

Committee F36 plans to develop numerous standards in the next few years and welcomes participation. Multiple stakeholders of diverse interests will be able to reference the standards to come to an agreement when they write contracts, says Jeyapalan.

Direct comments to Jey K. Jeyapalan, P.E., New Milford, Conn. (phone: 860/354-7299), or Dan Schultz, manager, ASTM Technical Committee Operations (phone: 610/832-9716). //

Copyright 2002, ASTM