Cox Communications Accuses Verizon of Damaging Cables
By Elissa Silverman, Staff Writer
Washington Post
Thursday, June 30, 2005

Black electrical tape is a reliable fix for many things:  hole-ridden shoes, detached car bumpers, even skin abrasions.  Telecom giant Verizon opts to slap on the magical adhesive for other kinds of cuts, too, according to local rival Cox Communications, which competes with Verizon in the Northern Virginia market as a provider of telephone and high-speed Internet service.

In a complaint filed earlier this month with Virginia's State Corporation Commission, which regulates the state's utilities, Cox alleges that while upgrading its network, Verizon has caused significant damage to Cox's underground fiber-optic cables and covered up the cuts with black electrical tape before burying the lines.

"Cox personnel have uncovered and, in one instance actually observed, 'repairs' done by Verizon that consisted of wrapping tape around a Cox line damaged by the [sic] Verizon and then re-burying the line," reads one section of the document.

The complaint includes "CSI"-style incriminating photos, including shots of exposed fiber-optic cables in various locations in Fairfax City and Herndon doctored with tape.  Cox spokesman Alex Horwitz said that the company has documented approximately 500 incidents, which have caused about $254,000 worth of damage to the Cox underground network.  Horwitz added that possible loss of telephone service caused by the cuts puts crucial communications, such as emergency 911 service, in jeopardy for customers as well.

Cox asserted that the actions put Verizon in violation of Virginia's Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act, which requires that utility companies make public any kind of damage to underground lines.

Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap said the company is already working with Cox to address the underground damage issue and will formally respond to the complaint with the commission.  "The bottom line is that we take every precaution to avoid hits on other companies' facilities," Reap said.

The complaint illustrates the fierce competition among telecom firms in Fairfax County.  Cox has some 242,000 cable subscribers in the county and in the last year has entered the local telephone market as well.  Verizon has been a big player in local phone and Internet service and might be looking at entering the cable market as well.

"Cox welcomes competition, but believes Verizon is improperly using its authority as a telephone company to bypass regulation and oversight associated with its construction project," reads another statement in the Cox complaint. or call 703-383-5103.