Fibre contractors are under fire for poor planning which leads to electricity cables being cut, damaging municipal infrastructure, and leaving building sites in a mess.
Residents in many neighbourhoods across Durban are complaining about their pavements being dug up and water and electricity being interrupted by fibre contractors.
Maxwell Mthembu, head of electricity at eThekwini Municipality, said fibre contractors pose a serious challenge for the city.
He said they welcome fibre rollouts in the city but complained about contractors not paying enough attention to electricity and water infrastructure when they trench.
“They do not come to our electricity and water departments before they start to trench. They do, however, trench where our servitudes are,” he said.
Another problem is that when these contractors hit an electricity cable or water pipe, they do not alert the municipality about the issue.
This means municipal workers can take a long time to locate and fix the fault. This, in turn, leaves residents without services for prolonged periods of time.
It has also happened that fibre contractors have trenched next to streetlights and other municipal poles, which caused them to fall down.
“These poles had live conductors on top. We find customers screaming at us for power outages and streetlights not working,” Mthembu said.
“The truth is, we have a third party [fibre contractors] who comes in which affect us and our customers.”
Mthembu said they will start to take action to ensure the fibre contractors cover some of the costs associated with the damage they caused.
eThekwini is not alone in its frustration with fibre contractors causing damage to critical municipal infrastructure like water pipes and power lines.
Mthembu’s counterparts at the City of Tshwane have levelled similar criticism at “cowboy” fibre contractors and imposed a severe security deposit regime as a result.
Fibre industry insiders have criticised Tshwane’s heavy-handed approach, and said that it is unnecessary to punish all fibre network providers for the sins of a handful of reckless contractors.
As an alternative, fibre companies have recommended that their industry association or the municipalities themselves operate a ban list for contractors that have proven themselves to be irresponsible, and exclude them from further trenching work.