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Ask Slashdot: Resources For Identifying Telecom Right-of-Way Locations? 107

An anonymous reader writes "With threats to network neutrality, such as Verizon's recent lawsuit, I've been thinking of creating a map plotting all the locations where telecommunications companies currently use public lands via right-of-way laws. It seems that this would convey just how much telecommunications depends on public infrastructure. However, it's been difficult identifying where these locations are. Short of crowdsourcing, does anyone know of resources that could be used to create such a map?"
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Ask Slashdot: Resources For Identifying Telecom Right-of-Way Locations?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    now go away

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They go right to where they need !!

  • by RevDobbs ( 313888 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @08:55AM (#40710399) Homepage
    Sounds like the information a terrorist would be looking for -- I'd watch your cornhole, bud.
    • Yeah, Rooski, we don't want you finding that hidden money, either.

    • What's the point in knowing where everything is? Having cables between and in communities is no surprise to anyone. If you are going to look at utilities, don't forget cable and satellite companies. It is also worth examining how the revenue siphoned off by them may reduce resources at local news operations.

      It might be more interesting to look at what happens with our frequency spectrum. Should the push always be towards something business can monetize? Some might prefer peer owned networks with minima

      • by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @10:26AM (#40711813)

        Because that FIOS network? Verizon didn't build that.

      • If you are going to look at utilities, don't forget cable and satellite companies.

        Satellite services don't use the public right of way. They deliver the signal via airwaves, which is a different right of way that isn't mappable.

        It is also worth examining how the revenue siphoned off by them may reduce resources at local news operations.

        Huh? How does paying a cable company for service "siphon off" any money the local "news operation" would have? Do you imagine that if you didn't pay the cable company you'd somehow be giving that money to the local TV station? Explain, please.

        There's more than the F.C.C. involved with spectrum

        For civilian spectrum, they're the player. They have to work within the ITU treaties, of course, but the ITU isn't the o

        • Satellite services don't use the public right of way. They deliver the signal via airwaves, which is a different right of way that isn't mappable.

          The GP was essentially talking about wanting to measure resources taken by those profiting as data path providers. Airwaves are a public resource. All spectrum should be used in ways that serve the public interest. It is a limited resource that could be put to other uses and it certainly has value. Assigning frequency segments is equivalent to mapping it out.

          How does paying a cable company for service "siphon off" any money the local "news operation" would have? Do you imagine that if you didn't pay the cable company you'd somehow be giving that money to the local TV station?

          It's not simply the cable bill dollars that are diverted from the local economy, but advertising revenue that is diverted away from local radio, tv

          • That's a bit of double-talk since one could call any frequency regulated by the government a government frequency.

            I guess I wasn't clear. When I said "government spectrum", I meant those frequencies used by the US Federal Government, Inc. Not those frequencies used by local, state or commercial users. So no, there is no double-talk involved. The NTIA manages the spectrum allocated for federal users and YOU aren't going to be using any of that (unless you are a federal user, or that spectrum is dual-allocated and the FCC also issues licenses there.).

            Government agencies (police etc) license through the FCC.

            Sigh. Not all of them. FEDERAL government agencies are authorized via

            • First you decry the loss of ad revenue to cable systems, and then say that broadcast stations should be handing out free airtime. Which is it?

              It's both. Locally sold advertising funds the station operations, hopefully including news, and unlike ads on satellite, may help local non-chain businesses reach customers too. Broadcasters also already provide free public affairs programming time, public service announcements and various types of programs etc. There's no reason they couldn't fairly allocate an amount of that time of their own choosing for candidate statements, debates, community comments or other appropriate programming to inform the p

              • It's both.

                You can't have it both ways. Either stations don't have enough money to fund sufficient news and public affairs programming, or they have so much money that they can afford to give away airtime to anyone who is running for office. That "free" airtime you want isn't really free. The transmitter and station and staff cost money.

                Locally sold advertising funds the station operations, hopefully including news, and unlike ads on satellite, may help local non-chain businesses reach customers too.

                I see a lot of local ads on my cable system, even on the satellite-fed channels. Non-chain, local businesses. Cable isn't the boogeyman.

                Now, I suspect that pure satellite services l

  • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @08:56AM (#40710421) Homepage

    You'll have to talk to the county assessor and recorder to get the plat maps.

    Some counties have online systems to download the images, most you'll have to go in in person and ask.

    • Here are some example counties with online GIS:

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not even close, those updated, electronic maps are only going to have more recent easements, say from the last 30 years, maybe more probably less depending on the county and it's resources. Most counties don't even know this information or at the very least won't pull it up for you, you'll have to 1) know how to look for the information, good luck and 2) dig through more documents than you've ever seen or will ever see in your entire life, also good luck. Most of that stuff is so old it's not in an electr

    • Re:Each county. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Stickybombs ( 1805046 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @09:43AM (#40711149)
      Plat maps won't help. Nor will most of the info available publicly online. I've worked for a civil engineer for 10 years, and the bottom line is that the information is so spread out, and in some cases nonexistant, that you would never be able to do this.

      The first problem is that in many cases the easements are so old, and the deeds so difficult to read, you could spend hours piecing together the right of way over one parcel of land. Many times there are multiple easements as they were added-on over the years. They are also shared by different utilities.

      So for example you'd find one document that grants Verizon the use of a railroad's right of way. Then you have to pull all of the deeds for the railroad (hundreds or thousand per county) and try to put them together. Those old railroad deeds will say something like "the east 99 feet of Farmer Smith's property, in so-and-so a section." Then you have to go pull Smith's old deed, which says "40 acres, lying south of the river, and east of Farmer Johnson's land, and north of some other guy's property." And no, those are not exaggerations at all. In short, you'll be putting together the puzzle pieces for weeks, and then you might have a single line along a railroad done for your county.

      Add on top of that, many street right-of-ways are just assumed. Sure, maybe there are some old deeds that grant the right-of-way for each road over each parcel of land, but again, you'll be putting together a giant puzzle with pieces that don't fit together well.

      In short, good luck. You'd be better off just taking a map and hi-lighting all of the roads, assuming that at least some communication lines follow each road.
      • Right. And it all starts with some trips to the county assessor and recorders offices.

        You first have to go get the puzzle pieces.

        • True, I didn't mean to argue your point, just that the whole endeavor is pointless. You'll be making lots of trips to the recorder's office every time you need a new deed that is referenced by the one you are working on. Most places don't have them online, especially the older ones that you'll be looking for.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            True, I didn't mean to argue your point, just that the whole endeavor is pointless. You'll be making lots of trips to the recorder's office every time you need a new deed that is referenced by the one you are working on. Most places don't have them online, especially the older ones that you'll be looking for.

            Bingo. Also, you can try your local Public Service Commission, sometimes they might be able to help.
            Also.... your local Public Library, county courthouse, etc.

            There's a pretty damn good reason you're supposed to "Call before you dig"... it's because the maps are often out of date or don't exist. Hell, the local power company was running a bore behind my house a few years back, and hit an old underground power cable. Luckily none of the guys were touching the machine, because it was still hot... and wasn't e

            • by Anonymous Coward

              A few years ago, SBC was doing upgrades in my town, to install the UVerse boxes (which, I'll point out, are all sitting in the public easements between sidewalk and street here). I was working at a local ISP at the time, and got to chatting w/ one of the workers while her crew was fixing a problem they'd caused for us.
              It seems they'd been re-mapping everything in town, and found an old Michigan Bell junction box under the sidewalks by city hall that was COMPLETELY unknown to her crew, and yet had a bunch of

      • This is a very good explanation. Among other things it explains why much of this information is not in existing GIS.

        I wonder though whether the poster might be able to accomplish his goal in some other way. He doesn't necessarily need a highly detailed, highly accurate map of the precise borders of all easements on all property. In fact, such a map might not even meet his needs since it would not indicate whether these potential routes actually were being used for anything of significant commercial value (w

        • I thought the same thing, but now rereading the original question, it seems like he wants every single line. A lot of the main, important, fiber lines follow railroads or power line easements, and many of those routes aren't even public right-of-way. They are granted privately to the railroad/utility companies by individual landowners. That was the basis of my explanation as well.

          Looking back, he actually wants to see public right-of-ways. I don't think that using deeds for this is feasible. A lot of old
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 20, 2012 @08:57AM (#40710431)

    A while back, a PhD candidate at George Mason University collected a lot of this information from public records. He create a large database/map of all the utility routes in the US. His thesis was classified:

  • Identify the public lands you're interested in and then go to the county government offices (recorder probably) and research easements on those properties. Many counties are starting to put that information up online. Not sure if easements on public lands would show up on tax maps but that would be a place to look as well.

    • by wazzzup ( 172351 )

      Forgot to mention, you can contact the local Public Utilities Commission and they made be able to help too.

  • by kotku ( 249450 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @08:59AM (#40710471) Journal

  • Unfortunately getting that info is hard enough for contractors to obtain, even those working on the utilities. Some would say its a security issue, another because they may or may not be accurate (A fair amount of the time it is the later). They are a part of the public record. Subdivision plats usually show where they were supposed to go. County records departments usually have this info as well.
    Crowd sourcing would work, but again accuracy is a MAJOR issue. Having a utility company come out and mark

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Extra emphasis on accuracy being a MAJOR issue. We had the power company out last month at my place and according to their maps the distribution box was buried in our back-yard. 4 hours of poking around in the yard with metal rods, trying to trace cables with a fancy fox and hound device and much muttering later it turns out that the box was buried under a patio in the neighbors yard. If the neighborhood was laid out more than 10 years ago, the odds are that the maps for buried utilities are downright wr

  • by optikos ( 1187213 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @09:05AM (#40710555)
    Most of the long-lines right of ways (RoWs) are along railroads, not public lands. The 2nd largest amount of RoWs crosscut underneath private property, such as underneath high-voltage electric transmission lines where the legal-infrastructure for the RoW was already in place for the electric grid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by optikos ( 1187213 )
      Indeed, one major telecom company is named for its railroad easements: SPRINT, the Southern Pacific Railroad Intercontinental Network of Telecommunications, although the latter 3 letters are likely :-) a backronym after Southern Pacific Communications Corporation (SPCC) changed its name to SPRINT.
      • by faedle ( 114018 )

        They are a backronym. IIRC, it was Southern Pacific Railroad INternal [Telephone | Telecommunications].

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm the original poster of the question. I realized after I submitted the post that it was somewhat unclear, and apologize in that regard.

      I think most people here understood the point of my question, and have been helpful. You make a good point about the railroads.

      What I'm interested in, basically, is being able to map where telecommunications companies are benefiting from the public either by (1) having resources on public lands, or (2) having right-of-way access on private property, without any sort of le

      • As a former telephone contractor all over the continental US, I can say with certainty that the majority of aerial telephone cable is strung on power company poles on power company easements. Phone companies only put up pole leads when there is no other utility run present or when it's more cost-effective to roll their own rather than send lease payments to another utility. I don't know what it is these days, but a couple decades ago in many parts of the country, the standard lease was $1 per attachment. At

  • What you're actually looking for are right-of-way easements, which should be on record on a county by county basis in the county clerk's office. Or at least they are in my state, Oklahoma. This is not a task for a weekend hobby though. Be prepared to wade through miles of legaleze and title law, depending on who owns the underlying property and how the right-of-way was granted. Another place to start would be the state agency that regulates utilities in your state(ex: Oklahoma Corporation Commission).
  • ...unless you enjoy "extra security" when you fly, having your mail opened, your electronic communications "monitored", etc.
  • Nontrivial; but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @09:12AM (#40710665) Journal

    This isn't, unfortunately for you, a 'just fucking google it' sort of project; but the data should exist in some form.

    Most municipalities have, as some appendage of their government(whether zoning and planning, some independent office, some weird outgrowth of the IT shop, whatever) a GIS service of some flavor(Newark, NJ purely for example []. What you can get online varies widely, and may or may not be utter shit; but it can generally put you in touch with somebody who actually knows something about the available GIS records for the area. No guarantee that they won't assume that anybody who cares about utility locations is a terrorist, or that inquiries are billed at $.25/poorly photocopied page; but it exists.

    Similarly clunky; but also sometimes useful, would be the utility easement information that is(sometimes) recorded on property deeds, which are also a matter of (not necessarily well cataloged and easily searchable) public record.

    Another option, in the states that they cover, would be to have a friendly chat with the folks at [] . This is some sort of public/private industry consortium thing designed to keep backhoes away from their natural food sources, namely fiber lines and gas mains. Since their entire purpose in life is locating vulnerable underground utility fixtures before somebody fucks them up, they should have a decent idea of where (underground only) utility lines run. I don't know how much persuading they would require to release information to somebody who doesn't fit their usual "Hi, I want to dig a big hole at 123 main St, is that a problem?" customer profile, though...

    • by wytcld ( 179112 )

      I'm in a DigSafe state. A friend works for a contractor whose business is going out to mark where the burried utilties are after DigSafe gets a request. She starts from whatever existing local maps she can get of utility line locations. But she reports that those maps are mostly pretty bad.

      • Based on the tragifarical records-management story that unfolded after that PG&E pipeline exploded in California a while back(scurrying temp armies plowing through pallets of mouldering paper, letters sent to all current and former employees, asking if they might happen to have any useful records at home, nontrivial sections simply missing, etc, etc.) I imagine that even the utility operators often don't know, even if they feel like being helpful. And the PG&E thing was for safety-critical high volu

    • This isn't, unfortunately for you, a 'just fucking google it' sort of project

      I wonder why not. All of the data should be publicly available. Getting notified of changes might be difficult; but the problem seems large, complex, and solvable. I.e. right up Google's alley.

      • I would assume that the money in it doesn't match the cost(except, perhaps, for engineering/survey firms, like the one wytcld mentions, who combine document-search functions with 'guy-on-the-ground-actually-ensuring-the-conduit-is-where-it-ought-to-be' services who do document search for their own convenience; but would be of minimal use without the local boots on the ground feature).

        In terms of difficulty, I'd imagine that it's an order of magnitude worse than, say, Google's book-digitization project(high-

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I work for a large CA county. This sort of info en masse/online is strictly verboten to give to non-approved customers. We'd have to refer them to SCE for any kind of info release, and any info we already have is strictly on a case-by-case basis. With many utilities stretching through the desert, vandalism/terrorism would be a SERIOUS concern, and rightly so. I'd be up for real discipline, up to and including termination, for releasing the location of utilities of any kind willy-nilly.

        Now, if anyone rea

  • Try the Call Before You Dig website.
    • by VeriTea ( 795384 )

      No. DigSafe is just a group that takes calls and then distributes the request to all of the utilities (hint: there are far more then you know about). The utilities then each individually dig through their own maps (often paper) and check the specific location being requested.

      There are no comprehensive electronic databases. DigSafe is not a help.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Friday July 20, 2012 @09:21AM (#40710821)

    I doubt very much is on public land, there isn't a whole lot of public land in populated areas.

    Even if you do find some easements it wouldn't mean anything; they lease the use of that land don't they?

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      Around here, telecom has rights to dig up a good portion of your private property. Something like 10' from the road is fair-game.

      I recently had a telcom come in with a backhoe and dig a hole deep enough for an average sized worker to jump into and I could not see his helmet anymore. They didn't need any permission from us. Luckily it was from a local ISP who is rolling out fiber, so I was happy. Finally get rid of Charter once the fiber goes live.

      That's only for established telcoms. Upstart ISPs have
      • by VeriTea ( 795384 )

        This isn't true. Lots of companies have built out private networks in the ROW. In fact, I'm not sure what the point of the original question is. The ROW is just that, property that any telecommunications or utility company has access to use. Verizon still had to build and pay for their network and nothing stops other companies from doing the same in the ROW. In fact, federal law prohibits anyone from prohibiting other companies from doing the same. It is a lot of work, but in the end, if a company wan

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )

          This isn't true. Lots of companies have built out private networks in the ROW.

          I'm sure they have, but in the state that I live, common policy is that Cable, Telephone, Gas, Electric, and Water has an automatic RoW Easement to any property located in city limits. Any other type of utility must get the property owner's permission to use the RoW.

          If you are a new internet only start-up and you are not a certified Telephone or Cable company, you will not be covered by the blanket RoW and you must get individual permission to dig up other people's property.

          You might say that someone co

      • Around here, telecom has rights to dig up a good portion of your private property. Something like 10' from the road is fair-game.

        In most places they can only dig where they have some form of easement on your property which permits that specific use of your property. For example I have an easement on a portion of my property to allow servicing of the electrical lines. They can only use this easement for certain specific purposes. Any use other than those purposes or anywhere outside the easement is a violation of the law and they can be subject to prosecution.

        I know from recent personal experience that utilities and telecoms tend t

  • Simple answer: Anywhere you see a power line, and then some.

    Aside from the unparalleled powers of eminent domain enjoyed by utility companies in most states, you also have simple "prescriptive" easements just about anywhere you can see a power line.

    So the short answer: Everywhere. The first three feet in from the road of just about every property in the US counts as a utility right-of-way.
  • I would say the grand bulk of Right of Ways are actually on public property. Most of the streets you drive on are actually private property. They were built on a road easment specifically for use for the road. I'm sure out west there are quite a few easements for power and internet in use on public land, but back east that is hardly the case.

    I am personally locked into a fight with the county to get the road easement (15 foot wide alley) on my property disolved since it is being used heavily as a shor

    • Whoops "I would say the grand bulk of Right of Ways are actually on public property"

      I meant private property.

  • Just from working in a municipal government with Rights-of-Way (ROW) and Easements. I would say that the vast majority of telecom infrastructure is in public ROWs and easements. My gut feeling is 90%.

    Figuring how much exactly in on easements and ROWs, even on a small scale, is a huge a problem. Some places have hired someone to record the easements and ROW into a GIS system, some places, haven't. Some places have great maps of ROW, some don't. Until the state or federal government says you must, loc
  • I appreciate that you used big words.

    You have no idea what you're talking about.

    Rights of way are not "public infrastructure" and your use of the word "crowdsource" really means
    "make it someone else's problem."

    Why don't you, instead of delegated to "everyone else to solve my problem" of "things I misstate or
    don't understand" just go away.

    Slashdot editors... shame on you. This is a non-story about a guy who knows nothing trying to make
    a story about nothing and hoping other people find something.

    It's a non-s

  • As one other commented noted: there was someone who did this and the report was classified. I attempted to do something similar about 2003: I was essentially told piss off. (Clarification: I was a grad student, looking into seeing how much fibre had been laid around the city, and figure out how much of it was dark.) Initially, I was told that I could pay $10,000 to get a GIS map of the data within my city - but that it would not include some federal lines, just private ones. I seriously considered paying,
  • Why would any of the Telcos (or anyone else) care that they're using public infrastructure? The current "free market" business model in the US it to get the government to pay for as much as you possibly can. Football teams get public money for stadiums, businesses that are "too big to fail" get handouts. Almost all companies use the public infrastructure. This model is strongly supported by both parties.
    • by VeriTea ( 795384 )

      You misunderstand the situation. Everything installed in the ROW is paid for and maintained by the companies that install it (phone & power are only two of the many companies that use this infrastructure). The only thing provided by the government is access to the ROW. ROW is essentially just permission to cross land, and the government taxes it just like anything else. The utility companies pay for the ROW access through taxes that are levied specifically on ROW use. The only government expenses a

      • Well, the purpose of the poster in identifing the ROW was to demonstrate the Telcos dependance on the public and so in some way pressure the them into behaving in some consumer-friendly way.

        Assuming you are correct in say that the Telcos pay fair "rent" for the ROW they use, then I'm totally confused as to the point of the exercise of identifying the ROW.

        I tend to think that the Telcos impose less on the public purse than many other companies. Suggesting that, for example, a freight company (or any r
  • The available maps of service areas, and specific locations of infrastructure, are held as potential "terrorist assets" (although, through typical "security theater," they don't bother saying how attacked on these components would be attractive to some would be terrorist, who'd be much more likely to attack and contaminate the water system).

    Basically, telcos--aided and abetted by the government--make broad and extravagant claims about coverage (why, right here where I live, the "Desolation wildnerness" p
  • The feds (US) created the map you want as part of the Federal Stimulus program (NTIA BTOP [])

    I am sure they did not get it all, because the carriers did not like to give up this information. They feel that knowledge of dark fiber would be helpful to their competitors but the feds made it a condition for the grants.

    They put some of that information on line, although not in the way you want, as the National Broadband Map. I believe they are interested in public input to this map (

  • One of the things I deal with is leases. This includes leases for Right of Way. I've worked for Verizon. I will not name any of my other past or current employers.

    Let me tell you a little secret:

    We did not even know the locations of all of our right of ways. We would find out about them when someone would bill us for them.

    • by faedle ( 114018 )

      As a technician / engineer for a regional cable company (with a LONG history in both the conventional telephone and cable industry) I strongly concur with this statement.

      Yes, the major trunk lines are probably not too hard to find. However, a good chunk of the "last mile" is a combination of utility easements on private property, "pole-sharing" arrangements with another utility (usually the electric utility), and ad-hoc informal arrangements with property owners. The latter one is especially common in rur

  • When you have succeeded in finding a few used public lands, you will become better at guessing where others might be.

  • This would make a fine layer on OSM. I had a friend who had to dig for this sort of information back when he was starting an ISP. AT&T: "you want to buy service off our fiber where? Do people actually live there? You have money? Well, OK then."

    That fiber ran along the train tracks. Local geeks just happen to walk tracks and read pull-box labels.

  • I worked as a desktop tech for one of the largest telecom companies in the United States. My job was to support all of the remote CO's in their territory.
    The redundancy of the Internet and our total telcom infrastructure is a myth. There are three locations in my state alone that would probably take out Southeastern United States. While some of you might think I'm be careless by posting with my real slashdot account I actually wouldn't mind getting a call from Homeland Security.

    There are about thirty

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