Farmers should seek updated easements for rural broadband
By Doug Anderson
May 15, 2019
There is a long, constructive history between Farm Bureau and rural electric cooperatives. County Farm Bureaus were instrumental in supporting the expansion of electric service in the 1930’s and 1940’s to rural areas of our counties. Farm Bureau continues that support today, as rural electric cooperatives begin to use their assets to expand rural high-speed broadband internet into the areas they service. The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Illinois Farm Bureau, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have all made expansion of rural broadband a priority for 2019.
Locally, the Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative (WWCEC) has announced a partnership with two other local cooperatives, Hamilton County Communications and Wabash Telephone Cooperative, to use WWCEC’s electrical distribution poles to expand fiber optic broadband into rural service areas. By running the fiber above ground, the cooperatives will see a 75% cost savings compared to burying the same fiber optic line underground. Without these cost savings, many members in our rural areas will never see quality broadband service.
While Farm Bureau supports the broadband expansion efforts of our local cooperatives, the Wayne County Farm Bureau has also expressed some concerns to WWCEC on two areas with the project.
First and foremost, Farm Bureau has long-standing policy positions that support the private property rights of landowners. These rights include requiring an accurate and up-to-date easement for any utility that is wanting access to the land. Most easements in the WWCEC territory DO NOT allow for telecommunications lines to be installed. The easements only allow for electrical service. Therefore, it is imperative that landowners insist on new easements before they allow fiber optic lines to be installed.
The second concern the Wayne County Farm Bureau has expressed to WWCEC is the issue of clearance. The National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) requires that vertical clearance over farm field access roads be at least 15 feet 6 inches for neutral or communication lines. However, if they are accessed by “oversized vehicles” such as a combine, then the minimum clearance is 17 feet. WWCEC has indicated that their engineers will work closely with Wabash Telephone and Hamilton Communications to address any clearance issues at field entrances. This may include replacing old poles with taller poles or requiring that they bury the fiber optic line across the field entrances. While burying the line would address the clearance issue, it could result in disrupted and damaged tile lines. In addition, clearance adjacent to the road may not allow for combine unloading to a truck parked on the road.
Both the clearance issues and the burying of cable across field entrances should be addressed in the new easement. Most landowners in Illinois own the land from their field to the center of the road. Easements are granted for road use and separately for each utility service. WWCEC has indicated that their agreements with Wabash Telephone and Hamilton Communications require new easements. However, it is up individual landowner to negotiate a fair easement for use of their property prior to fiber optic installation. If you do not insist on an updated easement, you are giving away your property rights and leaving your property open to other companies who would like to use your property without your permission. Without an easement, the utility is essentially trespassing on your property.
Farm Bureau is supportive of the efforts to expand rural broadband, and we strongly encourage landowners to work with our rural cooperatives to allow them access to your land for fiber optic installation. Don’t forget, that this is your land they want to use; and we fully support your right to an easement to allow them to use it. Always have an attorney review your easement before you sign it. Yes, this will cost you a small amount of money in attorney’s fees; but it will protect your property rights now and for generations into the future.
If you have any questions regarding this issue or need assistance in locating a qualified attorney to review your easement, contact the Wayne County Farm Bureau.