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FTTH Engineering and Installation Introduction Whitepaper

By Dean Mischke, P.E., V.P.

Grounding and bonding. Why are we worried about such an “old school” concept in the modern world of broadband? In my research for this topic, I have reached the conclusion that just about everyone has an opinion about grounding and bonding, and most are wrong! With recent changes in the 2011 National Electric Code (NEC) and the 2012 National Electric Safety Code (NESC) and the significant amount of rewiring taking place at the customer premise, grounding and bonding has shown to be an important item to consider in every new broadband installation. For the purpose of this paper, I would like to define grounding and bonding to refer to the process of bonding a communications system within a building to the building electrical supply system to insure that both systems have a common ground reference point. I would also like to point out two caveats: the views represented in this paper are my opinions of what the codes state and the example I have presented is very limited in scope to keep the length of the paper manageable. In evaluation of your specific question, you will need to make sure that every reference is chased through to a conclusion before making a final decision.

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The 2011 NEC is administered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NEC covers premise wiring, and there is a new edition every three years. The NEC is the code that people are going to be judged by. Regardless of what you do in terms of the local standards, everything refers back to this document. The NFPA is already in the process of writing the next edition of the NEC, but the comment period has already closed. There are some problems with it that they are trying to correct, but we are stuck with them for this particular period. One is that there are some inconsistencies that exist between the NEC and the NESC. For more information, go to: asp?DocNum=70

The 2012 National Electric Safety Code (C2-2012 NESC) is administered by the IEEE and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It covers utility transport and distribution networks. There is a new edition every five years (with the next one being due in 2017). For purposes of this discussion, the NESC is of minor importance, but it still is important because of a change they made that impacts grounding and bonding at the premise. For more information, go to:


Grounding and bonding serve three functions:

  • The primary function of grounding and bonding is the protection of the customer and maintenance personnel from lightning, induced voltages, or direct contact with electrical supply circuits.
  • The secondary function is to reduce the amount of damage to the equipment from lightning, induced voltages, or direct contact with electrical supply circuits. However, there are actually some things we will do to protect the consumer that may actually increase the potential for damage to equipment, but that’s just the way it is.
  • The third function is to comply with NEC and NESC, which are eventually adopted by most states. For example, my state is in the process of reviewing the codes, but has yet to adopt either the 2011 NEC or 2012 NESC. However, as an engineer, I use the most conservative version of the code which most often is the latest version.

Now that we understand that grounding and bonding at the premise is required for FTTH systems, let’s take a look at some of the key points.

Starting with the NESC, there is a new NESC Section 2 definition that needs to be considered:

  • Effective Ground/Effectively Grounded: Bonded to an effectively grounded neutral conductor or to a grounding system designed to minimize hazard to personnel and having resistances to ground low enough to permit prompt operation of circuit protection devices.

This definition is important as the NESC has added the following sentence to Rule 091 Scope: “For rules requiring conductors or equipment to be effectively grounded, methods described
in this section shall be used and the definition of effectively grounded shall be met.” The net result of the definition and added sentence means that even if you follow the letter of the code and your system is not effectively grounded, you are not meeting the requirements of the code.

A major change in the NESC regarding grounding and bonding of customer premises is found in NESC Section 9 (“Grounding Methods for Electrical Supply and Communications Facilities”), Rule 99 (“Additional Requirements for Communication Apparatus”), Part (B) (“Electrode Connection”) which states that a communications grounding conductor shall not be less than #6 AWG; however, owner preference may be larger. Part (C) (“Bonding of Electrodes”) states that bonds between the communication grounding electrode (ground rod) and the electrical supply neutral rods shall not be required to be greater than #6 AWG. As noted earlier, there are some inconsistencies between the NEC and the NESC. One of these is that the NESC requires a #6 AWG for a grounding conductor, whereas the NEC allows as small as a #14. As a matter of course, I standardize on #6.

Continuing with the NEC, a key term change in the NEC is found in the Informational Note at the beginning of Article 800 where the term “grounding conductor” has been replaced by “bonding conductor” or “grounding electrode conductor” where applicable. However, this change has caused some confusion. The correct term to use depends on the application. For example, as shown in Informational Note Figure 800(a), if you have a basic system where you are simply grounding communication equipment to the power service entrance equipment, you are using what is called a “bonding conductor.” The “grounding conductor” is what goes between the service equipment and the ground rod or electrode.

As shown in Informational Note Figure 800(b), things can get a little confusing. This note shows two separate systems, a communications system and an electrical system, each with their own ground rod. The conductor placed from each system to its ground rod is called the grounding conductor while the conductor placed between each ground rod to commonly bond the two systems is called the bonding conductor.

What happens in the code is that they use the two terms interchangeably, so you must remember which scenario you are deploying and which conductor you are referring
to so that you know which term applies. The easy way to remember is that a “grounding conductor” always ends up at your grounding electrode. A “bonding conductor” ends up on someone else’s grounding electrode.

“Copper communication circuits” are defined as low voltage communication circuits, including voice, audio, video, data, interactive services, alarm, etc. The rules governing grounding and bonding of copper communication circuits are dependent on how the service is derived.

When the 2011 NEC first came out, it caused some confusion in the industry. Historically, if you were in telecommunications, you started your analysis of the code at Article 800, CATV started at Article 820, and figured out how to resolve your issue from there. What has changed is that, with the addition of Article 840, you actually have to look at how your service is being derived to determine which article to start with.

You can get different results, depending on where you start.

The easiest way to determine where to start is to look at how the building is served. If the communications service is derived from:

  • A copper service derived in another building, start with NEC Article 800.
  • A Coaxial CATV plant, start with NEC Article 820.
  • A Network-Powered fiber-fed device, start with NEC Article 830.
  • A Premise-Powered fiber-fed device, start with NEC Article 840.


Once you select your starting point, you will need to follow the Article through to its conclusion to make sure nothing is missed. Unfortunately, since Articles 830 and 840 reference Articles 250, 770, 800, and 830, determining grounding and bonding for FTTH systems requires attention to detail. There are a number of ways to “chase” a solution through the code. Below, I elected to use the method that involves following a lead through to a conclusion, even though it means diving into another Article in the interim, to reach that conclusion. In this case, since we are interested in premise powered FTTH systems, we will start with Article 840, shift to Articles 770 and 800 part way through, and then return to Article 840.

Article 840 is new for 2011 and is the starting point for premise-powered optical fiber broadband systems that provide any combination of voice, video, data, and interactive services through an ONT. As stated in Article 800.100, grounding and bonding for the ONT would be relatively straightforward if it were not for Article 840.101 which discusses grounding bonding of the ONT for systems that are entirely contained in a building. Key statements in Article 840.101 include:

840.101: Premises Circuits Not Leaving the Building. Where the ONT is served by a nonconductive optical fiber cable, or where any non-current-carrying metallic member is interrupted by an insulating joint or equivalent device, and circuits that terminate at the ONT and are completely contained within the building (i.e., they do not exit the building), 840.101(A), (B), and (C) shall apply, as applicable.

840.101(B) Communications Circuit Grounding. Communications circuits shall not be required to be grounded.

840.101(C) ONT Grounding. The ONT shall not be required to be grounded unless required by its listing. (The rest of the lead paragraph of this Article was not included.)

To begin this discussion, I would actually like to start with the lead sentence of 840.101(C). The listing referred to is the ONT’s Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing requirements the manufacturer must follow when deploying the product which spells out, among other things, how the ONT shall be grounded and bonded. The nuance of this listing is there tends to be two types of UL listings for ONTs. To simplify the discussion, let’s call them “outdoor” ONTs and “indoor” ONTs.

Typically the weather-hardened outdoor ONT is designed to be mounted in a shell on the outside of the building. All outdoor ONTs are required to be grounded/bonded to the electrical system of the building as per the requirements of their UL listing. This applies regardless of whether the ONT is installed indoors or outdoors. In fact, what trips some people up is that many outdoor ONT have mounting brackets that allow you to install the ONT indoors without the shell. However, unless it has a separate UL listing for that purpose, and I have yet to find one that does, you still have to follow the outdoor ONT bonding and grounding requirements.

The indoor ONT, which typically looks like a DSL modem or a cable TV modem, is not hardened for use on the outside. Interior ONTs typically are not required to be grounded/ bonded per the requirements of their UL listing as long as Articles 840.100 and 840.101 are followed correctly.

The next main item that needs to be considered is Article 840.101 and to determine if a system is entirely contained within the building. We will leave the grounding and bonding of the fiber for the discussion on Article 770 and move into the definition of what is defined as “completely contained within the building (i.e., they do not exit the building)”. In discussion with NFPA, even if the ONT is in a shell and the cable entering the building are within conduit, they still consider the ONT to be outside of the building and subject to grounding and bonding. The discussion becomes even more interesting when you have a dielectric fiber feeding an ONT installed within the building and none of the wire leaves the inside of the building. In this case, then the system is considered to bto a brand new house your staff wired with no wiring on the outside, so you don’t ground and bond the system. However, a few years later, the owner decides they want an extra data connection upstairs in the bonus room they finally decide to finish and the only way to reach the new room is to punch out through the wall, go up under the siding, and then back inside. e completely isolated from external sources of power (lightning and AC Power) and is not required to be grounded or bonded to the power system. But as a service provider, you now have a very difficult dilemma. Let’s start with an easy example first. You are asked to provide FTTH If it stays underneath the siding, is it still considered in the building? More typical is the installation of FTTH to the average house where you re-use the existing CAT3 wiring for voice and you rewire the existing data network with CAT5 wiring to support the new IPTV and data network. How do you determine if all of the wiring is within the building or is some of it hidden under the 20 layers of paint? In the first example, NFPA was reluctant to provide an opinion as to whether wiring under vinyl siding is still considered contained within the building. In the second case, the wiring is clearly outside the building, and it will be very difficult to find all of the outside wiring runs and eliminate them. So to the dilemma: Is it possible to have a FTTH system entirely contained within the building and who is responsible, if at a later date, wiring is found to be ioutside the building and there is a property damage or injury problem? Every FTTH provider will need to establish a procedure of how to manage this issue.

Moving on: “Communication circuit grounding” is not required (as per 840.101(B)) unless the communication circuit goes to the outside of a building. In such a case, Article 840.90 (which references Article 800.90) will apply. If the circuit stays within the requirements of Article 800.90 (Information Notes 1-3), then the circuit does not need primary protection.

Finally, even if we meet all of the requirements of using an indoor ONT and keeping the wiring entirely within the building, there is one last item to check. If the coaxial cable is used, and if it is grounded as described in 840.101(A)(1) or 840.101(A)(2), the ONT can be connected with a plug and cord (as per 840.101(C)). Where it is required to be grounded, and the ONT is grounded to a receptacle, the size of the grounding conductor is specified in 250.122.

If your ONT installation does not meet the requirements of Article 840.101, then we move to Article 840.100 (“ONT and Fiber Cable Grounding”) which notes that services voice/ data and video must comply with rules in Articles 770.100 for the fiber, must comply with 800.100 for the copper communications cables, and must comply with 820.100 for the coaxial cables.

NEC Article 770.100: Entrance Cable Bonding and Grounding discusses grounding and bonding of the metallic members of the fiber cable serving the ONT. The methods used for grounding and bonding metallic members of the fiber optic cable are identical to the methods set in Article 800.100, so I will cover them there. One item to note is that Article 770.93 allows you to isolate the metallic members of the fiber cable, which may be advantages in some instances.

NEC Article 800: Copper Cable within Building: Article 800.100 (“Cable and Primary Protector Grounding”) notes that grounding and bonding of the metallic member(s) of the cable sheath were required by Section 800-93, and primary protectors shall be grounded as specified in (A) through (D) below.

(A) Grounding or Bonding Conductor (1) listed and insulated, covered or bare

(2) copper or other corrosion-resistant conductor, solid or stranded

(3) of a size not less than the current carrying capacity of the sheath or current carrying conductors, but not less than #14 AWG, and shall not be required to exceed #6 AWG. (Note: The 2012 NESC will call for a #6 in all cases. I would recommend that you use a #6 as standard practice.)

(4) of a length less than 20 feet. (Runs that are greater than 20 feet require a ground rod as identified in 800.100(B)(2) and bonded to the service entrance ground rod with a #6 conductor as specified in 800.100(D).)

(5) run in a straight line

(6) protected from damage.

One question I commonly get is, “We can’t get to power within 20 feet, so we will place a ground rod for the communications system and then run a bonding conductor between the two grounding systems. Do we need to place a ground rod every 20 feet?” I believe the answer is no, based on Article 800.100(A)(4) which established the need for a ground rod if the bonding conductor will exceed 20 feet and then references you to Article 800.100(D), which states that you must use a #6, but 800.100(D) has no reference to any additional ground rods beyond those required in Article 800.100(A)(4).

(B) Electrode. The grounding electrode shall be connected as follows (as per 800.100(B)):

(1) In buildings with an Intersystem Bonding Termination if available

(2) In buildings without an Intersystem Bonding System, but with grounding means to the nearest accessible location on the following:

(1) The building structural grounding electrode system as covered in Section 250.50.

(2) An interior metal water pipe (I do not recommend this solution as it may be metal today and at the next remodel, plastic.)

(3) The power service accessible means external to enclosures as covered in Section 250.94 Exception.

(4) Metallic power service raceway. (I do not recommend this solution as it may be metal today and at the next remodel, plastic.)

(5) The service equipment enclosure.

(6) The grounding electrode conductor or the grounding electrode conductor metal enclosure of the power system.

(7) To the grounding conductor or the grounding electrod of a building or structure disconnecting means that is grounded to an electrode as covered in Section 250.32.

(8) In buildings without any grounding means, you can connect to an electrode as defined in Article 250.52(a) or place your own ground rod. Please note that if there is an electrical system in the building, you will need to bring both systems to the same ground potential.

(C) Electrode Connection. Connections to grounded electrodes shall comply with Section 250.70.

(D) Bonding of Electrodes. A bonding jumper not smaller than #6 AWG shall be connected between the communications grounding electrode and power grounding electrode system.

As you can see, following all of the rules can be very complex with a lot of items that need to be considered in the grounding bonding system at the premise. Following are some practical ideas to help with practical applications – what works and doesn’t work. Keep in mind the idea of any ground system is to create a ground that actually lasts and meet the three primary objectives identified at the .beginning of the paper. While the NEC gives you a lot of choices as to the destination of your grounding conductor (Article 800.100(B)(2), some will last better than others. Make all attempts to ground the communication system with an insulated #6 AWG conductor in order of preference as follows:

1. Clamp to the service entrance grounding electrode conductor or ground rod. Note: You cannot cut the service grounding conductor to install your ground!

2. Clamp to the service entrance box inside the premise.

3. Clamp to the metal aerial or buried electrical service entrance mast. It is important to clean contact points down to bare metal to ensure a good ground. Then, repaint if required after the clamp is in place.


If you use #3, you have to prove that the masts are metal. We have seen mast and meter assemblies with metal on the top and plastic on the bottom. The bonding and grounding contractor placed their clamp below the meter socket, attaching to the plastic.

Do not use exposed conduit or copper water pipe. With the increasing use of plastic in the electrical and plumbing industry, neither grounding point can provide a reliable ground reference. While the ground may work today, there is no assurance that plastic will not be used in the future, breaking the communication ground path. In other words, what is metal today may be plastic tomorrow. For example, I was working in one city where they had a beautiful four-inch cast iron water main coming into a large building surrounded by concrete and I was considering using that pipe as my primary ground. When I asked about using the water main and explained the reason, the building owner replied that the City had just redid the water system a year earlier, and three feet out of the building, the pipe transitions to plastic!

Always place a permanent tag at the point connection with the electrical ground. The tag should contain the following information:

– Communication Ground: Do Not Remove.”

– Company Name

– Trouble Report Telephone Number.

Be wary of some of the grounding clamps that may be on the market today. I have seen several clamps that attach to the outside of the meter box with UL listings that claim to be solutions for creating grounds. The clamps work by grinding chew through the corrosion protection to get to bare metal as they are tightened. However, in some states, these clamps are illegal. In addition, most electric companies frown on clamps, because they violate the rust-protection of the meter boxes.

I have also seen an Intersystem Bonding Terminal that is designed to screw on to the front cover of a service entrance box using one of the cover screws. It is UL listed; however, I do not recommend allowing this clamp since the notes for NEC 800.100(B)(2) specifically state that the bonding device is not allowed to connect to any removable part and cannot be installed on the door or cover, even if the cover is not removable.

Proper grounding and bonding of FTTH systems at the customer premise is still very important in order to protect life, property, and your equipment. Has your company reviewed your grounding and bonding procedures to bring them into the Broadband Era?


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