Cost of progress: Gas, water lines cut, holes left behind in fiber installation
Posted January 18
Cut water lines, no power, gas leaks – these are just some of the issues that homeowners across the Triangle have reported as more and more communities upgrade to offer faster internet speeds using fiber optic cable.
Forty percent of the reports of utility line damage across North Carolina last year were related to fiber installation, according to North Carolina 811, a nonprofit that tracks excavation activity.
Lynn Stellings, of Raleigh, said contractors for Google Fiber moved equipment into her yard without any notice.
"I asked, 'Excuse me, do you have the wrong house? What's going on here?'" she said.
"Out of the blue, it started to dig in our yard – a huge hole."
The crews then added a big box at the end of her driveway.
"I'm afraid my visibility will be severely impacted by a huge cabinet right there between me and the street," she said.
The answer she got: "Well, it's where Google wants it."
In Cary, Lydia Voorheis said she woke up to the presence of fire engines.
Contractors installing fiber lines ruptured a gas line near her home.
Kathy Alexander said a huge hole sat unfilled in her front yard for weeks.
"AT&T came, they began the repair, but they didn't complete the repair and then everybody just kind of moved on," she said.
Eventually, it was filled, but 5 On Your Side still hears other complaints about holes left in yards, broken utility lines and a lack of notification when work will start.
Crews are supposed to give written notice three days in advance. A door hanger is sufficient. Also, they should mark utility lines on the surface with bright paint.
By law, they are allowed to work on what seems like private property. In reality, they are working in what's called the easement or right-of-way. That's property that the owner may maintain, but the government and utilities have the right to do work there. The right-of-way typically extends 10 feet into the property.
Workers are supposed to restore any property damage and refill holes within a few days of construction.
The Town of Cary requires the fiber companies pay a bond. They don't get that money back until any work and repairs meet town approval.
At one point, the City of Durham had so many complaints about AT&T that they refused to issue any new work permits until problems were corrected.
Spokespeople for both AT&T and Google say the companies regularly meet with local leaders.
Josh Gelinas, of AT&T, said in a statement, "We work hard before, during and after construction to minimize impact on residents and to keep them informed ... "We’re reviewing this communication to better ensure it clearly communicates forthcoming activities. Additionally, we’re working with our contractors to retrain and refresh their crews on the procedures for marking utilities and the importance of avoiding potential disruptions."
Greg Behr issued this statement on behalf of Google Fiber: "We’re doing everything we can to prevent unnecessary disruptions and resolve issues quickly. Google Fiber and our contractors take all construction-related incidents and feedback very seriously."
In communities where the companies compete to offer internet service, the digging projects can add up.
"First one and then the other, well, that's special," Voorheis said.
And AT&T and Google technicians can only fix their lines, even if they damage the line of another company.
Homeowners with complaints should first reach out to the company. If that doesn't work, take it to the town government.