5 On Your Side

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.

Fiber installation

"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.

11 Comments

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  • Patsy Kravitz Jan 20, 5:29 p.m.
    user avatar

    I am still in dispute with Sedgewick, who manages AT&T damages. My sewer and water lines were grossly damaged when the fiber line from the street was connected to my home. I had to have a patch repair made, but it's not the long-term repair needed to put my lines in the condition they were before the breach. I am looking for someone to provide me with the inspection rules for connecting to city services. And of course there's all KINDS of excuses, playing with words, and red tape. I have video, photos and bills. If you are a plumber constructs lines for new homes, contact me. And Sedgewick wants to settle ALL with one check, so until we settle the repair terms, I'm out almost $1400 for a water bill (payment arrangements made) AND the initial "patch" repair. Help needed.

  • Matt Wood Jan 19, 10:32 a.m.
    user avatar

    They DO send notice, you just probably don't notice it because it just looks like any other junk mail post card. Even then, it just says work will be completed "soon." Both TWC and AT&T dug up my yard, though I have to say TWC actually cleaned up after themselves.

  • Katy O'Malley Jan 19, 9:35 a.m.
    user avatar

    I woke up the other day to a scratching outside my bedroom window at 8:30 in the morning. Thought someone was breaking into our house. It was AT&T moving cable lines outside the window. No notice what so ever. Even though it is nice to have the newer service then lines are all over the front of our house!! Dangerous to folks that walk their dogs.

  • David Jones Jan 19, 9:26 a.m.
    user avatar

    Who needs that speed? You will soon. Web content will continue to grow and be more speed-intensive. When cable came, people said, "Pay for tv? Who would do that?" "13 channels? Who needs that?" "36 channels? Who needs that?"

    Companies are getting out of fiber because of technological advances in cloud-based services, not because you won't need that speed.

    That said, I'm sorry they dug up your yard. I wouldn't like that either.

  • Bob Leah Jan 19, 8:52 a.m.
    user avatar

    AT&T tore up my yard twice over the summer. They never gave any notice and left our neighborhood a muddy mess. These companies are abusing easement / right-of-way laws seemingly without any consequences.

  • Andrew Stephenson Jan 19, 8:32 a.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    Heh, you say that now, but give it a few years.

    Either way though, @ $70/mo, 1Gbps for the price most people pay for 100Mbit, it's awfully nice to be "future-proof".

    I live in a new neighborhood that had AT&T Fiber pre-installed before the houses even went up, so I was lucky enough to dodge this mess.

  • Bobby Little Jr Jan 19, 7:35 a.m.
    user avatar

    Look around people. This is happening in all labor intensive industries. Including but not limited to home building. We bought a home from Meritage Homes. All kinds of problems. Substandard workmanship, especially interior. This is what happens when you hire cheap, unskilled and under qualified, and unqualified crews to do the work. Yet the owner's at the top keep lining their pockets!

  • Thomas Moss Jan 18, 11:10 p.m.
    user avatar

    I say people need to stop cry babying, This is the future and you will soon be left behind! NC is so far behind in technology just let them do there job and it will be over soon!

  • Kevin Schneider Jan 18, 7:42 p.m.
    user avatar

    They gave us no notice, painted lines alright - across my decorative border stones and bright green across my water meter. As for the holes the dug and filled in, they threw a handful of straw on them which blew away that night so now I have dirt patches across my yard. Of course no one came back.

  • Jenny Miller Jan 18, 7:30 p.m.
    user avatar

    Google fiber drilled under my neighbors driveway and now has a large hair line crack. He called them and they refused to fix the problem. Google is pulling out of the high speed internet business. What a complete waste of money---who really need all that speed??

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