RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There’s a race to get people faster internet at cheaper prices, but that promise is coming at a cost.
Google and AT&T are rolling out high-speed fiber optic cable in cities and towns across the Triangle and in some cases causing some expensive damage.
“Installing a new utility from scratch is a hugely disruptive process. There’s no way to get around it,” explained Bo Ferguson, deputy Durham City Manager.
CBS North Carolina Investigates found hundreds of complaints have been made in Raleigh and Durham about the networks’ installation.
Most complaints are from people who are upset about damage to their yards, but it doesn’t stop there.
One homeowner tells CBS North Carolina workers destroyed half of his driveway.
“Things like irrigation systems, invisible fences, they’ve hit a lot of water lines in the city that we’ve had to go out in fix,” explained Ferguson. “They’ve hit gas lines that will shut down a neighborhood so we’ve seen all the types of destruction you can think of when a lot of digging is going on.”
A public records request found more than 430 complaints have been filed against AT&T and more than 70 against Google in the city of Durham.
According to the City’s consulting firm, Google tries to handle their own customer care and AT&T does not, thus the difference in the numbers.
Google did tell the City’s consulting firm they represent 10 percent of the complaints submitted in Durham
“There’s a lot of digging, a lot of construction and a lot of people don’t know understandably that the first feet of their yard is the public right of way that can be used for this,” said Ferguson.
The City of Raleigh is seeing similar issues since construction started.
A request for records found 200 complaints filed with the city since July.
So, who’s paying to fix all these damages?
Durham said they often pay for the repairs and later bill the subcontractors who are doing the work.
“Up through August, the City had billed AT&T and Google in excess of $50,000,” said Ferguson.
CBS North Carolina found one of those subcontractors, Bechtel Associates Professional Corp, has already been billed for more than $20,000 in damages in Durham alone.
CBS North Carolina Investigates went to the Betchel office in Morrisville but refused to comment and we were turned away by the property manager.
Google fiber is currently planned for the following Triangle areas: Morrisville, Garner, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham and Carrboro.
AT&T is bringing its fiber network to over 150,000 locations in the Raleigh-Durham area.
In a statement obtained by CBS North Carolina, Josh Gelinas, director of Corporate Communications at AT&T Inc. said:
“We work closely with city officials to ensure our work is done in a timely and orderly fashion. Our contractors are trained to obtain proper permitting, closely follow local construction codes, and abide by rules governing rights-of-way and property easements.
We place door hangers at each residence and place signage within subdivisions to identify what’s taking place and how to reach us in the event of an issue. We track damages and other issues and review performance with our contractors performing the work. As we identify poor performers, we cull those out. AT&T’s goal is to minimize impact on residents before, during and after construction and to keep them informed through a variety of means throughout the network expansion process.
We are constantly collecting data and reviewing our processes to evaluate our efforts. We make changes as needed to ensure improvements in the process, for AT&T and our utility partners. We work with excavators, other utility owners, locaters, and state and local municipalities to identify best practices and to better train our own forces, that of our contractors, and their sub-contractors.”
A Google Fiber spokesperson released a statement saying:
“Google Fiber is building one of the biggest and most complex infrastructure projects in Triangle history. We want to be good neighbors, so we’re doing everything we can to prevent unnecessary disruptions and resolve issues quickly. We take all construction-related incidents very seriously, and we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.”
Despite the number of complaints, many people tell CBS North Carolina they are happy with how their complaints were handled by their city.
Ferguson said the City will try to help homeowners who feel their complaints were not properly handled by the networks.
Durham has set up a website for anyone with questions.