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Google Fiber Expansion in North Carolina Draws Complaints from Angry Neighborhoods

Phillip Dampier June 18, 2019 Consumer News, Google Fiber & Wireless, Video No Comments

Third party contractors hired to install fiber optic infrastructure that will deliver Google Fiber internet service in parts of North Carolina are getting an increasing number of complaints from frustrated residents upset with the pace of the work, the mess it creates, and disruptions caused when crews accidentally damage existing utilities.

In Cary, construction crews are testing the patience of residents on Kilarney Drive, who have endured multiple power outages caused by Google’s contractors digging up the streets in the area.

In one neighborhood, crews removed a section of a sidewalk and installed a utility cabinet in its path. In others, cabinets were installed on the wrong side of the street. In some areas, Google’s contractors are still experimenting with shallow dug fiber installations. Some residents reported they unearthed their underground Google Fiber connection after raking their lawns. Others claimed their home’s water service line was cut by construction crews. Last winter brought multiple outages when snowplows dragged up fiber lines buried just an inch or two into the pavement and held in place with foam.

This summer’s service disruptions are coming at inopportune times, Cary residents complain. Recently, crews mistakenly cut through cables providing power, phone, and cable service, knocking out power for four hours and cutting off air conditioning on a 92 degree day.

Watching the crews slowly move through the neighborhood also has some residents concerned.

“It took them a week or two to do a couple hundred yards,” Cary resident Ed Fillback told WRAL-TV. “How long is it going to take to do the town?”

Google Fiber officials shared a response to the disruptive work in a prepared statement.

“Building a brand new fiber network is a big and complex project, and we’re sensitive to the impact construction has on a community. We want to be good neighbors, and do everything we can to minimize disruption, respond to residents, and resolve issues quickly.”

WRAL in Raleigh reports neighborhood frustration with Google Fiber’s buildout in North Carolina is growing. (2:56)

Google Paying $3.84 Million to Louisville to Clean Up Its Aborted Fiber Build

Google’s fiber cables were buried at little as two inches deep in Louisville. Many have resurfaced, as this reporter from WDRB-TV showed in a recent report.

Google Fiber will pay $3.84 million to the city of Louisville to restore roads and damaged public rights-of-way as Google Fiber exits the Louisville market.

Installment payments made over the next 20 months will be spent on:

  • Removing fiber cables and sealant from roads
  • Milling and paving activities where needed
  • Removal of above-ground infrastructure

“Infrastructure in neighborhoods and public properties affected by Google Fiber will look as good or better than they did before the company began construction, just as our franchise agreement stipulated,” said Grace Simrall, the city’s chief of civic innovation & technology.

In addition, Google Fiber is making a $150,000 cash donation to the Community Foundation of Louisville’s Digital Inclusion Fund to support the community’s digital inclusion efforts, which include refurbishing used computers for low-income individuals and the enrollment of public housing residents in low-cost internet access through other companies providing service in Louisville. The company is also planning to make a donation of 275 refurbished computers to the Louisville Metro Housing Authority.

Last summer, Google Fiber discovered its newest underground installation method of “shallow trenching” — laying optical fiber cable just two inches below ground along the sides of roadways and covered with sealant — was ineffective. In short order, the sealant rose above the surface, often exposing fiber cables to damage from the freeze-thaw cycle, road maintenance crews, plows, or just ordinary traffic. An effort to remove and replace the sealant with ordinary asphalt and re-bury the cables appeared to fail as well. That left Google Fiber with a choice between replacing all of its fiber infrastructure, or deciding to give up and leave. It announced the latter in February, and Google Fiber was officially switched off at 11:59pm on April 15.

Simrall suggests it isn’t all bad news.

“It’s clear that Google Fiber’s presence in Louisville led other providers to step up and increase investment in Louisville, and that was good news for consumers everywhere,” Simrall said. “Moreover, we appreciate Google Fiber’s donation to our digital inclusion work, because improving equity in access to technology and digital skills is essential for Louisville’s economy today and tomorrow.”

WDRB-TV in Louisville reports former Google Fiber customers are angry about losing their internet service from the fiber provider. (2:15)

WHAS-TV in Louisville talked to residents concerned about whether the costs to repair the roads damaged by Google Fiber will be adequately covered. (1:57)

Charter Spectrum Sending Scare Letters Over Google Fiber’s Demise in Louisville

Charter Communications is sending letters to consumers in some Google Fiber cities warning that the hotly anticipated fiber to the home provider is “canceling internet service in Louisville — don’t wait to be the next city.”

But no worries, Charter adds. “Spectrum is here for you.”

Spectrum is offering consumers in cities like Raleigh 400/20 Mbps internet $29.99 a month, price-locked for three years. (Image courtesy: News & Observer)

The letter includes an offer for Spectrum’s best internet deal, available only to addresses identified as already getting high-speed internet competition from at least two other providers — 400/20 Mbps internet service for $29.99 a month, price-locked for three years. In contrast, Google Fiber customers in the Triangle region of North Carolina pay $50 a month for 100 Mbps or $70 a month for 1,000 Mbps. That makes Spectrum’s offer a better deal, with for four times the download speed Google offers on its lower-priced plan.

Raleigh’s News & Observer spoke with Joe Mancini, head of sales for Google Fiber’s Triangle region. Mancini called Spectrum’s letter a “scare tactic.” Spectrum had no comment.

The letter could connect with would-be Google Fiber customers still waiting for service. Since being announced in the area in September 2006, Google Fiber’s first target was the community of Morrisville. As of today, the service is available in selected areas as far east as downtown Raleigh, and in Chapel Hill, southern and downtown Durham, and adjacent areas. But Google Fiber still has a long way to go to reach the entire region.

Google Fiber announced it was pulling out of Louisville, Ky., after a failed experiment microtrenching its fiber optic cables just a few inches underground. That proved disastrous, with cables emerging above ground as a result of incidental digging, erosion, road construction, freeze-thaw cycles, and in some cases, pets. Realizing it would have to scrap the entire project and start anew, Google instead decided to abandon the city, switching off existing customers on April 15.

Google has significantly slowed expansion of its fiber network over the last few years, and at one point signaled its future attention would focus on urban wireless mesh technology that would work like high-speed Wi-Fi. But that project seems to be dragging as well. As a result, some consumers may worry if Google is in the broadband business for the long haul. Mancini says the company is, and has continued expansion into new parts of the region earlier this year.

“I would encourage folks to disregard this obvious scare tactic. Google Fiber is here to stay,” he said in a phone interview with the newspaper. “We love it here, and we are working harder every day to bring faster internet coverage. I am knocking on doors to talk to potential customers right now, and our customer base and the network is growing every month. We served our first customers in Chapel Hill earlier this year and downtown Durham, as well.”

AT&T and Comcast Successfully Slow Google Fiber’s Expansion to a Crawl

AT&T and Comcast have successfully delayed Google Fiber’s expansion around the country long enough to finish upgrades that can nearly match the upstart’s speedy internet service.

Nearly four years after Google Fiber announced it would offer gigabit speed in Nashville, most residents still have no idea when they will be able to have the service installed. Although officially announced in January 2015, Google has only managed to connect 52 apartment buildings and a limited number of single family homes in parts of Charlotte Park, Edgehill, Sylvan Heights, Sylvan Park, East and North Nashville, and Burton Hills. In all, less than 30% of the homes originally promised service actually have it, forcing Google to seek an extension from the Tennessee Public Utilities Board, which was granted last week.

Google’s problems originate within itself and its competitors. The company’s contractors have been criticized for damaging existing wiring, tearing up streets and yards, piercing water pipes causing significant water damage, and inappropriate microtrenching, which caused some of its fiber infrastructure in Nashville to be torn out of the ground by road repair crews.

But the biggest impediment keeping Google from moving faster is its two competitors — AT&T and Comcast, successfully collaborating to stall Google, giving the phone and cable company plenty of time to improve services to better compete. Both companies have also aggressively protected their customers from being poached by offering rock bottom-priced retention plans that some claim are only available in Google Fiber-ready areas.

“It’s still complicated,” Nashville Google Fiber Manager Martha Ivester told the Tennessean newspaper. “Building this fiber optic network throughout the whole city is a long process, and we never expected it wouldn’t be a long process. Obviously, we have had our challenges here.”

WZTV Nashville reports East Nashville residents were upset over road work related to Google Fiber that lasted for months, severely restricting residential parking. (2:37)

Google Fiber Huts – Nashville, Tenn.

Google’s ability to expand has been restrained for years, despite an informal alliance with city officials, primarily over pole attachment issues. Much of middle Tennessee is challenged by a difficult-to-penetrate layer of limestone close to the surface, making underground utility service difficult and expensive. Google’s negotiations with Nashville Electric Service (NES), which owns 80% of the utility poles in Nashville and AT&T, which owns the remaining 20%, have been long and contentious at times. To bring Google Fiber to a neighborhood, existing wires on utility poles have to be moved closer together to make room for Google Fiber. In real terms, that has taken several months, as AT&T and Comcast independently move at their own pace to relocate their respective lines.

An effort to use independent contractors to move all lines in unison — known as “One Touch Make Ready,” was fiercely opposed by AT&T and Comcast, claiming it would violate contracts with existing workers and could pose safety issues, despite the fact both companies use independent contractors themselves to manage wiring. Both companies successfully challenged One Touch Make Ready in court. A federal judge ruled that only the FCC could regulate poles owned by AT&T, while another judge ruled the city had no authority to order the municipally owned electric company to comply with One Touch Make Ready.

In August, the FCC issued an order allowing One Touch Make Ready to apply to AT&T’s poles, but NES still refuses to change its policy of relocating service lines one line at a time. The electric utility did not explain its reasons. AT&T also recently eased its position on One Touch Make Ready, but with NES still stonewalling, Google Fiber’s delays are likely to continue.

AT&T Fiber is being embraced by some customers tired of waiting for Google Fiber.

In the interim, both AT&T and Comcast have upgraded their respective systems. AT&T Fiber offers a fiber-to-the-home connection available in some areas while Comcast offers near-gigabit download speeds over its existing Hybrid Fiber-Coax (HFC) network. The upgrades have taken the wind out of Google Fiber for some tired of waiting.

Google has recently tried to speed progress using underground “shallow trenching” for installation, which buries cable as little as four inches deep. The company has amassed more than 24,000 permits to lay fiber under roads and yards in Nashville, which may speed some deployment, but for some it is too little, too late.

“It has been more than a year since we expected Google Fiber to serve us and they won’t tell us when they will get here, so I gave up and signed a two-year contract for AT&T Fiber service instead,” said Drew Miller. “Google Fiber just isn’t as exciting as it was when it was announced because other providers have similar service now and I get a better deal bundling it with my AT&T cellphone service.”

Attitudes like that obviously concern Google, as have reports that customers in Google Fiber-ready neighborhoods are getting very aggressively priced retention offers if they stay with their current provider.

“Comcast cut my bill from close to $200 to around $125 if I did not switch,” said Stop the Cap! reader Olivia. “I also got double internet speed. I don’t need a gigabit, so I stayed with Comcast. If I get close to their usage limit I will switch to Google then.”

Olivia notes her mother had exactly the same services from Comcast, but Comcast would not offer her the same promotion because she lived in an area not yet wired for Google Fiber.

With upgrades and aggressive customer retentions, the longer Google takes to string fiber, the fewer customers are likely to switch for what was originally “game-changing” internet speeds and service.

WTVF Nashville shows off Google’s microtrenching, burying fiber optic cables just a few inches underground. (2:36)

Pricing Comparisons

Google Fiber

  • Fiber 100: $50 a month, internet speeds up to 100 Mbps
  • Fiber 1000: $70 a month, internet speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, downloads and uploads
  • Fiber 100 + TV: $140 a month, internet speeds up to 100 Mbps, 155+ channels, premium channels (HBO, Showtime) available
  • Fiber 1000 + TV: $160 a month, internet speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, 155+ channels, premium channels (HBO, Showtime) available

AT&T

  • Internet-only: $50 a month for first 12 months, then $60 thereafter. $99 installation fee. Unlimited data costs an extra $30 a month. Early termination fee: $180 (pro-rated). Speeds range from 10 to 100 Mbps
  • Direct TV + Internet: $75/mo first 12 months, then $121. Customers pay a $35 activation fee and $30 a month for unlimited data. 155 channels. Speeds vary. 24 month contract required.
  • Internet 1000: $90 a month during first 12 months, then $100/mo thereafter. Bundled discount can reduce cost of package to $80-90. Up to 960 Mbps downloads. Early termination fee: $180 (pro-rated).

Comcast

  • Performance Starter: $20 a month, increases to $50 after two-year promotion. Up to 25 Mbps.
  • Blast!: $45 a month, increases to $80 a month after two-year promotion. 150 Mbps.
  • Gigabit (DOCSIS 3.1): $70 a month, increased to $140 after two-year promotion. 940/35 Mbps.

WSMV Nashville reports Google’s microtrenching has been problematic as road crews unintentionally dig up Google’s optical fiber cables mistakenly buried just two inches underground. (2:44)

Google Fiber Contemplates Renewing Expansion with Google “SuperPON” Fiber Architecture

Google may be considering renewing expansion of its fiber to the home networks with a new technology that can extend network distances and cut costs.

Telecompetitor reports Google’s “SuperPON” architecture can support up to 1,024 customers over a distance of as much as 50 kilometers, dramatically reducing the costs to lay fiber and build central switching offices to manage connections across a metro area.

Current passive optical networks (PON) can support only 64 customers over a distance of up to 20 kilometers, which means companies have to lay cables with a larger bundle of optical fibers and construct as many as 16 central offices in each metro area to support its operations. If Google can manage to reduce the size of the cable, as it can using SuperPON technology, the company can bury fiber cables using microtrenching, which costs much less than traditional buried conduit.

As a result of improved amplification technology, Google can reach many more customers over a much larger distance using a            single strand of fiber, and offer each customer as much as 10 Gbps broadband. The SuperPON technology appears to be based on Google’s Go-Long network concept, introduced in 2017.

Claudio DeSanti, an architect for Google, told an audience at the Adtran Connect conference that Google has already deployed its SuperPON technology in one unspecified Google Fiber market, and the cost savings achieved could allow Google to return to fiber broadband buildouts. Google effectively paused its fiber expansion effort in late 2016 after examining the costs and the competitive impact of cable and phone company incumbents upgrading their own services to compete with Google. To be economically feasible, a new entrant must capture a certain percentage of market share to pay off network construction costs and be seen as economically viable. Google can either grow market share or reduce the costs of network construction to keep Google Fiber tenable.

DeSanti claims reducing cable size is not only less costly, it also results in higher reliability and an easier ability to repair damaged cables. Construction and labor expenses would also be slashed because Google’s SuperPON technology only needs an average of three central offices in a metro area, down from 16 or more using traditional PON technology. DeSanti hopes the SuperPON architecture will become an industry standard, which would reduce costs further through mass production of cables and construction equipment.

After Google pulled back from its fiber expansion project, the company turned towards fixed wireless services in urban areas and multi-dwelling units, which is ongoing.

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