Sandy Springs is cracking down on fiber-optic cable installations that are drawing complaints, and has launched an online map to show active fiber work in the city.

The new rules approved by City Council Sept. 6 apply to all utility permits, but are aimed at fiber brands such as AT&T and Google, which have contractors digging up streets and yards in a rapid push to build out their cutting-edge, high-speed internet and TV networks. The rules will require 72-hour advance notice to property owners, better contact information and pre-permit meetings with city staff—and will come with “aggressive” enforcement against rule-breaking, City Manager John McDonough said.

A detail of Sandy Springs’ new utility work map displaying permit information about Google Fiber installation along Windsor Parkway.

“We’ve had an arms race, if you will, with fiber,” said city Public Works Director Garrin Coleman, in a metaphor used by several city officials.

But what they described was more like trench warfare: competing companies repeatedly digging up the same streets and yards, sometimes without local notice and with shoddy restoration work. Half of the council and Mayor Rusty Paul described complaints, with Councilmember Andy Bauman saying some fiber companies are “leaving a trail of carnage” in neighborhoods.

AT&T and Google Fiber, two of the fiber utilities mentioned by name, said in statements that they work closely with cities on installation. Neither company directly acknowledged any problems.

Tom Murtaugh, co-president of the Powers Lake Homeowners Association, said in an email that AT&T fiber installation there has been damaging. “In my yard, for example, they cut the AT&T internet service line twice (a week apart), my sprinkler line, and my Xfinity line,” he said. “They have severed the water lines to at least five houses that I know of.”

Similar fiber installation problems have been reported by media nationwide, including in Austin, Texas and Raleigh, N.C. The neighboring cities of Atlanta, Brookhaven and Dunwoody have fielded complaints as well, though the amount and reaction varies, according to city spokespeople.

Dunwoody is seeing a reduction in complaints—after putting some holds on permits. Brookhaven has seen “less than a handful of warnings for minor erosion issues” and has not halted any work. The city of Atlanta works closely with Google Fiber and recently assigned an inspector specific to utility right-of-way areas.

Right of way can be a source of complaints when homeowners don’t realize they don’t have full control of that strip of land, noted Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition, who said he has helped resolve many fiber-related complaints. Another problem is when other utilities are poorly marked on old maps, which led Google Fiber to accidentally hit some gas lines in Dunwoody earlier this year.

In Sandy Springs, Coleman indicated that complaints and problems are increasing hand-in-hand with a huge boom in utility permits, as companies apparently build northward from Atlanta.

He said that at this time last year, the city had issued 193 utility permits; so far this year, it has issued 746. Constituent calls about utility work are also trending up: 545 calls so far this year, contrasting with 564 in all of 2015. Coleman said there is no data on how many of those calls were complaints—as opposed to questions or other issues—or how many were directed at specific companies.

The city has its own complaints, too. Coleman said that Google Fiber’s first permit in Sandy Springs, on Spalding Drive, was carried out by a contractor who went beyond the allowed work times into rush hour. “That wasn’t a good start,” Coleman said.

The new rules will require 72 hours’ notice to property owners—up from the current 24—which must be done with door-hanger notices. Those notices must include the permit number, the utility company’s name, a description of property owners’ rights and a 24-hour contact person.

For even more public notice, the city immediately launched an interactive map of all utility work underway or pending in the city, which is available at sandyspringsga.gov.

7 replies on “Sandy Springs cracks down on fiber cable work”

  1. Another poorly executed “improvement” in Sandy Springs.

    A water line was broken on Heards Ferry Rd this morning where they’re installing an unnecessary right turn ramp off of Raider Drive.

    Have been in SS for 38 years and have loved it for 37 years.

  2. If the citizens of Sandy Springs complain about the developments that have engulfed the city, will the City Council crack down on the developers?

  3. You guys are upset about fiber cable being installed- would you prefer we stick with copper cables?

    Should we never do any construction ever lest we offend someone?

    Ever consider country living if City life got ya down?

  4. I agree with Brett. Copper wire, even through AT&T U-Verse, is terrible (with Comcast it’s beyond infuriating). Google Fiber is finally bringing some desperately-needed competition to a industry that grossly under-performs and then overcharges for it.

    If our Internet problems weren’t so awful, I’d be more upset about the utility work. As of now, I’m miffed at Sandy Springs leadership for not working WITH these providers instead of just shutting them down because they’ve offended a few people.

    If Sandy Springs is truly interested in getting the millennial population moving into permanent residences in Sandy Springs (this “missing middle” stuff), these are the types of projects we need to be promoting.

  5. a few nanoseconds here and there and soon your talking a few seconds each day with SLOW internet,–yep. hope the millennials leave. Personally I’m more worried about spending MINUTES on Spalding drive held up by this work trying to get to my sons soccer game. Nothing wrong with country living , as long as the millennials stay in the city ……

    1. I have a hard time considering Sandy Springs “country living”. Blairsville is “country living”. Dahlonega is “country living”. Sandy Springs is not “country living”; it’s urban. If you want “country living”, you’re welcome to move out of our city. Personally, I’d prefer to share it with anyone that wants to be here. Millennial or otherwise.

      Getting Fiber here is bringing us up to par with the rest of the developed world. The minutes wasted *during the installation period* will be more than recuperated by the time saved in-home and at businesses (indefinitely) from here on out in the area that no longer have to wait seemingly-random amounts of time for their web pages to load or their business transactions to go through – and then pay exorbitant fees for the slow and inconsistent service.

      Watching TV or browsing Facebook may not be high-priority, but you can bet load-time for business’s web pages is very high-priority and is directly tied to how much they’re making (and in turn how much they can afford to pay their employees / us).

      Is tearing up the lawns of the homeowners along Spalding Drive ok? No. Of course it’s not ok. And the more time the road is torn up, the more traffic delays we all suffer.

      But is banning these utilities from bringing us the type of Internet service we should have had years ago ok? No. That’s not ok either; it’s atavistic.

      Alexander, we need a compromise that everyone can live with that isn’t simply removing the younger half of the workforce.

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