Georgia’s Public Service Commission is investigating a contractor hired by Google Fiber to install its optic cables underground.
Since last July, the contractor, S&N Communications, reported 36 incidents of damaging utility lines.
“Years ago, telecom was telephone, and then we came back with cable, and now there’s internet and fiber, so there’s a large volume of telecom products under the ground and they are continuing to be installed as technology advances,” said Meghan Wade, director of communications for Georgia 811, a nonprofit that coordinates all of the state’s digging requests for homeowners and companies like Google Fiber.
State law requires individuals digging with any equipment with a motor on it to call 811 and submit a locate request. Utility companies then come to the scene to mark where utility lines are located.
In the first quarter of this year, compared to last year, the utility company Atlanta Gas Light, said there has been a 67 percent increase in reports of damaged natural gas lines in its service areas.
Atlanta Fire Department Sgt. Cortez Stafford said sometimes they respond to five calls in one day.
“Due to the amount of crews digging and boring in the Atlanta area, there has been a significant increase in our number of emergency responses to gas leaks,” Stafford said. “It’s a pretty severe incident because with that amount of gas flowing, if it ignites, then that could start a fire in another location.”
Stafford said some of these crews are operating boring machines to install fiber optic cables for companies like Google Fiber.
He said the drills are hitting gas lines that can range in diameter from 1 to 4 inches. They can be high pressure lines or supply lines that feed off to other feeder lines.
“We respond to contain, evacuate, cordon off and control the spread of the gas leak if possible. We also stand by in case of fire related to the gas leak,” Stafford said. “Atlanta Gas Light also responds to the incident. They are the experts on capping off the gas line and have an emergency response team to fix the damaged line.”
The Public Service Commission is potentially looking at fining crews up to $10,000 for each incident of a damaged utility line.
But the commission acknowledged it’s hard to determine sometimes who’s really at fault since contractors like S&N Communications will sometimes hire subcontractors to do the work.
S&N Communications and Google Fiber did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.