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In late January 2015, Google executives took to a Raleigh stage with then-Gov. Pat McCrory and the mayors of seven cities and towns, celebrating the fact that Google Fiber was coming to the Triangle. And it has. Just not nearly fast enough for some of those on that stage.
At the time, Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said he expected his town to reap significant economic advantages from the high-speed network.
"Garner is already home to a number of tech and other 'creative class'-type businesses," he said. "Google Fiber will generate much more buzz about Garner among the creative classes - especially given our proximity to downtown Raleigh."
It hasn't done anything of the sort in Garner. In fact, city officials tell us no fiber lines have been laid down by Google since the announcement was made.
"It wasn't an agreement, it was a promise," Williams said when the I-Team asked what he thought of Google's progress nearly three years later. "It reminds me of the little girl told she was going to get a Cinderella doll for Christmas. Christmas rolls around, she doesn't get it. So when I say, 'It wasn't an agreement, it was a promise,' the promise wasn't carried forward. I don't know what they did in the rest of the county but we think they didn't do us right - yet. They may have a plan, I don't know."
Records obtained by the I-Team show the last communication between Google and the town of Garner was back in May after the company canceled a permit request with the town.
An email from a Google representative explaining that the company would be switching contractors, putting the project in a state of limbo.
"We feel like we held up our end of the bargain," Williams complained, "and still nothing from Google."
Additional records requests from other towns that were promised Google Fiber connectivity in January show a similar history; not much connectivity to the company after the announcement was made.
In some areas, Google has made significant progress. In fact, the company recently celebrated what it called its first "Fiberversary" in the Triangle in Morrisville. It's also been installing fiber lines in Durham, Cary and Raleigh.
Asked about the company's progress, a Google spokesperson emailed us a statement saying, "Since Morrisville, we've expanded our network to parts of Cary, Raleigh, and Durham, with more neighborhoods coming online as fast as we can every month" and directed us to this blog which alludes to the company's "first Gigabit community in Raleigh to provide free gigabit access to public-housing residents, with more to come as our network expands."
The same blog also refers to Google Fiber's efforts to "invest with a variety of partners such as the Kramden Institute, Triangle Literacy Council, and the Girl Scouts of the Coastal Pines to impact the digital divide in a meaningful way." It doesn't expand on what that means or how the partnerships work.
Despite Google's reluctance to offer details about the status of its fiber projects in the Triangle, the I-Team was able to learn more about Google's progress through the municipalities themselves.
Along with Morrisville, where Google first laid down fiber lines, Raleigh may have seen the most expansion. Noah Otto, Raleigh's Right of Way Manager for Development Services, told the I-Team that, while there has been a slowdown in permitting applications during the past few months, Google is still expanding its network in the city and has completed work on five connection points (Huts) throughout Raleigh, each capable of connecting with 22,000 homes, including:
- Chowan Circle @ North Hills Park
- Wade Ave @ Hymettus Ct
- Leesville Road @ Oneal Rd
- Southall Road @ Castlebrook Dr
- Rock Quarry Road @ Friendly Trail
Otto also said the company has active building permits in Brier Creek and the Inside Wade development off Edwards Mill Road. Unlike officials in Garner, Otto told the I-Team that Raleigh officials have been meeting regularly with Google team members and are being kept in the loop regarding the company's plans.
According to Scott Clark, Chapel Hill Chief Information Officer, there's been some building in the city, but because of expansion in nearby Durham. Scott said the connection points and permits the city had granted Google were pulled about a year ago (or allowed to expire) when Google changed its strategy. Since then, he said Google has been responsive but hasn't shared additional expansion plans.
Andy Vogel, Carrboro's Information Technology director, gave us one of the most expansive responses detailing what's happening in his town:
"Early 2014 - first heard Google was interested in coming to the Triangle and that included the Town of Carrboro. This turned into an announcement (January 2015) that they were definitely coming and to what cities/towns. Carrboro was very excited to be included in the list. Google Fiber informed the Town that they would first be building a fiber ring or backbone (through the Triangle) that included Google Fiber Huts in various locations along this fiber ring path (each fiber Hut would supply Internet connectivity to up to 22,000 households approximately). Carrboro was to receive a Google Fiber Hut. The Google Fiber buildout initially began across all locations at once.
"April 2016 - Carrboro Hut Agreement Completed and Google Fiber Hut construction began and is now complete.
"October 2016 - Alphabet (Google Fiber's parent company) revised Google Fiber's game plan. The Town of Carrboro was told that Google Fiber would be concentrating on a sequenced buildout where they would bring certain cities/towns online first and then move to another group of cities/towns. It was mentioned that Google Fiber would concentrate on the Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville areas and then move west to Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro (as I understood it?). Google Fiber told the Town of Carrboro that they were still fully committed to providing Google Fiber in Carrboro, but it would simply now take longer to do so. They could not give us any dates.
"Our last sit down and in-person update was in April of 2017 and they continue to respond to email and phone call inquiries when we have them (nothing different there). Google is always very respectful and helpful. Google Fiber still says they are committed to coming to Carrboro and our residents are very much still looking forward to Google Fiber coming. They have not given us any dates."
Durham officials provided us with the most detailed understanding of how much fiber has been laid down. City spokesperson Amy Blalock offered the following information about Google Fiber and AT&T fiber lines:
Miles Permitted/Inspected to Date
- Google Permitted = 438 miles / Google Inspected = 192 miles
- AT&T Permitted = 798 miles / AT&T inspected = 790 miles
Locations of Installations to Date
- Google Fiber has primarily installed from downtown Durham to the southern / eastern / western city limits
- AT&T has primarily installed all throughout the city limits
Blalock also told the I-Team that the city isn't aware of any Google Fiber work being done currently but told us AT&T is "working on their last few permits which are near the north side of Duke University." She directed us to this website for updates on Google Fiber in the Bull City.
Officials in Garner wanted to make sure ABC11 viewers understand that Garner is still in the high-speed game, despite Google Fiber's delayed rollout.
"I think, for us, the main point is that Garner will wind up with super-high-speed, fiber Internet service with or without Google," said spokesperson Rick Mercier. "Other players in the market will fill the vacuum if Google doesn't come to Garner. And, as I indicated in that email last night, AT&T is already seizing on the opportunity and is teaming up with our Economic Development Department to promote their service while we get to promote our premier industrial sites for development."
Mercier also pointed out that "AT&T is moving ahead aggressively to work with our Economic Development Department to promote AT&T Fiber Ready sites for industrial development. We have two here in Garner - the Garner Technology Center (the old ConAgra site, which we're trying to redevelop) and a portion of Greenfield Business Park."
Mercier steered us to the city's website for more information.
Jerry Jensen, the Director of Transportation in Cary, told the I-Team that Google scaled back its original plans of building "five or six" connection points in the town down to two.
He said he thinks the company has begun signing people up and connecting homes, but that they've had some encroachment and right-of-way issues. Jensen said Google is "trying different trenching techniques to lay fiber and minimize impacts to property owners. We've done a half dozen pilot projects with them but that's it for this year."
Scott Clark, Director of Information for the town, told the I-Team that of 39 permits Google Fiber had originally applied for, the company had canceled 26. In the other 13, permits were issued and the work was completed. But Clark said Google, so far, had not connected any homes in Chapel Hill. "They brought service to a couple neighborhoods," he said, "but have not made the final connections."