Kansas City Customers Consider Leaving Google Fiber After Weeks Without Internet
Google Fiber says dozens of customers remain without home internet nearly two weeks after a major winter storm knocked out service for many across Kansas City.
The company says technicians are "working night and day" to get subscribers back online, but many customers say they're fed up and that their trust in the Silicon Valley brand they once admired is gone.
"We're actively looking to switch providers," says Julie Gronquist-Blodgett. "Our experience now is counter to how I used to view Google."
She and her family, including her husband and four young children, haven't had Internet at their home in Kansas City's Brookside neighborhood since it went out early on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 12.
Gronquist-Blodgett says she and her husband have called Google Fiber multiple times and not been able to get a clear answer for why their outage has persisted, even as neighbors have had their service restored. She says not being able to watch TV, which they get through the Internet, is one thing, but their home security cameras and baby monitors also run through WiFi.
"We have a baby and a toddler, and not having that security and safety for weeks now is disconcerting," she says.
In addition, Gronquist-Blodgett says she and her husband have resorted to using their smartphones to complete work at home during the outage and have racked up $100 in overage charges, which is more than their monthly bill for Google Fiber.
"The fact that we've been without this service that's so important to us for weeks, and we still can't get through to anyone," she says. "That's not what I expected from Google."
An "Opportunity To Learn"
Google Fiber spokesperson Rachel Merlo admits concerns like Gronquist-Blodgett's are frustrating.
The storm that hit the area two weeks ago, she says, was the "most significant" weather event the company has experienced since it moved into Kansas City several years ago. That has hampered the company's ability to reconnect customers in a timely manner.
"Our network is entirely constructed of fiber cables made out of glass, which requires special training to handle and repair. And splicing fiber wires in freezing temperatures takes longer than, say, fixing traditional copper cable lines," she says.
According to Merlo, Google Fiber faced thousands of requests for service after the storm, though the company will not disclose an exact number of outages it experienced. She also says Google Fiber has brought in technicians from other cities to help restore lost service in Kansas City.
She says it has been a "learning lesson" for the company.
"We see the complaints that are getting posted online in chat groups and on social media. We live here, too. This is Google Fiber's hometown. If there is an opportunity to learn, we will take that lesson and do our best by our customers," she says.
With much fanfare, Google selected the Kansas City area in 2011 as its first location to construct a citywide network of fiber cables with the promise of delivering super-fast Internet at a lower cost than more well-established Internet service providers.
Still, telecom industry experts say Google Fiber's haltering response to winter weather this month, exposes a fundamental flaw in the company's approach. Focused on innovation, Google Fiber does not have the expertise or capacity to deal with infrastructure needs when mass outages arise.
"These kinds of things happen to utilities. This isn't an earthquake, it's just snow," says telecom analyst Jeff Kagan. "But if they can't handle this, it shows customers they aren't ready and those customers will start going elsewhere."
If that starts happening, Kagan says, it may get the attention of Google's corporate leaders in Mountain View, which have appeared in recent years to back off efforts to expand Google Fiber.
"Companies don't want their brands tarnished. If they want to stay in the telecom sector, then they better get serious," Kagan says.
Google Fiber still has enthusiastic backers in City Hall. Assistant City Manager Rick Usher says Google Fiber has "changed the conversation" in Kansas City and fulfilled its goal of forcing other local Internet service providers to increase speeds and lower costs in order to compete.
Still, he says Google Fiber's recent response to weather-related outages raises questions.
"If they have a customer service problem, they need to fix that," Usher says.
But customers like Julie Gronquist-Blodgett aren't holding their breath.
She says Google Fiber's customer service began "going downhill" long before this latest storm and that this most recent trouble feels like part of a longer-term trend. That's disappointing, she says, considering she and her husband were some of the first Kansas City residents to sign up for Google Fiber.
"Part of the reason we did was we really trusted Google and liked the services they provide that make people's lives better," she says. "Our experience now runs very counter to how high I used to view them."
On a Saturday two weeks after their Internet first went out, Google Fiber had set up an appointment to check the fiber cable in Gronquist-Blodgett's backyard. But, she says, she won't hold out hope.
Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.