Fiber optic fiasco: Man says work for AT&T led to sewage spreading inside home

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 7:15 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2021 at 8:27 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A James Island man says he feels “betrayed” after an attempt to reinstall an AT&T fiber optic line led to his home’s sewage system being in shambles.

“I didn’t make this mistake,” Chad Brandenburg said. “I didn’t destroy my house.”

Brandenburg says that while crews were working in a trench in his backyard on Oct. 25, his sewer line was damaged, causing a maintenance mess that is still impacting him and his family.

He said that the issues with the sewer line caused a “catastrophe” inside his home for days, with sewage ending up all over the floor, in the drywall, and even coming out of his washing machine.

“It was disgusting,” Brandenburg said. “I was appalled to even have that in my house.”

After he realized that the sewage situation might be connected to the fiber optic work, Brandenburg, an AT&T internet customer, thought that a call to the Dallas-based company would allow for the issue to be promptly resolved.

Instead, he says that he ended up having to make dozens of calls, eventually learning that it would take days for someone to even come to his property to survey the damage.

“I was pretty much stuck with my hands tied behind my back,” Brandenburg said. “It’s pretty brutal.”

Brandenburg took this picture of the sewer line cut into two pieces with the thin fiber optic...
Brandenburg took this picture of the sewer line cut into two pieces with the thin fiber optic line lying on top.(Chad Brandenburg)

Contractor Concerns

Although the fiber optic work was being conducted for AT&T, it is unclear which company employed the crews who were on Brandenburg’s property when the sewer line was damaged.

AT&T has not yet responded to questions from Live 5 Investigates seeking the names of the contractors involved in this case along with answers as to when repairs will be made at Brandenburg’s house.

However, in a statement, an AT&T spokesperson wrote in part, “We instruct our contractors to follow all necessary procedures to have utilities located before they begin work. In this case, we have been working with our contractor to investigate and make repairs to the customer’s satisfaction.”

Weeks after the maintenance mess began, Brandenburg received an email from a claims manager for a company called UniTek Global Services that associated UniTek’s CI Services subsidiary with the project.

“CI Services is the company that had the responsibility for arranging for burying the ATT [sic] Fiber Drop at your address,” the email stated.

Brandenburg says that he feels “helpless” and that given the number of parties involved, it is unclear where responsibility lies for paying for the cleanup of his house.

He explained that a plumber quoted him $2,900 for immediate repairs, but he was able to install a few immediate fixes around the house himself. A complete fix would cost more than $17,000, according to Brandenburg.

“It should have been taken care of immediately,” Brandenburg said. “I’m left to do it all on my own.”

Taylor Anderson, a West Ashley attorney who is not representing anyone involved in this case, says that situations of this sort can quickly become complicated.

“I don’t think that in many instances, the company is going to come out there and fix the problem when it’s happening,” Anderson said. “You are more than likely going to have to incur those expenses because you can’t just sit and let your house fill up with sewage.”

Arbitration Limitations

There are few ways for homeowners to protect themselves from circumstances like this, according to Anderson, who explained that customers often have little leverage when negotiating with large corporations.

“One problem is the telecommunication provider is not going to negotiate with you on what is included in their contract. It’s going to be given to you on a take it or leave it basis,” Anderson said. “You can either sign it with their arbitration agreement and with all the language that’s in it, or you can not have cable.”

Arbitration clauses can place limits on how consumers attempt to seek recourse from companies that they feel have done them wrong, but Anderson says they have become a common sight in everyday contracts.

Brandenburg’s internet contract with AT&T includes an arbitration agreement that waives his right to a jury trial or a class action lawsuit, though he has not yet attempted to enter the arbitration process.

The Future of the Sewer

Three weeks have gone by since the date when Brandenburg says these issues all began, but the trench remains in his backyard and his home is still in need of major repairs. Brandenburg has been in communication with AT&T and UniTek, but says that he does not know if, how, or when these sewage issues will be resolved.

“I’m not asking for millions of dollars,” Brandenburg said. “I’m just asking for the mistakes to be fixed.”

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