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Spectrum: No, You Aren’t Getting Automatic Credit for Hurricane Outages

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Charter’s Spectrum customers will be waiting a long time for service credit if their cable service has been out as a result of the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

The cable company, while trying to fend off increasing criticism for its mysterious service restoration effort, is also in no mood to compensate customers for weeks-long outages, unless they specifically ask.

The Orlando Sentinel has joined the story the Miami Herald started writing a week earlier. Customers are not impressed with Charter’s response to Hurricane Irma and they want a refund and some answers.

The cable company, which dominates the central Florida cities of Orlando and Tampa that used to be Bright House Networks’ territory, is being blasted for “vague repair timelines” and a bad attitude.

The Sentinel:

Bob Rader went without service for a week after the storm ripped through the region early Sept. 11. Adding to the 80-year-old’s frustrations are the tough time he has had getting answers from the company, he said.

“At first, they made me feel optimistic because they seemed to know there were people in my neighborhood without service,” he said. “Then, every other time, I got wrapped into a maze of telephone button punching.”

Spectrum representatives have made it clear the only way customers are going to get credit for service lost during Irma is if they contact the company and ask for it, which is easier said than done.

Jenny Paterson told Stop the Cap! she has tried to call more than a dozen times, but the hold times are so severe, she is afraid her cell phone battery will die before she gets to talk to anyone.

“I am not using my minutes up waiting on hold with them and they never call you back,” Paterson claims. “I’ve tried just about everything and the local cable store wants you to call in too.”

Customers claim seeing one of these trucks is a rarity in central Florida.

She has been without service for more than a week and “nobody knows nothing about anything,” in response to questions about when she’ll get her service back.

“The impact of this monster storm was felt across Florida and in some areas worse than others,” Charter spokesman Joe Durkin offered shortly after the storm.

“Obviously,” responds Paterson. “I could tell you that. But what Mr. Durkin and I share in common is the fact neither one of us have any idea when the company he works for might be by my neighborhood to take a look and fix things. We’re more likely to spot a UFO than a Spectrum truck around here.”

The Sentinel notes a lot of business customers who bought Spectrum’s “business class” service are now regretting it as outages cost them customers.

Bob Patterson, who runs a Sunoco gas station in College Park, estimates he has lost $10,000 because customers leave when they find out he can only accept cash. His credit card terminals, which depend on Spectrum’s internet service, are not working. He has made an effort to collect some credit card numbers from customers and manually process the transactions from his home at the end of the night, but that isn’t a good substitute for a difficult situation.

What infuriates Patterson, who is not related to Ms. Paterson, is that the cable company is rubbing salt in his wounds.

“It doesn’t work all week, then you call their number and it says the best way to reach them is on the Internet,” said Patterson. “But guess what? We don’t have any Internet.”

Oddly and without any explanation, the FCC stopped asking utilities to report their outage numbers related to Hurricane Irma on Sept. 18, despite the fact its last report on that same day indicated at least 893,409 customers were without cable or phone service because of Irma. With the FCC no longer releasing outage data, service providers have refused to pick up the slack, claiming outage details are “proprietary business information.”

UAE Leads With 93.7% of Homes on Fiber Internet; U.S. Lags at 13.1%

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

The United Arab Emirates now has the highest penetration of fiber optic broadband in the world, according to data from the FTTH Council Europe.

At least 93.7% of UAE homes are now hooked up to fiber-to-the-home internet service, and the country’s largest provider — Etisalat — promises it will spend millions more to further expand fiber connected home broadband and mobile services across the country.

In contrast, the United States has only wired 13.1% of its homes to fiber broadband, 11.8% in Canada. The countries with the highest percentage of fiber connections are the UAE, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan.

According to the World Bank, broadband internet is today seen as critical to the transition to knowledge-intensive economies across the world. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are accelerating their fiber broadband programs, believing the technology will prove transformational to remake or build their economies in a digital world. As many first world countries’ telecommunications networks are captive to large, for-profit corporate interests that have dragged out broadband expansion to protect profits, the developing world has a chance to leapfrog over countries in North America and Europe and launch new connected technology centers for the digital economy.

For the UAE, fiber optic broadband is a critical part of the country’s Vision 2021 strategy to invest vast sums in infrastructure and development programs to diversify the country’s economy away from its dependence on oil and gas reserves and guarantee future prosperity.

Verizon Abandoning Copper Network in Multiple Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Cities

Phillip Dampier September 21, 2017 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon No Comments

Verizon Communications will decommission its existing copper wire facilities in multiple markets in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia starting in 2018.

In a series of requests filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Verizon is asking to compel customers to switch service to Verizon’s FiOS optical fiber network or find another provider. While Verizon’s fiber network has a better reliability record than Verizon’s deteriorating copper facilities, some residential customers may be compelled to pay more for FiOS service than they used to pay for landline and DSL service over Verizon’s copper network. Their phone service may also no longer work in the event of a power failure.

“We will offer the service at a special rate for customers who migrate from copper to fiber as a result of the retirement of our copper facilities,” Verizon said, but the company did not guarantee that rate would not reset to regular priced FiOS service down the road.

Businesses may also have to invest in technology upgrades to switch to fiber optic service when Verizon pulls the plug on copper-delivered services.

The wire centers (central offices) where copper decommissioning is planned are disclosed in these company documents (click on links below to see if you are affected):

DELAWARE

MARYLAND

MASSACHUSETTS

NEW JERSEY

NEW YORK

PENNSYLVANIA

RHODE ISLAND

VIRGINIA

 

Gov. Cuomo, NYC Mayor de Blasio Join Striking Charter Workers After 6-Month Impasse

Phillip Dampier September 20, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

Gov. Cuomo speaking at rally in support of striking Charter/Spectrum workers. (Image courtesy: IBEW Local 3)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined thousands of union workers in Brooklyn and Manhattan on Monday to support the workers’ six-month impasse with Charter Communications.

“We do not accept a greedy corporation trying to undercut the most basic rights of working people,” Mayor de Blasio said in Manhattan, referring to Charter and its CEO Thomas Rutledge, the country’s highest paid executive in 2016, earning $98 million.

“We’re going to demand respect for the blood and sweat of the workforce,” Cuomo said in a speech to workers at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park, on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. The rally was attended by Charter strikers and several unions in solidarity with the cable company workers.

Nearly 1,800 Charter employees belonging to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 3), walked out in late March after Charter sought to kill their pension plan and move them to a less generous health care plan. They have been on strike ever since, with no sign of progress towards ending the action.

“Screwing over workers and customers seems to be a hallmark of Charter Communications’ business model,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in an earlier statement. “Charter has disrespected workers in New York who remain on strike fighting for the freedom to negotiate together to maintain their pensions and health benefits. They also continue to disregard their customers’ needs by hiking rates while providing sub par service. This is not the way to run a company, and we support all the working people standing up to these corporate bullies.”

“Charter is offering Local 3 a generous compensation package that includes an average 22-percent wage increase — some employees up to a 55-percent wage increase — and comprehensive retirement and health benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6 percent of eligible pay,” counters Charter spokesman John Bonomo.

Spectrum customers in Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, and Queens are decidedly caught in the middle, enduring more than 130 outages — some taking out service for hours, as a result of alleged repeated vandalism the company suspects is caused by striking workers. But the union notes Charter’s replacement workers are often unqualified, some taking hours to manage repairs that would “take us 10 minutes.” When Charter doesn’t have enough workers on hand to manage a repair, they call in third-party contractors. Some of them were on hand to deal with fiber optic cable cuts that took out Spectrum service for tens of thousands of customers, often in Queens and Brooklyn.

A June outage lasted almost an entire day after contractors took more than 16 hours trying to splice a cut fiber cable. Police sources blamed the striking workers.

“We would never condone that,” on-strike Spectrum technician Ray Reyes told WCBS. “We would never do that.”

A Charter employee picketing a Spectrum store.

Before the strike, Charter claims there have been only five fiber-related service outages in the last few years. Since the strike began, the company claims it has experienced 137 outages it attributed primarily to vandals. Some customers and small business owners are losing whatever sympathy they had for the striking workers.

Restaurant manager Samantha Phe has to turn away customers using credit cards every time her Spectrum internet service goes down and she is tired of being in the middle of a labor dispute.

“I think that’s a little unfair to the community,” Phe told the TV station. “Say if your company isn’t doing well for you, you’re trying to punish someone else who didn’t do anything to you.”

Many reporters in New York are barely hiding their disdain for the union and strikers, presumably because they have been affected by repeated outages as well. WCBS political reporter Marcia Kramer avoided talking to union workers in a recent report, but shouted questions to the mayor about what he feels about cable outages. She also talked to small business owners upset about the service outages.

Business owner Anthony Velez was emblematic of the level of frustration being experienced by Spectrum customers enduring repeated outages:

Velez owns Bagriculture, which was unable to conduct business when the service went out. He was also unable to access his security system, and he is furious that Cuomo and de Blasio are supporting the workers and ignoring his plight.

“I don’t think that shows the right ethics that we would look for in our mayor, or a governor,” he said.

He said politicians treat business owners as “little invisible people.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of people who care about small business owners,” Velez said.

But not all reporters are siding with Charter.

In response to a statement from Charter blaming an outage in mid-September on “the latest round of criminal destruction of our network,” Select/All reporter Jake Swearingen asked, “Why do they always attack the aging internet infrastructure that’s been systematically underfunded for years in order to line shareholders’ pockets!

WCBS-TV political reporter Marcia Kramer took some heat over her alleged pro-Charter positions in this story about the rally. (1:36)

N.Y. Settles With Charter Communications; Rural Expansion Website Now Available

New York residents can click the image above and input their address and see if Charter’s expanded service area will include their home or business.

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) today announced approval of a $13 million settlement agreement with Charter Communications after the cable company failed to build-out its cable network as required in last year’s approval of Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. The $13 million settlement is the largest cable company financial settlement of its kind in state history and possibly the largest in the nation’s.

“In its approval of the merger, the Commission required Charter to undertake several types of investments and other activities,” said Commission Chair John B. Rhodes. “While Charter is delivering on many of them, it failed to expand the reach of its network to un-served and under-served customers at the pace it committed. We are taking these additional steps to ensure full and complete compliance.”

Charter Communications was required, as a condition of approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable, to expand its broadband service to 145,000 unserved/underserved homes and businesses in New York over the next four years. Rural broadband expansion was one of the conditions Stop the Cap! recommended to the New York regulator in our testimony regarding the merger proposal.

In the first year, Charter failed to meet its buildout requirements, only reaching 15,164 locations — less than half of the 36,250 it agreed to serve by May, 2017. The cable company first tried to blame utility companies for dragging their feet allowing Charter to place its cables on their utility poles, an argument that failed to impress the PSC. Even if utility companies instantly cleared the way for Charter, the cable company admitted it would not be ready to proceed because of necessary preparatory work needed to begin the buildout.

As a result, Charter has been forced to place $13 million in an escrow-type account that New York can tap into in amounts of up to $1 million increments to penalize the company for further delays. Charter can win back all $13 million if it stops missing its six-month buildout targets. Each time it does miss a deadline, the State reserves the right to withdraw funds in amounts that will vary based on the seriousness of the violation. Some forfeited funds will be used to acquire computers and internet training for low-income New Yorkers. The rest will be channeled into New York’s general fund.

Charter’s new targets require the company to expand its cable service in increments of 21,646 homes over six periods through May 18, 2020.

Many rural New Yorkers with no access to broadband service have complained Charter has not been forthcoming about whether the broadband expansion will reach their individual home or business, so the cable company has also agreed to launch a new website where New Yorkers can input their home or business address to learn if they are included in the broadband expansion. Charter warns that inclusion on the build-list database is not a guarantee that a home or area will be actually be reached.

“Build plans, timelines, and all other information provided are subject to change and areas designated for build may not be built,” the website states.

Charter is also required to deliver broadband speeds up to 100Mbps statewide by the end of 2018 — something the company has already accomplished in almost every part of the state where it provides service. The company is not subject to broadband rate regulation, and Charter charges a $199 setup fee for customers who seek to upgrade to speeds in excess of 60Mbps (except in former Time Warner Cable Maxx service areas, where 100Mbps is already the standard broadband speed). Charter must also make 300Mbps available to all New York residents by the end of 2019, something the company will likely achieve in most parts of the state sometime late next year.

Charter Communications is by far the largest cable company serving New York State. The company provides cable television, internet and telephone service in the major metropolitan areas of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and parts of Brooklyn. Cablevision, now owned by Altice, covers the other boroughs and Long Island, as well as part of the Hudson Valley and Westchester County.

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