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Optimum and Suddenlink Getting Speed Upgrades as Customers Demand More

Altice USA’s Optimum (formerly Cablevision) and Suddenlink are getting upgraded technology as the two cable companies face increasing demands for speed and broadband usage around the country.

“Over the last two years, the percentage of customers taking over 100 megabits of speed has risen to about 80% of our total customer base,” noted Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice USA. “Recently, we have shifted focus to growing the penetration of 200 Mbps services with about 80% of gross additions now taking these speeds or higher, reaching about half of our total customer base at the end of the third quarter, up from less than 5% two years ago.”

Goei noted that the average of all Optimum and Suddenlink broadband customers’ internet speeds has risen from 56 Mbps to 172 Mbps over the last 24 months, and this is increasing every quarter.

“Average data usage is now over 240 gigabytes per month per customer,” Goei added. “And this continues to grow over 20% per year.”

Goei

To meet growing demand, Altice USA is spending money upgrading its cable properties. The company is scrapping its coaxial cable network in the northeast and in selected parts of Suddenlink territory. In smaller communities that Suddenlink typically serves, the company will either bring fiber to the home service or upgrade the existing cable system to DOCSIS 3.1.

“The first objective is to have 1 Gbps broadband services available virtually everywhere,” Goei said. “For our legacy coax network in the Optimum footprint, we just need to do a Digital Switched Video upgrade now to move us to DOCSIS 3.1 and 1 Gbps speeds, which we can complete over the next few quarters. We just soft launched our fiber network in select areas of Long Island, and it is performing just as we expected so far, delivering a great 1 Gbps symmetrical single-play data service with the new advanced wireless gateway. The smart meshed Wi-Fi we’ve introduced is also doing extremely well.”

Goei says Optimum’s fiber network will be capable of delivering more than 10 Gbps speeds, as well as enhanced Wi-Fi, and improved system reliability.

“For the Suddenlink footprint, we already offer up to 1 Gbps services, so we will add further 1 Gbps capacity through some node splitting and CMTS upgrades,” Goei said. “We are also doing a QAM to IP migration on the cable plant to deliver future IP services. And with the move to DOCSIS 3.1, customers will have a uniform SSID across all of their devices, for an improved seamless Wi-Fi experience.”

The upgrades will mean Suddenlink customers will be more likely to receive 1 Gbps speeds even during peak usage times.

By transitioning video services away from the current QAM platform, IP video will free up additional bandwidth Suddenlink can devote to its internet customers.

Goei told investors on a quarterly results conference call that the five-year fiber upgrade project in the northeast may stretch into a sixth year due to permitting delays in some communities where Optimum provides service.

Some Wall Street analysts questioned Goei about the merits of a costly fiber upgrade, asking if it was necessary. Jonathan Chaplin of New Street Research suggested if cable systems were already capable of gigabit speed service under DOCSIS 3.1, any revenue benefits gained from offering gigabit service could already be realized without stringing fiber optic cable. Other Wall Street analysts wanted to know when Altice would deliver the next revenue-increasing rate hike on Optimum and Suddenlink customers.

The company acknowledged it lost customers after the last round of price increases last spring. Its biggest losses are coming from cord cutting. Altice saw 20,700 Optimum TV customers cancel service between July and September, with a total of 76,000 customers dropping service so far this year. But that won’t stop Altice from raising rates again. Goei anticipated the next rate hike will likely take place during the first half of 2019.

Altice USA is also working on its own cellphone service, which will be powered by its large Wi-Fi hotspot network in the northeast and rely on the services of Sprint to connect customers while away from Wi-Fi. The company did not release pricing or service information.

Altice Launches Optimum Fiber on Long Island; Gigabit Service $79.99/Month

Phillip Dampier September 11, 2018 Altice USA, Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

Altice USA this week launched symmetrical gigabit broadband over its new fiber-to-the-home network in parts of Long Island.

The cable company, which acquired Cablevision a few years ago, is gradually mothballing its part-copper wire network and going all-fiber across its footprint in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The fiber buildout will allow Altice to increase internet speeds and have more flexibility providing television, broadband, and phone service.

Where the fiber network has been switched on, customers are being offered 940/940 Mbps (near-gigabit) internet-only service at a price of $79.99 a month. Stop the Cap! has confirmed with our readers that parts of Central Islip now have gigabit fiber service available.

“Altice USA is focused on offering the best network and connectivity experience, and the activation of our full-fiber network with smart Wi-Fi, the most advanced of its kind in the nation, demonstrates our commitment to creating converged customer experiences,” said Hakim Boubazine, Altice USA co-president and chief operating officer. “Delivering our symmetrical Altice Gigabit fiber service is just the start as we continue to scale our fiber network to bring our customers up to 10 gigabit internet speeds to support the explosive growth of data usage while laying the groundwork for the future of the connected universe.”

The company is keeping its precise fiber rollout schedule a closely guarded secret, as it competes with Verizon FiOS across much of its service area. Because the fiber upgrade project will take five years to complete, existing customers still served by Optimum’s older HFC network will not have to wait to get speed increases thanks to DOCSIS 3.0. The company is introducing 400 Mbps speeds this year with gigabit service anticipated in early 2019. Altice will not deploy DOCSIS 3.1, preferring fiber to the home service as a better choice.

Dolan Family Suing Altice USA Over Layoffs at Cablevision’s News 12 Operation

Phillip Dampier September 5, 2018 Altice USA, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

The founding family of Cablevision is suing Altice USA, the company that acquired the suburban New York cable operator in 2016, for violating terms of the merger and committing fraud after laying off staff at Optimum’s News 12 operation.

This week the Dolan family — the founders and original owners of the suburban New York City cable system, filed a lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court after learning the notorious budget-slashing executives at Altice laid off dozens of workers, with plans to cut many more, despite a merger commitment to maintain at least 462 workers at the news operation and accept financial losses of up to $60 million until 2020.

News 12 is unique in the downstate New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area where Cablevision provides cable service, delivering “hyper-local” coverage of news events across individually programmed regional news stations, each targeting a different service area. News 12 was among the first cable operator-created local news operations, founded in 1986 by Cablevision founder Charles Dolan.

Over the next three decades, News 12 launched several unique channels to serve customers:

  • News 12 The Bronx/Brooklyn (shared studios/talent, but branded individually to each borough)
  • News 12 Connecticut
  • News 12 Hudson Valley
  • News 12 Long Island
  • News 12 New Jersey
  • News 12 Traffic and Weather
  • News 12 Westchester

Originally exclusive to Cablevision, News 12 has since been licensed for viewing by cable customers of Charter Spectrum, Comcast, and Service Electric across the Tri-State area. Altogether, News 12 reaches about three million viewers in the region.

The lawsuit is an effort to preserve the legacy of News 12 in light of Altice’s legendary reputation for layoffs and budget cuts.

Charles Dolan

“Unfortunately for the employees of News 12, Altice has disregarded its solemn promise to operate News 12” as promised, the lawsuit claims. “The purpose of today’s lawsuit is to enforce Altice’s contractual commitment to stand by the employees of News 12. The Dolan family intends to hold Altice accountable for commitments Altice made at the time of the sale and to protect the quality programming News 12 provides the community.”

The lawsuit alleges Altice USA already laid off 70 News 12 employees in 2017 and notified the Dolans last month it would begin laying off additional workers beginning this week, including popular News 12 anchor Colleen McVey. McVey is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The fate of News 12 was a key issue for the Dolan family during merger talks with Altice. At one point, the family demanded News 12 be spun off as an independent entity not controlled by Altice because of fears the company’s cost-cutters would decimate the news operation. Ultimately, the merger agreement contained language forbidding Altice from laying off News 12 staff except in certain circumstances. The Dolan family claims there is no justification for the layoffs. Altice disagrees, claiming the suit has no merit.

“Altice USA remains committed to offering meaningful news coverage, enhancing our news product for our local communities, and growing our audience,” an Altice USA statement said. “Under Altice USA’s leadership, News 12 remains the most viewed TV network in Optimum households. This achievement reflects the uniqueness of News 12’s hyperlocal content and the high value viewers place on news that is tailored to their neighborhoods. Local news has never been more important, and we’re proud that News 12 continues to be a trusted source of news and information in the communities we serve.”

Altice Dismisses Wireless Broadband as Inadequate, “There is No Substitute” for Wired

Goei

While Wall Street and the tech media seems excited about the prospect of 5G and other fixed wireless home broadband services, Altice, which owns Cablevision and Suddenlink, dismissed wireless broadband as inadequate to meet rapidly growing broadband usage.

“In terms of usage patterns, our customers are taking an average download speed of 162 Mbps as of the second quarter of 2018, which is up 74% year-over-year,” Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice USA told investors on a recent conference call. “[Our customers now use] over 220 GB of data per month, which is up 20% year-over-year, with 10 in-home connected devices, on average. If you take the top 10% of our highest data consuming customers as a leading indicator, they are using, on average, almost 1 terabyte of data per month with 26 in-home connected devices. To support these usage patterns, which are mainly driven by video streaming and the proliferation of new over-the-top [streaming] services, it requires a high quality fixed network like ours. There is no substitute.”

Goei argued America’s wireless carriers are not positioned to offer a credible, serious home broadband alternative.

“For example, so-called unlimited data plans from the U.S. mobile operators start capping or significantly throttling customers at 20 GB of usage per month,” Goei said. “Over 60% of our customers are now using over 100 GB of data per month right now, which the mobile operators do not and will not have the capacity to match on a scaled basis unless they overbuild with a new dense fiber network.”

Altice just so happens to be building a dense fiber network, scrapping Cablevision’s remaining coaxial cable in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in favor of a fiber-to-the-home network that will eventually reach all of its customers.

Altice-Cablevision Advertises $99 Promotion, But It Really Cost This Customer $160+

Cable and satellite companies are notorious for baiting customers with cheap offers for internet, phone, and television service and then shocking them when the first much-higher-than-expected bill arrives, but Altice’s Optimum/Cablevision takes the bait and switch promotion to a whole new level.

Jim C. (who didn’t want to reveal his last name) is a Cablevision customer of over ten years who recently saw a rare promotion targeting existing customers offering 200 Mbps internet and “Core” television service for $99/month. That was nearly $40 less than what he was paying for service, and was his chance to slim down his TV package and get a speed upgrade as well.

“I called the number to ask about the promotion because I know how these companies work,” Jim told Stop the Cap! “You always have to get them to read off the fine print because many fees and surcharges get buried there.”

Jim was right. An impatient Optimum representative was willing to admit “there are some extra fees,” and sighed as Jim asked for details. By the time Jim was finished writing them down, he needed a second sheet of paper.

“This should be illegal — it is clearly ‘bait and switch’ designed to lure you at one price and then stick you with so many fees it turns out to be not much of a deal at all,” Jim shared. “In fact, it turned out to be more expensive than what I am paying right now!”

For the benefit of customers seeing similar promotions, here is a breakdown of just some of the extra fees not included in the $99 price:

Promotion: $99 Optimum Core Double Play Upgrade (Core TV + 200 Mbps internet) for existing customers
Term: 2-year agreement, with penalties for ending contract early

Gotchas:

  • Promotion for HBO and Showtime expires after 12 months; customers pay a regular price of $14.95 for HBO and $11.95 for Showtime during months 13-24. If you want access to on-demand titles, add $4.95/mo for each premium network.
  • Cloud DVR promotion ends after 12 months; next 12 months you owe them the regular price, which is a whopping $17.95 a month.
  • Service, equipment rates and random fees are subject to tax in some areas, up to 5.3%.
  • FCC “User Fee” of $0.08/month and fees for public, educational, and government local access channels cost up to $1.35/month.
  • Mandatory sports surcharge is $7.97/month.
  • Mandatory Broadcast TV surcharge is $4.99/month

Equipment Fees:

  • Modem rental is $10 a month.
  • Altice One cable boxes needed for TV service carry a $20/month fee. “Mini boxes” are available for $10/month per TV.

That $99 promotion actually costs the average customer with two boxes at least $163.39 a month during the first twelve months, not including taxes, and assuming the customer owns their modem and has one Altice One and one Mini set-top box. During the second year, that “$99 offer” will cost customers in excess of $218 a month, assuming one keeps both premium networks and wants on-demand access as well.

“This is completely dishonest and outrageous,” said Jim. “You absolutely must pay very close attention to the fine print in these offers, because they can get very expensive, very fast.”

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  • Fred Pilot: "Rural Americans may face the consequences of any transition. They are least likely to have suitable broadband service capable of supporting DirecTV’s...
  • Matt M: Those of us in the rural areas just keep getting screwed....
  • JOHN S PINNOW: This is well and great. We went from U-verse to direct-tv and now in the next 10 years another shake up. Well I am hoping AT&T will improve its ow...
  • lakawak: First off...NOTHING is free. Spectrum's policy is just forced upgrades. Everything is built into the price already. So where Time Warner used to allow...
  • LG: Now, we need numbers aggregated with and without streaming services, since they're internet based as opposed to CATV / SAT. This difference is more i...
  • L.Nova: Nothing pleases me more than seeing Ajit Pai sorely lose....
  • JFParnell: When the Chips are Down the Buffalo moves ON....
  • Justin Trella: I guess as long as the service is stable you’ll most likely not deflect. I quick call every year or so usually gets your rates back down. If you are l...
  • Justin Trella: I imagine the reason being is it’s a technically no credit check. It’s based solely on the fact you were approved for regular services which are no cr...
  • Ian L: I live in what has to be one of the last MDUs in Austin wired for copper by AT&T rather than fiber. Until June, 50/10 was the highest available sp...
  • Ian L: I wouldn't go so far as to say "no need". FTTH has lower latency and effectively zero jitter, and cable systems today are just now catching up to the ...
  • Lee: One of two possibilities exist. The person you talked to was not correct that would happen, or they are correct and that would happen. It appears they...

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