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GOP Rival for Governor of New York Backs Charter Spectrum; Calls Cuomo “Putin on the Hudson”

Molinaro

Charter Communications has found itself an ally in Marc Molinaro, Republican candidate for New York’s governor, who attacked Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday for ordering the removal of Spectrum from New York State.

“We’ve got a megalomaniac on our hands, a veritable ‘Putin on the Hudson,'” Molinaro charged, defending the cable company for being attacked by the governor and “his surrogates” for political purposes.

Cuomo “put his thumb on the scale of a major PSC decision,” said Molinaro. “I think Andrew Cuomo got furious with NY1 News and effectively pulled the plug on an entire cable system as punishment to NY1, and as a warning to others he can affect who dare to ask him tough questions.”

Molinaro has repeatedly claimed the Public Service Commission is in the back pocket of the governor’s office.

Cuomo vs. NY1 – Spectrum’s 24-hour news channel in New York City

Molinaro’s campaign has been critical of an ongoing spat between the governor and reporters from NY1, Spectrum’s 24-hour news channel in New York City.

Earlier this month, Cuomo bristled at a question about improper campaign contributions from Crystal Run Healthcare, a health insurance provider in Middletown. NY1 reporter Zack Fink asked if the governor was considering returning those contributions and launching an internal investigation.

Gov. Cuomo

GOV. CUOMO: […] If the ongoing investigation finds any fraud, then as we’ve always done, we will return the donations. That’s standard operating procedure. We’re doing it in this case; we’ve always done it.

But speaking of fraud, Charter Spectrum has been executing fraud on the people of this state. They were given a franchise for a very specific set of conditions. It is a very valuable franchise. Many companies could have been given the franchise. Charter Spectrum said that they would increase cable access to the poor and rural communities around the state. That was the condition of them getting the franchise. I promised this state 100% high-speed broadband. Why? Because high-speed broadband is going to be the great equalizer, the great democratizer.

Whether you’re a business, an individual, you’re going to need high-speed broadband to be competitive. Charter Spectrum defrauded this state. They are defrauding consumers. Charter Spectrum is running ads that say we are ahead of schedule and at no cost to the taxpayer. The Public Service Commission said they’re behind schedule, not on schedule, and certainly not ahead of schedule. And to say it is no cost to the taxpayers is also a fraud, because that’s the condition upon which the taxpayers gave you the franchise. So you are defrauding the people of this state. That’s a fraud.

Fink

ZACK FINK (NY1): You said the PSC is looking into new operators. Is it the PSC’s place to do that or is it the market’s?

GOV. CUOMO: Are you speaking on behalf of Charter Spectrum or yourself?

ZACK FINK (NY1): No, I’m just asking a question. You brought it up so I’m curious. You said Friday that the PSC was looking at potential new operators.

GOV. CUOMO: Well, the Public Service Commission is saying that Charter Spectrum violated their franchise agreement. If you violate your franchise agreement, then you lose the franchise agreement and then they would have to find another operator without disruption to any of the consumers or the good workers of Charter Spectrum.

Viewers of NY1, a Spectrum News channel, never saw this exchange, which was widely covered elsewhere by the New York media. Viewers also didn’t see an on-the-record call-in by the governor made later than day to NY1’s newsroom to discuss the exchange. News of the call leaked after nobody at NY1 would publicly discuss it or why the news channel refused to air it.

Cuomo’s opponents on both his left and right criticized the governor over his treatment of the NY1 reporter.

“I’ll come right out and say it. It looks to me like Andrew Cuomo is trying to send a chilling message to the news media, ’don’t mess with me’, and I hope the inspector general can prove me wrong,” Molinaro said in a statement.

This week, Molinaro turned up the heat by claiming the governor was “acting more like a third-world dictator trying to intimidate the news media into dropping stories than an elected democratic leader who respects the First Amendment and has nothing to fear from it.”

Cynthia Nixon, running for the Democratic nomination to the left of Cuomo politically, claimed his chastising of NY1 reporters was out of line, resembling how Donald Trump treats the press.

“Cuomo can’t hold himself up as New York’s answer to Donald Trump, and simultaneously threaten members of the press for doing their job,” Nixon said, asking the governor to apologize.

Cuomo’s spokesman Rich Azzopardi claimed the ongoing criticism of Charter is nothing new for Gov. Cuomo.

“The governor answered his question and made the same statement that he has made to Charter Spectrum reporters and reporters statewide numerous times over the past few months, communicating the facts of the state’s two-year dispute with Charter for failing to serve the citizens of the state,” Azzopardi said.

Cuomo has made offhand remarks about Charter since the company replaced Time Warner Cable in 2016. He criticized NY1 and other Spectrum News stations around the state for not covering the IBEW strike against the cable company or a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general over the cable company’s failure to deliver on advertised broadband speeds.

“They virtually blacked it out,” Cuomo said of Spectrum News during a press event held on the day the PSC voted to drop Charter as a provider in New York.

Azzopardi also denied Molinaro’s accusation that the governor was involved in the PSC’s decision to force Charter to leave New York and dismissed the Republican opponent for spreading unproven “conspiracy theories.”

Cuomo is widely expected to be re-elected, with both Nixon and Molinaro running significantly behind the governor in polls. The primary is on Sept. 13.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses Charter’s broken promises to New York State during a visit to Rochester, N.Y.  (Courtesy: Democrat & Chronicle) (2:28)

Charter Spectrum Refuses to Air Political Ad Slamming Spectrum for High Rates

Brindisi’s ad has been “censored” by Charter Spectrum.

A Democratic candidate running for Congress in central New York cannot get his 30-second ad slamming New York’s biggest cable company on Spectrum’s cable channels.

Anthony Brindisi slammed Charter Communications for “censoring” his campaign by refusing to air his latest ad which claims Spectrum has almost doubled its rates since taking over for Time Warner Cable and has broken its promises to the state. Brindisi also accused his Republican opponent — incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney — of siding with the cable company, and “voted to give the company a $9 billion tax cut while they were raising our rates.”

The fact that Brindisi opens his ad claiming, “if you’re watching this ad on Spectrum cable, you’re getting ripped off,” may have been partly responsible for Charter’s refusal to air his ad.

“The ad did not meet our criteria,” said Maureen Huff, a spokesperson for Charter Spectrum.

Rep. Tenney

But the ad is not factually inaccurate, just hyperbolic. Many Spectrum customers complained about steep rate increases switching between their original Time Warner Cable plans and new plans offered by Spectrum. Some customers needed to upgrade to higher tier cable TV packages to keep channels they would otherwise lose and the company’s ongoing digital conversion convinced many customers they needed to rent set-top boxes for every television in their home, at a substantial cost.

Brindisi’s claim that “Claudia Tenney’s campaign is bankrolled by Spectrum,” is slightly misplaced, although Charter Communications has spent $5,000 on contributions to her campaign in 2017. In fact, Comcast is her third largest contributor, spending $12,900 on her campaign so far during the 2017-2018 election cycle. The Koch Brothers, a cable industry ally, comes in fourth.

Brindisi hoped to air his ads in the Utica and Binghamton markets through Spectrum, but will have to spend more buying time on over the air channels. He says he doesn’t like Spectrum’s stranglehold on local views aired on cable channels.

“It’s a scary precedent for them to be setting just because I’ve been a vocal critic of the company,” Brindisi told the New York Times. “I don’t think I should be precluded from informing the public about their practices here in New York State and letting people know that, at the same time they are raising your cable rates, they are a big beneficiary of the tax bill and a major supporter of my opponent.”

Watch the 30-second advertisement Charter Spectrum refused to allow on its cable channels. Anthony Brindisi is a Democratic candidate for Congress in central New York (30 seconds)

National Grid Banned Charter/Spectrum Workers from Its Poles Over Safety Questions

National Grid, the electric and gas company that owns the most utility poles of any company in upstate New York, banned Charter Communications workers from its poles for most of July after a third-party contractor working on behalf of Spectrum electrocuted himself and died.

The New York Public Service Commission went public with the utility company’s ban as part of last week’s 4-0 decision to cancel Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications’ Merger Order.

“The result of this tragic incident was the issuance of a statewide stop work order from National Grid, the largest pole owner in Charter’s territory,” the Commission wrote. “This prohibition remains in effect as Charter has persistently delayed in providing National Grid and the [PSC] responses to requested actions and information necessary to ensure safe and adequate service. As a result, Charter remains unable to install facilities anywhere in National Grid’s service territory. This incident remains under investigation as do wider safety issues associated with the company’s buildout.”

Syracuse’s Post-Standard newspaper reported the contractor, James R. Fogg, 39, of Fairfield, Maine worked for S.G. Communications, a contractor hired by Charter Communications to perform tasks it outsourced from its own technician and installer workforce.

Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

According to state police, on July 11 at about 4:36 p.m., Fogg was running Spectrum cable lines in Yorkshire, Cattaraugus County in southwestern New York when his truck’s extendable bucket or a tool Fogg was using made contact with National Grid’s electric lines, located at the highest point on the utility pole. Cable and telephone lines are placed lower on utility poles. Fogg was electrocuted by a high voltage line. Paramedics from Delevan Emergency Medical Services performed CPR before transporting him to Bertrand Chaffee Hospital in Springville, where he later died of his injuries.

One day later, National Grid issued a statewide stop-work ban on Charter Communications and its contractors. The newspaper reports National Grid wanted the cable company to explain what happened, why it happened and how the company will prevent such an accident from happening again. The PSC claims for much of July Charter failed to offer National Grid a satisfactory explanation, which effectively left company technicians forbidden to climb National Grid-owned poles statewide for three weeks.

The utility lifted its ban on Tuesday, hours after the newspaper contacted National Grid and Charter about the incident.

Charter claims it is looking forward to resuming network build-out activities in National Grid areas, but National Grid warns if another incident similar to the one on July 12 occurs, it can reinstate the ban on the cable company.

Not Without My Refund! N.Y. Assemblyman Demands Spectrum Issue Rebate Checks

Before Charter Communications is shown the door and exits New York (if Charter loses its anticipated legal action against the state), it should be required to issue refund checks to every subscriber in New York to make up for a series of broken promises.

State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) has sent a letter to Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood and New York Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes demanding the cable company pay up before transitioning service to another provider.

Brindisi claims Charter’s Spectrum failed to provide promised internet upgrades, has not met its obligation to improve customer service, and is charging even higher rates than its predecessor, Time Warner Cable.

Brindisi is also concerned Charter’s required transition plan may well be redacted by the company. He wants the transition plan made public, with ample opportunity for New York residents to participate in a discussion about which cable company ultimately replaces Spectrum (again assuming the company loses its legal action).

Here is Brindisi’s letter:

Dear Ms. Underwood and Mr. Rhodes:

I am writing to you as a follow up to the order issued by the New York State Public Service Commission on July 27, 2018 to revoke the 2016 merger agreement between Charter Communications, Inc. doing business in New York as Spectrum, and Time Warner Cable, Inc.

This order is truly in the best interests of New York residents.  For two years, I have received  literally hundreds of emails, letters, and petition signatures from constituents who have endured frequent, often unexpected rate hikes, and who have watched flashy ads from Charter promising lightning-fast internet speeds, as they can barely pay bills or send emails through 1980’s-era infrastructure that has not been improved.

Brindisi

I am respectfully asking that you collaborate to work on a three-point plan that addresses concerns I continue to hear from Charter’s cable and internet customers, as well as from the employees who work for the company.  The following is my proposal for consideration by consumer and utility regulators:

Charter should provide reasonable compensation in the form of rebate checks to its customers who have received cable rate hikes significantly above the national average for cable rate increases, which was 5.8 percent from July, 2016 to July, 2017.

Customers with internet service from Charter who never received promised service upgrades should receive compensation in the form of rebate checks from the company.

Any company petitioning the PSC to pick up Charter’s internet, cable, and phone service should pledge to negotiate in good faith with unions representing workers, and should agree not to cut vitally needed pension and health care benefits for workers.

The rate increases Charter customers received shortly after Charter’s acquisition of Time-Warner’s system have been staggering.  One constituent in Utica was billed $91.92 for cable services in January, 2017—and in March, 2018, his bill was $129.26 for exactly the same service.  Another constituent from Rome told me that she paid $108 a month for cable, internet, and telephone service in May, 2016—about the time Charter took over for Time Warner.  By April, 2018, her bill was $200.  These are increases many times the national average, all under the guise of ‘expiring promotional packages’

These cable rate hikes are just as serious a problem for consumers as Charter’s failure to live up to its promises to upgrade its broadband.  Many of the consumers I have heard from are seniors on fixed incomes who depend on cable and internet for information and to communicate with family members.  They should be compensated for what clearly is blatant overcharging.

Thank you very much for all you are doing to protect New York consumers, and for your concern about this issue.  If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call.

Sincerely,

Anthony Brindisi
Member of Assembly

(Thanks to Todd N., a regular Stop the Cap! reader, for sharing the story.)

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge Tells 11,000 New York Employees Not to Worry

 

Addressing New York State PSC Actions

Sent to all employees in New York State.

On Friday, the New York State Public Service Commission accused Charter of failing to live up to our commitment to deploy broadband across the state. They have threatened a number of actions against us, including revoking our right to operate in New York State. I want you to know we take the comments seriously, but believe the New York Public Service Commission is wrong in multiple respects. We intend to defend our rights to the fullest extent of the law and will pursue all avenues for overturning and preventing implementation of the New York Public Service Commission order. There may be years of litigation before we prove that we have done what we said we would. If we can’t settle this in the meantime, it is important that we continue to live up to our obligations and to perform well.

Charter continues to grow in New York State and across our footprint, providing our customers with world-class products and services. Our day-to-day focus on excellence and craftsmanship remains the same. We are going to continue serving New Yorkers, bringing them faster speeds and in some communities, high-speed broadband for the very first time. Because of your hard work and dedication, Spectrum has extended the reach of our network to more than an additional 86,000 New York homes and businesses since our merger agreement with the PSC. We’ve raised our starting broadband speeds to 100 Mbps across the state (and to 200 Mbps in some markets), and are poised to launch Spectrum Internet Gig across our entire New York State footprint by the end of 2018, which is well ahead of schedule.

We are 11,000 employees working in New York and serve millions of customers in the state every day. Thank you for everything you do, day in and day out, that makes Charter such a great company. You can continue that good work with confidence that there is a Charter team handling the New York PSC matter.

For more information about how Charter is building out New York, please visit https://www.spectrum.com/ny

Tom Rutledge
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

(Special thanks to Stop the Cap! reader Juanito who passed along a copy of this internal company memo.)

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