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New Hampshire’s Attorney General Resolves Comcast and Consolidated Communications Complaints Quickly

Frustrated New Englanders that can’t get anywhere dealing with Comcast or Consolidated Communications’ customer service are getting fast fixes in New Hampshire by taking their complaints to the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division of the attorney general’s office.

Jim Boffetti, in charge of that division, says his office receives 4,000 written complaints and 7,000 calls a year about consumer issues, a not insubstantial number from residents upset with their local cable and phone company.

New Hampshire is dominated by Comcast for cable service and Consolidated Communications for telephone service. Boffetti told The Laconia Daily Sun the two companies are familiar to staffers, responsible for more than 250 complaints for the phone company since Consolidated took over for FairPoint last year and 561 “racked up by Comcast” since 2009. Boffetti’s theory of how these companies handle consumer complaints is partly based on wearing customers down.

“The hassle factor is enormous,” he said. “It’s just the way these people do business.”

Boffetti doesn’t believe the number of complaints is unusual either, “considering the business that they’re in.”

Boffetti

Although the New Hampshire regulator cannot usually intervene to set prices, change conduct, or force resolutions, most telecommunications companies fear riling up state or federal regulators. Those government officials can potentially return “the favor” of years of arrogance and condescension when a company needs state or federal approval of a merger or permitting issue.

Only a small percentage of consumers realize they can file complaints with private groups like the Better Business Bureau, state officials like an attorney general or telecommunications/utility regulator, and federal agencies like the FCC. In every case, companies assign their best representatives to handle those complaints in an effort to protect their reputation.

When consumers file complaints with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, the office forwards them to a designated person or department at the provider. Comcast and Consolidated assign senior level customer service departments to specifically handle these types of complaints. The representatives are given wide latitude to settle problems quickly and quietly — often refunding large sums of money, extending generous service credits, resolving ongoing service problems, or waiving service fees that ordinary customer service representatives insist cannot be done. Most of the time, complaints are settled in the customer’s favor.

“Usually it all gets worked out,” Boffetti said. “They’re pretty responsive to the complaints. They make an attempt to resolve it.”

When Karen Jacobs was offered a better deal by Consolidated Communications, she jumped at the opportunity to get cheaper and faster internet access for her home in Moultonborough. What originally cost her $104 a month was supposed to be $74 after she was sold an improved bundled service package. On the installation date, nobody from Consolidated showed up. Instead, she was told her order ‘was stuck’ in the system. To get it ‘unstuck,’ Jacobs would ‘have to pay a $300 one-time fee,’ something never mentioned by the original representative.

Complaints against Comcast are usually resolved in the customer’s favor, as this report from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office shows.

Jacobs asked the representative to waive the fee because it was never mentioned. The representative refused, and even lectured Jacobs about how little Consolidated was regulated by the state government and could do as it pleased.

“He didn’t care,” she said of one particular representative. “It was like, ‘Too bad.’”

Despite claims the $300 fee was “company policy,” it was news to Jacobs.

“That was never, ever, ever, ever discussed anywhere in the conversation,” she said. “It’s lousy.”

Jacobs had not yet filed a formal complaint, taking her story to the media instead. But similar complaints of hidden/surprise installation and activation fees are very common, and once forwarded by a regulator, are usually resolved by either waiving or refunding the charges.

Customers are gratified they get to keep their money, but remain annoyed at companies who “forget” to disclose important terms and conditions like fees as they try to seal the deal.

Customers can Google their own state’s attorney general and by searching for consumer complaints, can usually file their own complaint online in just a few minutes. In New Hampshire, residents can file a complaint on the website or mail it.

New England residents can also reach out directly to Comcast or Consolidated’s special consumer complaints departments directly by mail:

COMCAST – NEW ENGLAND
Executive Customer Care and Communications
Post Office Box 6505
Chelmsford, MA 01824-0905

CONSOLIDATED COMMUNICATIONS OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, VERMONT, AND MAINE
State Regulatory Matters
800 Hinesburg Road
South Burlington, VT 05403

Comcast provides cable service throughout northern New England and Massachusetts. Consolidated Communications provides landline service predominately in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s consumer protection hotline is 1-888-468-4454 or (603) 271-3641, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can also contact them by email at: [email protected]

Tribune Media Ends Merger Deal, Sues Sinclair for $1 Billion for Scamming Regulators

Tribune Media walked away from its $3.9 billion dollar merger agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group this morning, and announced it would sue Sinclair for $1 billion for its conduct trying to get the deal approved, including withholding information and deceiving regulators.

The merger deal was controversial from the moment it was announced, pairing up Sinclair’s 192 stations with Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets, including well-known stations like WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York. Sinclair was already the nation’s top TV station owner, and to acquire more stations, Sinclair would have to get TV ownership limits eased, something coincidentally provided by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who suddenly announced an interest in bringing back a “discount” on ownership caps for stations broadcasting on the UHF band. That policy was dropped after the country moved to digital over-the-air broadcasting, which negated the perception that UHF channels were less desirable and held lower value than lower VHF channels because of reception quality.

Sinclair’s Long History of Partisan Politics

Sinclair, unlike other TV station owners, also has a long history of being active in partisan politics, airing programming in favor of conservatives and openly advocating for the agendas of the Bush and Trump Administrations. Its long-standing policy to require its stations to air corporate-produced news segments and commentaries during local newscasts has irritated local newsrooms for years, but as the number of Sinclair-owned stations has grown, the practice was eventually exposed with a viral video depicting an uncomfortable collection of anchors from dozens of Sinclair stations decrying “fake news.”

In 2016, Sinclair aired 1,723 stories about the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah on 64 of its stations. Most were designed to look like one or two minute news stories, although Sinclair also produced a 30-minute show about the facility. What viewers were never told is that the stories were paid for by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. In December, the FCC fined Sinclair a record-breaking $13.3 million for failing to disclose the story’s sponsor. The Democratic minority on the Commission called that a slap on the wrist and wanted the maximum fine of $82 million levied on Sinclair for its egregious and flagrant violation of FCC rules.

Sinclair’s past run-ins and controversies guaranteed its merger deal with Tribune would receive special scrutiny. The documents attached to the lawsuit filed this morning reveal Tribune got quickly upset with Sinclair’s hardball lobbying, accusing Sinclair of brazenly flouting the FCC’s rules and setting up the merger for failure.

In the end, even Sinclair’s apparent ally Ajit Pai distanced himself from the TV station owner in July, suddenly advocating the merger deal be forwarded to an administrative law judge for review, a sure sign the merger was in serious trouble with regulators.

Tribune Takes Sinclair to Court

This morning, Tribune officially pulled the plug on the merger.

“Our merger cannot be completed within an acceptable time frame, if ever,” Tribune Media chief executive Peter Kern said in a statement. “This uncertainty and delay would be detrimental to our company and our shareholders. Accordingly, we have exercised our right to terminate the merger agreement, and, by way of our lawsuit, intend to hold Sinclair accountable.”

That accountability will come in the form of its lawsuit that includes revealing documents about Sinclair’s behavior during the merger process, which includes allegations Sinclair recklessly withheld information and deceived the FCC and Justice Department about the transaction. If true, that could threaten Sinclair’s fitness to hold FCC licenses for its TV stations.

“From virtually the moment the Merger Agreement was signed, Sinclair repeatedly and willfully breached its contractual obligations in spectacular fashion,” Tribune said in its lawsuit. “In an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell if advisable to obtain regulatory clearance, Sinclair engaged in belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negotiations with DOJ and the FCC over regulatory requirements, refused to sell stations in the ten specified markets required to obtain approval, and proposed aggressive divestment structures and related-party sales that were either rejected outright or posed a high risk of rejection and delay – all in the service of Sinclair’s self-interest and in derogation of its contractual obligations.”

Tribune claims Sinclair only favored its own financial interests, not the obligations it had to Tribune to get the merger deal approved as quickly as possible. Tribune also accused Sinclair of threatening, insulting, and misleading regulators to keep control over stations it was obligated to sell.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group has come under fire following the spread of a video showing anchors at its stations across the United States reading a script criticizing “fake” news stories. (8:03)

“Sue me.”

Tribune’s executives gradually became more alarmed the more Sinclair negotiated with regulators, claiming Sinclair antagonized officials at the Justice Department. Tribune notes the assistant attorney general of the antitrust division got an earful from Sinclair, lecturing the official that he “completely misunderstand[ood]” the broadcast industry and was “more regulatory” than any recent predecessor.

When Sinclair was cornered by the Department of Justice over demands for station divestitures, the company summarized its position in two words: “sue me.”

Tribune pointed out the Justice Department was prepared to accept the merger with the appropriate stations being sold to new owners, but Sinclair balked. After a series of schemes were suggested to partly divest the stations, Tribune saw the protracted negotiations as unnecessary and imprudent. The agendas of both companies were radically different. Tribune wanted Sinclair to do whatever the FCC and Justice Department insisted be done, to get the deal done quickly. Sinclair wanted the deal and a way to maintain control, even indirectly, over almost every station involved in the deal. Tribune began threatening to sue Sinclair if it did not agree to the Justice Department’s terms.

Tribune’s growing unease with Sinclair’s behavior culminated in this email exchange between Tribune and Sinclair executives in late December, 2017.

Sinclair finally relented in February, 2018, but only partially. Exasperated Tribune executives were stunned as Sinclair now proposed to sell stations to third parties that maintained “significant ties to Sinclair’s executive chairman,” David Smith, or his family.

“Sinclair would effectively control all aspects of station operations, including advertising sales and negotiation of retransmission agreements with cable and satellite operators,” Tribune said in its lawsuit. “Under these proposed arrangements, Sinclair would continue to reap the lion’s share of the economic benefits of the stations it was purportedly ‘divesting’ and would have an option to repurchase the stations in the future.”

“Sinclair fought, threatened, insulted, and misled regulators in a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to retain control over stations that it was obligated to sell,” the lawsuit concludes.

The country’s largest owner of local TV stations, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which reaches over a third of homes across the nation, wanted to get even bigger by merging with the Tribune Media Company. Sinclair is raising concerns among media watchers because of its practice of combining news with partisan political opinion. William Brangham reports for PBS Newshour. (8:58)

FCC’s Inspector General Finds Chairman Ajit Pai Made Up Claimed Denial of Service Attack

Phillip Dampier August 7, 2018 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

Pai

The FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai “misrepresented facts and provided misleading responses” to the public and Congress about an alleged “distributed denial of service attack” (DDoS) that caused the FCC’s website to crash as millions of Americans shared their comments about net neutrality.

In a damning report released today by the FCC’s independent Inspector General, an investigation found the claimed attack never happened and the FCC’s ongoing public statements about it were demonstrably false.

The investigation into the alleged “attack” on the FCC’s electronic comment system (ECFS) on May 7-8, 2017 took several months to complete. Its findings were released after Pai was able to issue a broadly distributed press release critics claim is an effort to change the story and get ahead of the report itself, which was issued late this afternoon.

A DDoS attack overwhelms a website with a barrage of invalid traffic that eventually makes the target server unresponsive. The FCC claimed the attack was responsible for preventing people from leaving comments for hours after John Oliver brought up the subject of net neutrality on his HBO Show “Last Week Tonight” last year.

But in fact, it was the sheer volume of comments from the public that were responsible for slowing down the website — a politically inconvenient fact for net neutrality opponents (including Pai).

Highlights from the Inspector General’s 106-page report:

On May 7, 2017, at 11:30 pm EDT, the ECFS experienced a significant increase in the level of traffic attempting to access the system, resulting in the disruption of system availability. In fact, information obtained from, a contractor providing web performance and cloud security solutions to the FCC, identified a 3,116% increase in traffic to ECFS between May 7 and May 8, 2017.

The investigation matched traffic spikes to John Oliver’s show airing and the posting of videos and social media announcements about net neutrality.

On May 8, 2017, the FCC issued a press release in which the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO) Dr. David Bray provided the following statement regarding the cause of delays experienced by consumers trying to file comments on ECFS:

“Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS)[2]. These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host. These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC. While the comment system remained up and running the entire time, these DDoS events tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments. We have worked with our commercial partners to address this situation and will continue to monitor developments going forward.”

Our investigation did not substantiate the allegations of multiple DDoS attacks alleged by Bray. While we identified a small amount of anomalous activity and could not entirely rule out the possibility of individual DoS attempts during the period from May 7 through May 9, 2017, we do not believe this activity resulted in any measurable degradation of system availability given the miniscule scale of the anomalous activity relative to the contemporaneous voluminous viral traffic.

Here is what a net neutrality campaign going viral looks like. As Oliver’s show reached more viewers, many took time to visit the FCC’s website to submit comments, causing the server to slow to a crawl.

The degradation of ECFS system availability was likely the result of a combination of: (1) “flash crowd” activity resulting from the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episode that aired on May 7, 2017 through the links provided by that program for filing comments in the proceeding; and (2) high volume traffic resulting from system design issues.

The conclusion that the event involved multiple DDoS attacks was not based on substantive analysis and ran counter to other opinions including those of the ECFS subject matter expert and the Chief of Staff.

As a result of our reviews and the findings articulated above, we determined the FCC, relying on Bray’s explanation of the events, misrepresented facts and provided misleading responses to Congressional inquiries related to this incident.

The fact millions of Americans were willing to visit a little-known FCC comment website to share their passionate views on net neutrality ran contrary to Chairman Pai’s claims that many comments were faked, demonstrated a lack of understanding of how net neutrality worked, or were otherwise not to be taken seriously. Pai even called net neutrality supporters “Chicken Littles” during a July 25 congressional hearing.

Pai’s public statements downplaying public comments on net neutrality might lose credibility if the FCC admitted the issue of net neutrality went viral and Americans were sharing their views in unprecedented numbers. Instead, the FCC repeatedly questioned the veracity of the comments, claimed an engineered attack — not dissent — caused the website to crash, and refused to participate in an investigation with the New York Attorney General’s office to uncover the origin of the alleged attack.

Pai’s press release tried to shift attention away from this damning conclusion from the FCC’s Inspector General.

Pai, in an effort to get out ahead of the unflattering report from the Inspector General, issued a press release blaming the affair on the flawed “culture” of the Obama Administration.

“I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,” Pai said in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable. I’m also disappointed that some working under the former CIO apparently either disagreed with the information that he was presenting or had questions about it, yet didn’t feel comfortable communicating their concerns to me or my office.”

“Second, it has become clear that in addition to a flawed comment system, we inherited from the prior Administration a culture in which many members of the Commission’s career IT staff were hesitant to express disagreement with the Commission’s former CIO in front of FCC management,” Pai added.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the only remaining Democrat on the Commission, dismissed Pai’s attempts to lay blame for the problems on the former administration.

Bray – the scapegoat?

“The Inspector General Report tells us what we knew all along: the FCC’s claim that it was the victim of a DDoS attack during the net neutrality proceeding is bogus,” said Rosenworcel. “What happened instead is obvious—millions of Americans overwhelmed our online system because they wanted to tell us how important Internet openness is to them and how distressed they were to see the FCC roll back their rights. It’s unfortunate that this agency’s energy and resources needed to be spent debunking this implausible claim.”

Pai’s chief scapegoat is David Bray, the FCC’s chief information officer from 2013-2017. Pai accused Bray of misleading him and other FCC officials about the source of the slowdowns and interruptions on the website.

“Yes, we’re 99.9% confident this was external folks deliberately trying to tie-up the server to prevent others from commenting and/or create a spectacle,” Pai quoted Bray as telling him during the May 2017 incident. Bray also acted as an anonymous source for several reporters, claiming a similar DDoS attack occurred in 2014 over net neutrality, a claim hotly disputed by FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler at the time and called “flat-out false” by Gigi Sohn, a senior counselor to Wheeler.

Fact or Fiction?: Bray claimed 4Chan’s “troll” army was invited to the fight by John Oliver.

Bray also claimed, without evidence, John Oliver “invited the ‘trolls'” from controversial website 4Chan to participate in the attack, suggesting the posting of Oliver’s segment on net neutrality was what “triggered the trolls.”

An exhaustive investigation of the FCC’s traffic logs found no evidence of an orchestrated DDoS attack, and the Inspector General used charts to show tremendous traffic spikes generated as Oliver’s campaign went viral.

Pai’s press release attempts to change the subject and divert attention away from the uncomfortable findings that suggest the FCC under his leadership openly deceived both the public and Congress. Instead of admitting he allowed the agency to continue claiming an outside attack on the FCC’s website was responsible for the incident, he praised himself and his office for what he claimed were findings that “debunk the conspiracy theory that my office or I had any knowledge that the information provided by the former CIO was inaccurate and was allowing that inaccurate information to be disseminated for political purposes.”

That directly contradicts the reports conclusion: “As a result of our reviews and the findings articulated above, we determined the FCC, relying on Bray’s explanation of the events, misrepresented facts and provided misleading responses to Congressional inquiries related to this incident.”

beGONE Sports: Comcast Boots beIN Sports from Lineup in Contract Renewal Dispute

Comcast has dropped sports network beIN Sports off the lineup after its contract with the cable company expired July 31.

Customers who tune to the channel will find a series of rotating on-screen messages explaining the network was switched off because the renewal price was too high:

Have you heard about a disagreement between beIn Sports and Comcast?

Every month Comcast has to pay networks to bring their programming to you. That’s right, we pay the network. Not the other way around.

Now beIN sports is asking for a major increase in fees for the channel you already have, which could have a big impact on your bill.

beIN Sports won’t allow Comcast to carry its channels until this is resolved.

beIN Media Group, a spinoff of Al Jazeera Media Network, owns the network and has already filed a complaint against Comcast for violation of the deal conditions imposed by the FCC after approving the merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal. The complaint alleges Comcast is giving preferential treatment to its own sports networks, a violation of program carriage rules. That complaint remains pending.

“We are deeply disappointed that despite our best efforts over the last year to resolve the situation, millions of Comcast XFINITY subscribers have lost access to the content they love. We are happy to extend existing terms while we continue to negotiate, but unfortunately Comcast would rather continue to charge the same while taking away valuable and loved content from customers,” said Antonio Briceño, beIN Sports’ deputy managing director for the U.S. and Canada. “The truth is, we face a disheartening trend of media consolidation, where the big get bigger and innovative brands like ours that serve diverse audiences get pushed-out. This is almost always to the detriment of consumers who end up paying the price. We hope it stops now.”

New York Public Service Commission Votes 4-0 to Kick Charter’s Spectrum Out of the State

It took the four commissioners of the New York Public Service Commission just 20 minutes to vote unanimously to undo the multi-billion dollar 2016 merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, by revoking its approval for failing to meet the public interest.

“Charter’s repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments are well documented and are only getting worse. After more than a year of administrative enforcement efforts to bring Charter into compliance with the Commission’s merger order, the time has come for stronger actions to protect New Yorkers and the public interest,” said Commission Chair John B. Rhodes. “Charter’s non-compliance and brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers necessitates the actions taken today seeking court-ordered penalties for its failures, and revoking the Charter merger approval.”

If the order withstands inevitable court challenges, it would be the first time a regulator drove a large cable operator out of business in a state for bad conduct. It would also make history, achieving similar notoriety to the 1981 case of Tele-Communications, Inc., vs. Jefferson City, Mo., when TCI’s national director of franchising personally threatened the mayor and the city’s cable consultant if their franchise was not renewed. When the city voted to award the franchise to another cable operator, TCI refused to sell its system, withheld franchise fee payments, and alternately told the city it would either strip its cables off utility poles in spite or let them “rot on the pole” rather than sell at any price.

Without modification, the Charter/Time Warner Cable merger was a bad deal for New York

After Stop the Cap! and other consumer groups participated in a detailed review of Charter Communications’ proposal to acquire Time Warner Cable, the Public Service Commission adopted many of our pro-consumer suggestions to ensure the merger benefited the people of New York at least partly as much as the executives and shareholders of the two companies. New York State law demands that telecommunications mergers must meet a public interest test to win approval. On its face, the Commission found the Charter/Time Warner Cable proposal failed to meet this test. The state received detailed evidence showing Time Warner Cable’s existing upgrade plan offered a better deal to New York residents than Charter’s own proposal. Time Warner Cable also maintained a large workforce in New York in call centers, direct hire technicians, and its corporate headquarters.

After a detailed analysis, the PSC rejected the merger for failure to meet the public interest. At the same time, it also offered Charter a way to turn that rejection into a conditional approval. If the company agreed to “enforceable and concrete conditions” that would deliver positive net benefits for New Yorkers to share in the rewards of the merger deal, the Commission would approve the transaction.

Charter has complied with most of the deal conditions demanded by the Commission. The company has boosted its broadband speeds across the state ahead of schedule, committed to at least seven years of broadband service without data caps, introduced an affordable internet access program and temporarily maintained an existing offer for $14.99 slow-speed internet access available to any New York customer, and agreed to maintain jobs in New York (with the exception of a 1.5 year strike action ongoing in New York City affecting technicians).

But the most costly condition for Charter to meet is also the one it has repeatedly failed to meet — its commitment to wire unserved rural areas, largely in upstate New York. Charter committed to a timetable to roll out high-speed internet access for 145,000 homes and businesses that currently lack access to any internet provider.

Charter’s merger deal meets Gov. Cuomo’s Broadband for All Program

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York in 2015.

This rural broadband expansion condition was integral to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Broadband for All program, promising to make broadband access available to every resident and business in New York State.

Cuomo’s broadband program depended on several sources to accomplish its goal:

  • State/Private Funding: The state invested $500 million of $5.7 billion dollars it earned from settling lawsuits against big banks and insurance companies over the improprieties that helped trigger the 2008 Great Recession. This money was designed to incentivize the private sector to expand high-speed internet access in underserved/unserved areas. Recipients had to provide a 1:1 financial match of whatever grant funds were given, putting the dollar value of this part of the program at over $1 billion.
  • The FCC: The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF) offered funding to incumbent providers to expand service in certain areas in New York. Some $170 million of that funding allocated to the state was declined, principally by Verizon, which showed little interest in expanding its rural broadband network. A bipartisan effort to retain and divert those funds into the New NY Broadband Program was successful, allowing the state to fund several rural broadband projects Verizon was not interested in.
  • Charter/Time Warner Cable Merger: To win approval of its merger in New York, Charter agreed to pass an additional 145,000 homes and businesses in less densely populated areas across the state. The company was required to file regular updates on its progress and coordinate with the state the exact locations it planned to serve. This was to ensure Charter would not spend money wiring areas already receiving broadband expansion funding.

For the program to be successful, it was essential that duplication of expansion efforts be avoided. As the program’s public funding wound down, the state discovered it lacked enough money to attract private bidders to serve the last 75,628 locations around the state that remained without a service provider, deemed too remote and expensive to serve. The state awarded over $15 million in state funds and an additional $13.6 million in federal and private funding to Hughes Network Services, LLC, which will furnish satellite-based internet service to those locations. That solution prompted loud complaints from residents discovering they were baited with high-speed internet access that realistically could provide gigabit speed, and suddenly switched to satellite service that cannot guarantee to consistently meet the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps broadband standard and comes with a data cap of 50 GB (or less in some instances) a month, rendering its usefulness highly questionable.

Bait rural upstate customers with the promise of Spectrum internet access, switch to expanding service in New York City instead

Rural broadband for urban customers.

The Cuomo Administration may also have to temper its excitement for successfully completing the Broadband for All program if Charter fails to deliver service to the homes and businesses the state expected it would. In fact, the Commission today accused Charter of substituting broadband expansion in dense urban areas where the company would undoubtedly offer service with or without an expansion commitment for the rural upstate areas it originally promised to service. By adding one customer in a converted loft in Brooklyn while deleting a customer it planned to serve in upstate Livingston County, Charter would save a substantial sum. In all, the Commission alleges Charter’s attempts to count urban areas as “newly passed” while leaving rural upstate areas unserved could save the company tens of millions of dollars.

The company’s failure to meet its rural buildout commitment began almost immediately. Despite a requirement to complete an initial buildout to 36,250 homes and businesses by May 18, 2017, Charter only managed to reach 15,164 premises — just 41.8% of its goal. As a result, the Commission began talks with Charter to get the company back on track and monitor Charter’s claim that utility companies were stalling approval of Charter’s pole attachment requests. The Commission even offered its staff to assist Charter with a comprehensive database tracking pole attachment issues, in hopes of facilitating prompt resolution of any problems that delayed service expansion.

To further assist Charter, the Commission set a new schedule of Charter’s buildout obligations for the period between December 2017 and May 2020, comprised of roughly 20,000-23,000 new passings during each six month period, a significant reduction from the original requirement of 36,250 new passings in the first buildout phase.

To incentivize Charter to stay on track, the Commission also required the company to establish a $12 million Letter of Credit to secure Charter’s obligations. If Charter missed further deadlines, the state could draw funds each time Charter missed a target, typically in $1 million increments.

On Jan. 8, 2018, Charter filed its first report under the new settlement on its buildout progress. The company claimed it exceeded its target by reaching 42,889 homes and businesses in the previous six months. The company also began airing commercials inserted into cable channels seen by Spectrum customers around the state, proclaiming it was expanding service ahead of schedule.

On closer inspection, however, the PSC discovered the most innovative part of Charter’s new-found success was inflating the numbers of new passings by including over 12,000 addresses in New York City and several upstate cities, 1,762 locations where Spectrum service was already available, and more than 250 addresses that were in areas that already received state funding to expand service. In addition to not being rural areas, Charter’s existing franchise agreements would have compelled the company to offer service to most of these addresses with or without the PSC deal conditions.

The state informed Charter it planned to disqualify 18,363 passings from the December report filed on Jan. 8, which meant Charter again failed to satisfy the required 36,771 passings it was supposed to have finished by mid-December. The Commission also removed addresses Charter unilaterally added to its 145,000 buildout plan where other providers already offered service or were planning to with the assistance of already-awarded grant funding.

The many fines for Charter Communications

The Commission has fined Charter $1 million for missing its December targets and another $1 million for not making good on correcting its earlier failures. On Friday, it fined Charter once again for another $1 million, reaching a total of $3 million in fines. The PSC also directed its Counsel to bring an enforcement action in State Supreme Court to seek additional penalties for past failures and ongoing non-compliance with its obligations. Earlier this month, the PSC referred a false advertising claim to the Attorney General’s office regarding Charter’s misleading ads about its progress expanding rural broadband in New York.

The number of alleged misdeeds by Charter has been amply covered by Stop the Cap! in our own investigative report.

In fact, to date, the Commission says Charter has never met any of its rural buildout targets. In response, Charter claimed it effectively did not have to, arguing that once the merger was approved, Charter was under no obligation to answer to the Commission’s regulatory requirements respecting broadband rollouts. Under federal deregulation laws, the state cannot regulate broadband service, Charter argued.

$12 million is a small price to pay when saving tens of millions not expanding rural service

The Commission also suspects that Charter’s $12 million Letter of Credit is a small price to pay for reneging on its broadband commitments.

“It appears that the prospect of forfeiting its right to earn back all of Settlement Agreement’s $12 million Letter of Credit does not seem to be an appropriate incentive where the company stands to save tens of millions of dollars by failing to live up to its buildout obligations in New York,” the Commission wrote.

A 4-0 Vote to Kick Charter Spectrum Out of New York

What has gotten the company’s intention is a 4-0 unanimous vote to cancel the approval of the company’s merger agreement with the state, which effectively puts Charter out of business in New York. The Commission ordered Charter to file a plan within 60 days detailing how it plans to cease service in New York and transition to another provider without causing any service disruptions for customers.

Such a move is unprecedented, but not unwarranted in the eyes of the Commission, which claims it gave Charter ample warnings to correct its bad behavior.

“Both the Commission and the DPS [PSC] Staff have repeatedly attempted to correct Charter’s behavior and secure its performance of the Approval Order’s Network Expansion Condition,” the Commission wrote. “Charter continues to show an inability or a total unwillingness to extend its network in the manner intended by the Commission to pass the requisite number of unserved or underserved homes and/or businesses, which make evident that there was not – and is not – a corporate commitment of compliance with regard to this important public interest condition.”

Now the company faces a requirement to file a six-month transition plan to end service in all areas formerly served by Time Warner Cable in New York State by early 2019. The Commission has also made it clear it is done talking and negotiating with Charter, denying all requests for a rehearing.

“Charter’s repeated, continued, and brazen non-compliance with the Commission-imposed regulatory obligations and failure to act in the public’s interest necessitates a more stringent remedy,” the Commission concluded.

The New York Public Service Commission holds a special session to fine Charter Communications and revoke its merger with Time Warner Cable. (Hearing commences at 5:00 mark) (25:24)

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  • Gayle Conversion: My name is Gayle Anne Wehner-Foglesong.To McAdams! Watch your mouth! You do not blame anyone but yourself. I know everything and I want my money now! ...
  • Michael sherwood: Spectrum charged me an overdue amount and I haven't even been with them for a month...
  • Josh: He’s not wrong, for once. The cell phone stuff keeps blathering s out speeds and how great it is, then can’t actuslly provide unlimited service or an...
  • Dylan: Yeah, Spectrum definitely needs this. I know here in New York, we have National Grid as our electric and gas provider and they definitely tell you abo...
  • FRED HALL: I wish Spectrum had this (and it was accurate). Whenever there's an outage, their tech support is either too stupid or too lazy to let the customer r...
  • Bob61571: TDS Telecom is a sub of Telephone & Data Systems(TDS). US Cellular is also a sub of TDS. TDS Telecom owns a number of smaller small town/rural t...
  • D H: If you want to really feature someone serious for the Governorship. I would suggest Larry Sharpe instead who is actually doing a grassroots campaign....
  • David: Well, I dropped them for earthlink DSL which is slower and buggier but I don't regret it since I don't accept getting pushed around. If earthlink keep...

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