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Vandalism Wiped Out Charter/Spectrum Service for 60,000 in Queens, Brooklyn

Phillip Dampier June 27, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Video No Comments

More than 60,000 Charter/Spectrum customers were without broadband, television, and phone service for more than 24 hours after vandals sliced through fiber optic cables at four major service hubs at around 2AM Monday morning.

The service outage idled workers in offices, telecommuters, and shoppers at corner stores. ATM withdrawals and credit card transactions were impossible in some neighborhoods.

Police sources told WCBS they believe striking Spectrum union workers are behind the vandalism, owing to the specialized equipment the vandals needed to successfully cut through the fiber cable’s protective sheath. Those responsible also had to know the exact location of the fiber cables and what cutting them would mean for Charter customers across two boroughs.

“We would never condone that, we would never do that,” on-strike Spectrum technician Ray Reyes told WCBS. IBEW Local 3 made it clear it does not condone the destruction of property, despite a strike that has gone on for months with no end in sight.

This is the second major vandalism incident experienced by Charter in metropolitan New York this year. The first, in April, left 30,000 customers without service for hours. Police have no leads in either incident and no one is likely to be prosecuted.

Affected customers will need to contact Charter/Spectrum and ask for a service credit for the outage. No automatic credits are likely to be given.

Area shop owners are upset because they lose money when credit card and ATM transactions are not available. Mike Patel told WCBS his customers were mad about the outage and he lost at least $500 in credit card transactions, forcing him to turn business away.

WCBS-TV in New York reports Charter’s outage in Brooklyn and Queens affected more than 60,000 customers. (1:35)

Charter Forced to Set Aside $13 Million for Failing to Meet Merger Commitments to New York State

The New York State Department of Public Service today announced it had reached a potential settlement with Charter Communications after the company failed to meet its rural broadband expansion obligation outlined in last year’s approval of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

“The [Public Service] Commission conditioned its approval of the merger on Charter’s agreement to undertake several types of investments and other activities,” said Department interim CEO Gregg C. Sayre. “While Charter is delivering on many of them, it failed to expand the reach of its network to un-served and under-served communities and commercial customers in the time allotted.”

While Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks won rubber-stamp approval in almost every state where it operates, New York regulators required the merger to directly benefit the state’s consumers. The company must upgrade customers to 100Mbps service by the end of 2018 and offer at least 300Mbps statewide by the end of 2019. But it must also expand its cable network to reach 145,000 unserved and underserved homes and businesses within the next four years. The merger approval agreement set a schedule to begin network expansion as quickly as possible.

Charter failed to achieve its obligations, only reaching 15,164 of the 36,250 customers it was required to reach one year after the merger deal was approved.

As a result, regulators have penalized Charter, requiring it to pay an extra $1 million in grants for computer equipment and internet access targeting low-income New York residents and set aside $12 million in escrow as a security pledge to meet all of its network expansion commitments going forward. The company now agrees it will complete its build out obligation in six increments of 21,646 customers through May 18, 2020. Charter will forfeit a portion of the $12 million each time it misses a deadline. The amount lost will depend on the percentage of the target missed and whether the company demonstrates it has completed necessary tasks to expand service. If the company manages to meet its deadlines going forward, it has the right to earn back some or all of its security pledge.

Charter has also agreed to develop a communications plan within 60 days of the settlement’s execution to inform New Yorkers whether they are part of the build-out plan.

The settlement offer will issued for public comment, and will require final Commission approval to take effect.

Charter’s “Spectrum Internet Assist” is Cable-Style “Charity” With Tricks and Traps

Warren (center) pictured with representatives of Charter Communications and PowerMyLearning (Photo courtesy of: PowerMyLearning)

The incumbent mayor of Rochester, N.Y., currently up for re-election, has decided to take indirect credit for a low-cost internet program loaded with tricks and traps from a cable company that is worsening the affordable internet problem in the United States.

Mayor Lovely Warren made the head-slapping mistake of teaming up with Charter Communications, already on track to being even more universally despised by its customers than its immediate predecessor Time Warner Cable. Casting political instincts to the wind, Warren decided to team up with an unpopular cable company that is gouging its regular customers while offering a token “low-cost” internet program designed to protect Charter’s internet profits more than offering low-income customers a break.

WHAM-TV:

New low-cost, high-speed broadband Internet service is being launched in Rochester, Mayor Lovely Warren announced Thursday.

PowerMyLearning and Charter Communications announced Spectrum Internet Assist (SIA) would offer the service to eligible low-income household customers in Rochester.

Broadband speeds of 30/4 Mbps are being offered for $14.99 per month by SIA, according to Mayor Warren.

“Lowering the cost barrier to Internet access for families is essential if we are to close the digital divide and help them rise out of poverty,” said Mayor Warren. “Internet access is increasingly essential for students to do homework, for jobs seekers to research and apply for jobs, pay bills and remain connected with society.”

We agree with the mayor that lowering the cost barrier is critical to making essential internet service available to every resident. Unfortunately, Charter Communications is making the problem worse, not better. Charter’s idea of charity doesn’t seem so magnanimous when you read the fine print.

Charter’s solution for affordable internet: Charge most customers more while a select few jump through hoops for a discount.

First, Spectrum Internet Assist is highly discriminatory and only available to families with school age children that qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Don’t have kids? Tough luck. When they leave school, no more affordable internet for you!

Second, if you are a senior citizen on a fixed income, you probably already have 20+ years under your belt dealing with relentless rate increases from the local cable company. Unless you are 65 or over and receive SSI benefits, you’ll keep on paying those rate increases because the only thing Charter has on offer for you is a bigger bill.

Third, and the most egregious insult of all to the most vulnerable members of our society is Charter’s cynical fear its fat internet profits will be cannibalized if they simply lowered the bills of customers that would otherwise qualify for this program. Spectrum Internet Assist is for new customers only (and if you are still on a Time Warner Cable plan, you aren’t a new customer).

Charter refuses to relent on its policy requiring current customers to disconnect internet service for a month before they can qualify for Charter’s “charity.” The company is worried it will lose money from customers downgrading to Spectrum Internet Assist who will pay a lot less for internet access. To prevent that, Charter makes the process of enrolling as difficult and inconvenient as possible. Imagine if RG&E or National Grid demanded poor residents go without heat for 30 days before qualifying for heating assistance or if your elderly grandparents had to disconnect telephone service for a month before qualifying for Lifeline.

While obsessing about whether its poorest customers are taking ‘unfair’ advantage of a money-saving deal, Charter has no problem splurging on fat bonuses and compensation packages for its top executives. In fact, the highest paid CEO in the United States in 2016 was Thomas Rutledge, top dog at Charter Communications, rewarded with a splendid $98.5 million compensation package for finding new ways to charge consumers even more for cable service. Charter can certainly afford to lighten up on its customers. Instead, it seeks to live up to the cable industry’s usual reputation of a modern-day reboot of Oliver Twist, this time starring Rutledge as Fagin. Since Warren wholeheartedly endorses Charter’s paltry efforts for the poor, perhaps residents can call her up and ask why they should be forced off the internet for a month just to qualify for Charter’s “charity.” Or maybe not, considering the fact she had nothing to do with Spectrum Internet Assist beyond having her picture taken at a press event.

As is too often the case, uninformed politicians are quick to take credit for programs they don’t understand and are nowhere to be found when the real problem-solving and hard work needs to be done. How can we say that? Because we were a registered and very involved party in the New York Public Service Commission’s review of the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger deal. Mayor Warren wasn’t. We fought for pro-consumer benefits if such a deal was to be approved. Mayor Warren didn’t. We understood from long experience the cynicism that separates the cable industry’s lofty words from its fine print. She doesn’t.

Spectrum Internet Assist does very little to resolve the problem of internet affordability. The program is a close cousin of Comcast’s much-criticized Internet Essentials program, which has similar eligibility requirements and has proven cumbersome to sign up for and leaves too many eligible families behind because of its onerous signup requirements. In 2016, Comcast itself admitted that since 2011 it has only enrolled 750,000 low-income households in its discounted internet program, although more than 2.6 million families were eligible to sign-up but never did.

Charter makes internet affordability worse.

Our research shows that Charter’s token efforts for the few are more than canceled out by the rate increases and reduced options made available to the rest of its customers.

Time Warner Cable used to offer lower-cost internet plans.

Time Warner Cable used to sell six different internet plans ranging from $14.99 to $64.99 for new customers (and practically anyone who ever complained about their cable bill) or $14.99 to $109.99 if you were in the tiny minority of customers who didn’t either bundle service or ask for a promotion. Charter Communications argues it is “better” for consumers to simplify Time Warner’s “complicated” plans and pricing with a one-size-fits-all alternative — 60Mbps for what sells today for $64.99 a month (they raised the price $5 a month back in February). But at least you won’t pay that modem rental fee (if you didn’t bother to avoid it by buying your own cable modem that would have paid for itself long ago.)

So which company makes internet affordability a bigger problem — Time Warner Cable, which sold less expensive internet service at prices of $14.99, $29.99, and $34.99, or Charter Communications which advertises only one internet plan on its website for much of western New York – 60Mbps for $64.99 ($44.99 if you are new to Charter and not a previous Time Warner Cable customer that still has cable service). Spectrum’s plan is more than four times more expensive than Time Warner Cable’s previously well-advertised $14.99 plan.

Regular TWC broadband-only pricing in 2016.

No organization worked harder than Stop the Cap! to keep Time Warner Cable’s $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet tier as a condition of the merger. While not fast, it is affordable and available to every customer, not just the small percentage that will eventually manage to qualify for Spectrum Internet Assist. Fortunately, New York’s Public Service Commission agreed with us and insisted that option remain available in New York State for the next several years. But Charter has subsequently made that plan almost invisible, removing all mention of it from its website, telling some customers it was not available, and leaving a distinct impression they don’t want customers to sign up.

Charter’s one-size-fits all plan got more expensive in February.

The reason is simple. Revenue cannibalization. Thomas Rutledge has repeatedly stressed to Wall Street investors he intended to end the “Turkish bazaar” of Time Warner Cable’s former cavalcade of plans and promotions. When a customer called Time Warner to complain about their bill, there was always room for negotiation and a better deal. Customers calling Charter looking for a break are hitting a brick wall with “take it or leave it” pricing, and tens of thousands of customers are “leaving it” and Charter behind. In this area, we don’t have that luxury because the alternative is usually Frontier Communications’ dreadful DSL service, which almost never meets the FCC’s definition of broadband — at least 25Mbps.

To give you an idea of just how rapacious Charter’s broadband pricing is, consider local upstart competitor Greenlight, which offers fiber to the home service to a very small number of neighborhoods predominately on the east side of the Genesee River. It charges a no-nonsense $50 a month for 100Mbps internet — $15 less than what Charter charges for 60Mbps. If you want gigabit speed, Greenlight will sell you 1,000Mbps for $100 a month, which is $5 less than Charter’s unadvertised 100Mbps offer ($104.95/mo with a mandatory $199 setup fee). Ten times the speed for less. No wonder their Facebook page is filled with people begging them to expand.

Rochester, like other cities in the upstate region, continues to fall behind with inadequate and costly internet service, insufficient competition, and no sign of gigabit speeds arriving anytime soon, unless you are lucky enough to live in a Greenlight service area. Those kinds of 21st century internet speeds are years away if we continue to depend on the local cable and phone company.

Phillip Dampier: We can afford to do without Charter’s “charity.”

In the local mayor’s race, one candidate seems to understand this problem and has a credible solution that fixes it. Rachel Barnhart has a long history of advocating for a citywide public fiber broadband network that would wire every home in the city for an estimated $70 million. The costs would be shared by city residents, the Rochester City School District, and at least one private vendor that would likely be responsible for administering day-to-day operations.

“About forty percent of homes in the city – 35,000 households —  don’t have high-speed internet via cable or DSL,” Barnhart said. “Some of those households can only access the internet via smartphones. The Rochester City School District has estimated half of its students don’t have broadband at home.”

City taxpayers have already paid for a underutilized institutional dark fiber network. Barnhart proposes putting that network to work for the community, selling competitively priced gigabit service for residential and business customers that would effectively subsidize free, slower-speed service for the less-fortunate. Is it expensive? Perhaps. But is it out of line when one considers in one local suburb this year, taxpayers will spend $1 million dollars on a single traffic light and minor road widening project to better manage traffic. Considering how many communities need digital highway traffic improvements, this kind of investment is hardly audacious and isn’t just about giving people fast internet. Managing the local digital economy with the right infrastructure is essential in a community that has seen the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs and has been economically challenged for years. The alternative is what we have now — watching a mayor impotently smile at a manufactured press event declaring victory while the near-cable monopoly local residents have for broadband service throws *-laden scraps at the public and calls it a day.

Rochester, and other communities that are enduring a cable company that is rapidly turning out to be worse than Time Warner Cable, cannot afford Charter’s “generosity.”

Politicians would do well to remember the sage advice we’ve given consumers since 2008. When a cable company claims they have a better deal for you, watch your wallet. For Mayor Warren, she will have to learn the same lesson we taught city councilman Adam McFadden and Assemblyman Joe Morelle. With friends like Charter/Spectrum or Comcast, you don’t need any enemies.

Cablevision Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Cancellation Policy

A class action lawsuit has been filed in New York alleging Cablevision’s new owner — Altice USA, illegally changed the terms and conditions of its cancellation policy without adequate notice and was unjustly enriched charging millions for service departing customers did not receive.

New York resident Christopher Krafczek discovered he was still being billed for Altice’s Optimum cable service after canceling his service. He was caught in Altice’s change of its terms and conditions that took effect Oct. 10, 2016, which declared in all-capital letters Altice doesn’t give refunds for customers electing to cancel service before the end of a billing cycle:

Monthly Charges: Your monthly subscription begins on the first day following your installation date and renews thereafter on a monthly basis beginning on the first day of the next billing period assigned to you until cancelled by you. The monthly service charge(s) will be billed at the beginning of your assigned billing period and each month thereafter unless and until you cancel your Service(s). PAYMENTS ARE NONREFUNDABLE AND THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR CREDITS FOR PARTIALLY USED SUBSCRIPTION PERIOD(S).

Krafczek and his attorneys are taking Altice to court claiming the cable company broke New York’s General Business Law § 349 for deceptive practices and for unjust enrichment. The class action lawsuit claims the cable operator failed to provide proper written notice of the change in its billing practices.

Customers canceling service before the end of a billing cycle can incur $100 or more in charges for cable service no longer received after turning in cable equipment as part of a move or to switch providers.

Altice is likely to claim Krafczek has no standing to bring the case because Cablevision/Altice subscribers are bound by a mandatory arbitration provision in their subscriber agreement. If a customer did not send Altice a written opt-out request within a limited window of time when mandatory arbitration was first introduced, Altice will likely claim that customer cannot sue or participate in a class action lawsuit.

Company officials told the Asbury Park Press last fall subscribers were given advance notice of the change of terms. A spokeswoman told the newspaper Cablevision included the change of terms notice in several monthly billing statements. The spokeswoman also claimed customer service representatives are trained to tell departing customers that billing would continue until the end of the billing cycle, allowing customers to schedule a disconnect at that time.

The case seeks a minimum of $50 or greater in damages for each class member, based on the amount billed after disconnecting service, attorney fees, and punitive damages.

The lawsuit claims customers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey who voluntarily disconnected cable service between October 2016 and May 3, 2017 paid more than $5 million for service they did not want to continue receiving.

The law firm of Mayer Brown LLP is handling the case.

Charter to N.Y.: Life After Time Warner Cable is Great for You

Charter Communications this afternoon submitted its annual update to the New York Public Service Commission, a condition of its approved merger with Time Warner Cable.

The cable company argues the merger has already delivered substantial pro-consumer benefits, including faster internet speeds, a low-income broadband program, no loss of New York jobs, and more upgrades to come.

Some highlights for customers in New York State:

All-Digital Conversion

  • The handful of Charter legacy cable systems in New York have already been converted to all-digital service.
  • Former Time Warner Cable systems in New York City, Syracuse, and the Hudson Valley are now all-digital.
  • Albany will be converted to all-digital service in late 2017.
  • Rochester and Buffalo will be converted to all-digital service in early 2018.

Broadband Speed Upgrades

  • As of March 14, 2017 all Charter customers in New York can subscribe to at least 100Mbps service. ($105/mo, $199 setup fee)
  • Charter has been actively rebuilding its Chatham system in Columbia and Rensselaer counties to provide broadband service. Project completion dates: In Rensselaer County, Berlin and Petersburgh expected to be done by the end of the third quarter 2017. In Columbia County, construction is scheduled to begin in May 2017, with a target completion date set for the end of first quarter 2018.

Cable Expansion

Since the last build-out update was filed on February 17, 2017, Charter has completed build-out to an additional 5,039 passings and has now completed build-out to a total of 15,164 passings across 56 counties and approximately 1,018 municipalities. Major areas of completed passings include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Albany County for approximately 1,330 passings, including the Village of Menands, Towns of Colonie, Cohoes, Bethlehem, Voorheesville, Selkirk, and New Scotland, and the City of Albany.
  • Broome County for approximately 151 passings, including areas such as the Barker, Binghamton, Conklin, Endicott, Lisle, Marathon, Vestal, and Whitney Point.
  • Cortland County for approximately 154 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Cincinnatus, Cortland, Cortlandville, Homer, Virgil, and Truxton.
  • Erie County for approximately 2,029 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Amherst, Boston, Clarence, Colden, East Concord, Depew, Grand Island, Holland, Orchard Park, Derby, Lancaster, Eden, Springville, Williamsville, West Seneca, and the City of Buffalo.
  • Genesee County for approximately 157 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Batavia, Elba, and Alexander.
  • Kings County for approximately 390 passings in Brooklyn.
  • Livingston County for approximately 196 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Honeoye Falls and Dansville.
  • Monroe County for approximately 1,797 passings, including areas such as the City of Rochester, Town of Perinton, Greece, Penfield, North Chili, Webster, Pittsford, Ontario, Spencerport, and Gates.
  • New York County for approximately 575 passings in the City of New York.
  • Niagara County for approximately 297 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Cambria, Lockport, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, Newfane, North Tonawanda, Sanborn, Pendleton, Youngstown, and Wilson.
  • Oneida County for approximately 221 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Utica, Rome, Clinton, Camden, Cassville, and Marcy.
  • Onondaga County for approximately 787 passings, including areas such as the City of Syracuse, Village of Camillus, and Towns of Cicero, Baldwinsville, Liverpool, Chittenago, Clay, Homer, Manlius, and Marcellus.
  • Ontario County for approximately 442 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Clifton Springs, Canandaigua, Phelps, and Victor.
  • Orange County for approximately 429 passings, including areas such as the Towns of New Windsor, Middletown, Salisbury Mills, Montgomery, Goshen and Woodbourne.
  • Oswego County for approximately 146 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Pulaski, Fulton, Parish, Albion, Altmar, Camden, and Central Square.
  • Rensselaer County for approximately 376 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Castleton on Hudson, Cropseyville, Brunswick, Hoosick Falls, Nassau, Johnsonville, Sand Lake, East Greenbush, and Wyantskill, the City of Rensselaer, and the City of Troy.
  • Saratoga County for approximately 1,854 passings, including the Towns of Milton, Stillwater, Clifton Park, Ballston Lake, Ballston Spa, Halfmoon, Round Lake, Mechanicville, Malta, Waterford, and Wilton, and the City of Saratoga Springs.
  • Schenectady County for approximately 218 passings, including areas such as the Village of Delanson, Towns of Esperance, Niskayuna, Duanesburg, Glenville, and Rotterdam, and Burnt Hills, and the City of Schenectady.
  • Schoharie County for approximately 106 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Middleburgh, Cobleskill, Jefferson, and Schoharie.
  • St. Lawrence County for approximately 171 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Canton, Massena, Potsdam, and Gouverneur.
  • Sullivan County for approximately 639 passings, including the Towns of Fallsburg, Liberty, Monticello, Victor, Thompson, Loch Sheldrake, Swan Lake, Bethel, and White Lake, and the Villages of Woodridge and Wurtsboro.
  • Tompkins County for approximately 303 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Ithaca, Slaterville Springs, Groton, and Newfield, and the City of Ithaca.
  • Ulster County for approximately 537 passings, including the Towns of Accord, Hurly, Rochester, Ulster, Kerhonkson, New Paltz, Greenfield Park, Woodstock, and Saugerties, and the City of Kingston.
  • Warren County for approximately 107 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Lake George, Warrensburg, Queensbury, and Glens Falls.
  • Wayne County for approximately 192 passings, including the Towns of Palmyra, Ontario, Macedon, Walworth, Newark, Sodus, and Williamson.

Ed. Note: Nothing precludes Charter from including new housing developments and similar projects in these numbers where it would have provided service regardless of the Order from the PSC.

The Availability of Time Warner Cable’s Unrestricted $14.99 Everyday Low Price Internet Tier

Charter has continued to offer new subscribers in TWC’s New York territory the TWC standalone Everyday Low Price $14.99 broadband service, at speeds no less than those being offered at the time of the merger order, and will continue to offer this to new subscribers for up to two years after close (until May 17, 2018). Any customer is qualified to subscribe to this service, which provides around 2Mbps of internet speed.

Ed. Note: This service is not advertised or mentioned in any way on Charter/TWC’s marketing website and many Stop the Cap! readers in New York have told us Charter sales representatives have repeatedly told them the service is not available, so this claim is in dispute.

Existing customers with the Everyday Low Price tier at the time of closing will be allowed to retain this product for a minimum of three years, which the Commission has set to “run concurrently with the two-year period in which Charter must continue to offer the service to new customers.” New subscribers will be able to retain the product until at least May 17, 2019.

$14.99 Low Income Broadband Service “Spectrum Internet Assist”

First available in the Plattsburgh area in November, 2016, Spectrum Internet Assist has now expanded to former Time Warner Cable territories in New York.

For $14.99 a month, qualified customers get 30/4Mbps broadband service. Wi-Fi service is available for an extra $5 a month. Customers must qualify for at least one of these low-income benefit programs:

  • The National School Lunch Program (NSLP); free or reduced cost lunch
  • The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) ( ≥ age 65 only)

A former Time Warner Cable call center.

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