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Charter Sues Striking Union Over Alleged Acts of Sabotage; Lobbyist Earns from Both Sides

Phillip Dampier October 16, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

Members of IBEW Local 3 have been on strike for about seven months. (Image: IBEW Local 3)

Charter Communications is suing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 alleging its striking members are responsible for repeated acts of vandalism and sabotage of Charter’s cable service Spectrum in the New York City area.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Manhattan Supreme Court, claims union members have cut or damaged cables and other property at least 125 times since the union went out on strike in March.

“The sabotage was done purely out of maliciousness,” Charter’s attorneys allege in the lawsuit. “The saboteurs clearly knew the optimal locations where they could quickly cut cable lines to multiple customers without being harmed or observed, suggesting they are cable technicians who work for Charter.”

A Charter spokesman said the company filed the suit to get union members to stop damaging its equipment.

Union members suggest Charter brings no hard evidence to the table about who is responsible. Union officials have repeatedly denied involvement and have urged those responsible to stop, noting it risks turning Spectrum customers against the union.

Meanwhile, a powerful New York City lobbying firm appears to be getting rich representing Charter Communications while also representing three of the cable company’s biggest critics in City Hall, including New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio.

The Daily News reports the MirRam Group represents the mayor, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James. James has been a client since 2013 while Mayor deBlasio hired the company in April to assist him with his re-election campaign. The lobbying firm has collected $150,000 from Charter and its predecessor Time Warner Cable in the last 12 months.

The newspaper reports the terms of the contract require MirRam Group to promote Charter’s business with ‘key public officials’ in city and state government, including monitoring legislative developments that could impact on the cable company in New York. The lobbying firm is also required to “promote Charter’s public policy interests” and is not supposed to “represent other clients on matters adverse to or in conflict with” the cable company’s goals.

T-Mobile Makes Deal With FOX Television to Relocate Channels to Boost Cell Coverage

WWOR advertises itself as My 9, but the station actually transmits over UHF channel 38 and will move to channel 25 early next year.

T-Mobile today announced a partnership with FOX Television Stations to hasten channel relocation to make room for the wireless carrier’s expansion of wireless service in the 600MHz spectrum it won at auction.

As part of the agreement, FOX-owned WWOR-TV in Secaucus, N.J., will vacate its current digital UHF channel 38 in early 2018, over a year sooner than originally planned. The station will move to UHF channel 25, but most viewers will still find the channel on virtual channel 9. T-Mobile will then bring new cell service online in metropolitan New York where WWOR’s signal used to be.

T-Mobile is aggressively trying to bring its valued 600MHz spectrum online as quickly as possible because it offers the carrier and its customers expanded coverage and better reception in indoor locations. Although the FCC has set an August 2019 deadline for stations to vacate and move their channels to make way for improved cell service, T-Mobile is offering incentives to get broadcasters to make the move well before that deadline.

Earlier this year, PBS and America’s Public Television Stations announced a similar partnership with T-Mobile. The wireless carrier has offered to pay the costs for a significant number of rural TV translators to move to new channel positions to make room for T-Mobile’s cell expansion.

“We’re committed to working with broadcasters across the country to clear 600MHz spectrum, so we can preserve programming and bring increased wireless choice and competition across the country,” said Neville Ray, chief technology officer at T-Mobile.

Working with the low power television outlets is a win-win solution for T-Mobile and the stations, because some budget-constrained stations may be required to change channel positions at least twice. There are concerns that the diminishing UHF TV dial may not have room to accommodate every TV station that wants to remain on the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DELAWARE

MARYLAND

MASSACHUSETTS

NEW JERSEY

NEW YORK

PENNSYLVANIA

RHODE ISLAND

VIRGINIA

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Charter employee picketing a Spectrum store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not all reporters are siding with Charter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Doug: So what are they (Charter Spectrum) supposed to do? Continue repairing the sabotage? Pay for "protection?" I am certain that those customers whose ...
  • tony russo: Promo with TWC ending this week. Had Starter TV (25 channels) plus Turbo internet for $65 total. Called to see what is available and the lowest tv p...
  • FredH: ....talk about flimsy (or no) evidence.....good luck Charter, wasting our cable fees on a lawsuit they stand no chance of winning....
  • Will: I have to agree with ATT here... Can't blame cord cutters when it's just that ATT's video service is awful and customers are fleeing at the first oppo...
  • kaniki: I really do not see much changing on the Tmobile end of things.. Sprint does not have much coverage outside of Tmobiles right now, so, Tmobile would g...
  • kaniki: I would have to disagree with the "cable company" part.. I would like to see someone, more like google, get them, then a cable company.. Most cable co...
  • MAD DOG: Company really losing customers. What a shame I like it better when the Dolan was running the show. It was like a family company....
  • LG: This is what happens when you charge $150-$300 for TV. People have better things to spend their money on. TV in general is losing viewers after deca...
  • Josh: Good for them! Don't know that $500/day is remotely reasonable (how about $500,000/day?) but regardless good for them....
  • BobInIllinois: DirecTV is a great premium TV service. Downside is that consumers are looking to cut expenses, and they think that streaming can do that. Most consu...
  • EJ: If you don't pay they will more then likely turn it into collections and it will affect your credit. The better move is to pay them again, send a canc...
  • EJ: I think someone put a decimal point in the wrong spot lol?!...

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