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Charter Tells N.Y. Regulators It Will Prioritize Upgrades for Central N.Y. Region This Year

Just days before the finalizing of the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications, customers in Central New York were a week away from the completion of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program targeting Syracuse and other communities in the region. But once Charter took over, all upgrades were put on hold, leaving some customers with Maxx speeds of 300Mbps while others languished with top speeds of 50Mbps.

Good news for those customers, at least. In a communication with the New York State Public Service Commission, Charter told regulators it intends to focus its efforts on completing those upgrades over the course of 2017. In fact, it will likely be the only region of New York targeted for speed upgrades of up to 300Mbps this year. For other upstate cities including Buffalo, Rochester, and Binghamton, Charter has upgraded its top speed to 100Mbps for those willing to pay approximately $105 a month and a one-time upgrade fee of $199.

Sometime this year, those New York communities still not able to buy 300Mbps will commence a full transition to all digital and encrypted cable television service, a prerequisite for the faster broadband speeds. Charter has a deadline of 2019 to introduce up to 300Mbps service across all areas it services in New York State. The company seems to hint it will achieve that well before the deadline, which likely means sometime in 2018.

In February, the cable company also reported it had completed building out new service to an additional 2,860 homes across 49 counties and approximately 250 municipalities. But the company is committed to expanding service to approximately 145,000 New York households, which means it has a long way to go. This week, Charter formally applied for an extension of the deadline, blaming utility pole owners for taking too long to “make-ready” utility poles for cable service and admitting it will fall short of regulator expectations.

The areas where Charter has most recently managed to complete expanded service areas include:

  • Albany County for approximately 281 passings, including the Village of Menands, Towns of Colonie, Bethlehem, and New Scotland, and the City of Albany.
  • Erie County for approximately 336 passings, including areas such as the Towns of Amherst, Boston, Orchard Park, Derby, and the City of Buffalo.
  • Kings County for approximately 285 passings in Brooklyn.
  • New York County for approximately 553 passings in the City of New York.
  • Saratoga County for approximately 373 passings, including the Towns of Milton, Northumberland, Stillwater, Clifton Park, Ballston Lake, Halfmoon, and Wilton, and the City of Saratoga Springs.
  • Sullivan County for approximately 84 passings, including the Towns of Fallsburg, Liberty, Victor, Thompson, and the Village of Woodridge.
  • Ulster County for approximately 143 passings, including the Towns of Rochester, Ulster, and Saugerties, and the City of Kingston.
  • Wayne County for approximately 78 passings, including the Towns of Macedon, Walworth, Newark, and Williamson.

N.Y. Attorney General Wins Effort to Keep Charter/Time Warner Cable Lawsuit in N.Y. Court

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman achieved victory in his effort to keep a lawsuit accusing Charter Communications and its predecessor Time Warner Cable of engaging in false advertising in a state courtroom.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that Charter’s efforts to transfer the case out of New York County Supreme Court to federal court were improper and not warranted. The case will now head back to its original venue as chosen by Schneiderman — Manhattan Supreme Court.

Charter argued the case belonged in federal court because a federal agency — the FCC — had enforcement powers over Charter’s broadband business. The cable company argued that the Communications Act passed by Congress gave federal courts sole jurisdiction over broadband matters. It also argued Net Neutrality imposed a requirement that states were not allowed to inconsistently regulate broadband providers.

Judge McMahon dismissed both arguments, noting the FCC has not ruled it had pre-emptive power over states to regulate broadband and Congress “did not intend for the federal statute to be the exclusive remedy for redressing false advertising and consumer protection claims.”

Schneiderman’s case alleging Time Warner Cable falsely advertised broadband service at speeds it knew it could not deliver will once again be heard by a New York court.

FCC Considering Making It Easier for Telcos to Kill Landline/DSL Service

The FCC has circulated a draft rulemaking that proposes to make it easier for phone companies to end landline and DSL service in areas they are no longer interested in maintaining existing infrastructure.

“We propose eliminating some or all of the changes to the copper retirement process adopted by the Commission in the 2015 Technology Transitions Order,” according to the draft, which would allow phone companies to end service “where alternative voice services are available to consumers in the affected service area.”

The proposed new policy would depart significantly from the one put in place during the Obama Administration because it would end assurances that competing providers would have reasonable and affordable access to wholesale broadband and voice services after phone companies mothball their copper wire networks in favor of wireless or fiber alternatives. If the FCC proposal passes, incumbent phone companies like Verizon and AT&T could end rural landline and DSL service and not make provisions for competitors to have access to the technology alternatives the phone companies would offer affected customers.

Verizon immediately praised the FCC proposal, saying it was “encouraged the FCC has set as a priority creating a regulatory environment that encourages investment in next-generation networks and clears away outdated and unnecessary regulations,” wrote Will Johnson, senior vice-president of federal regulatory and legal affairs at Verizon. “This action is forward-looking, productive and will lead to tangible consumer benefits.”

Previous attempts by Verizon to discontinue landline and DSL service did not lead to “tangible consumer benefits” as Verizon might have hoped. Instead, it led to a consumer backlash, particularly in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Verizon elected not to rebuild its copper wire infrastructure in affected coastal communities in New York and New Jersey. Instead, it introduced a wireless landline replacement called Voice Link that proved unpopular and caused a revolt among residents on Fire Island. The wireless replacement did not support data, health monitoring, credit card transaction processing, faxing, and was criticized for being unreliable. Verizon eventually relented and opted to expand its FiOS fiber to the home network on the island instead.

Verizon also attempted to market Voice Link to New York residents in certain urban and rural service areas affected by extended service outages in lieu of repairing its existing infrastructure. Under the proposed changes, the FCC would ease the rules governing the transition away from copper-based services, which include traditional landline service and DSL, in favor of wireless technology replacements and fiber optics.

Because telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon have made mothballing rural wireline infrastructure a priority, the FCC strengthened its rules in 2015 by doubling the notification window from 90 to 180 days, giving more time for affected customers to make other service arrangements or complain to regulators that there were no suitable alternatives. The FCC wants to roll back that provision to its earlier 90-day notification window in response to telephone company complaints that maintaining copper wire infrastructure is expensive and diverted investment away from next-generation networks.

AT&T has been lobbying for several years to win permission from state legislatures to abandon copper wireline infrastructure, mostly in rural areas, where the company has chosen not to upgrade to fiber optic networks. AT&T claims only about 10% of their original landline customer base still have that service.

Both Verizon and AT&T have shown an interest in moving rural consumers to more proprietary wireless networks, preferably their own, where consumers would get voice and data services. But consumer advocates complain customers could lose access to competitive alternatives, may not have a guarantee of reliable service because of variable wireless coverage, could pay substantially more for wireless alternatives, and may be forced to use technology that either does not support or works less reliably with home security systems, medical monitoring, faxing, and data-related transactions like credit card processing.

Other consumer groups like AARP and Public Knowledge have complained that shortening the window for a transition away from basic landline and DSL service to alternative technology could disproportionately affect the customers most likely to still depend on traditional wireline service — the elderly, poor, and those in rural areas.

Verizon Sued for “Knowingly Billing Customers for Fraudulent Charges”

Verizon will conveniently add fraudsters’ phone and service orders to your wireless bill until you catch the illegitimate charges and complain.

That is the basis of a new class action lawsuit filed in New York accusing the wireless company of billing customers for fraudulently obtained equipment and service.

Brooklyn lawyer Lowell Sidney told the New York Post it took five months of “autopay” charges almost $100 higher than normal before he noticed someone had obtained a new smartphone and service and billed it to his Verizon Wireless account.

“[Verizon] Fraud Services said that on Oct. 22, 2016, an unknown person entered a Best Buy store in Wesley Chapel, Florida, claimed to be [Sidney], and ordered a cellphone and phone service from Verizon,’’ the suit said. When Best Buy asked for ID, the imposter ran out of the store.

But that did not stop Verizon from running up Sidney’s bill for several months of phone financing installments and service charges.

Sidney’s lawyer told the newspaper it was clear the guy was a crook, but that did not stop Verizon from collecting money it knew didn’t belong to them.

Verizon’s fraud department confirmed Verizon’s corporate policy is not to notify customers about potential, suspected, or actual fraud. It is entirely up to customers to identify suspicious charges and prove to Verizon’s satisfaction those charges are illegitimate.

“The woman I spoke to was very candid — ‘That’s our policy,’” reported an outraged Sidney, and he’s suing to make the point Verizon should be doing a better job of protecting customers and should not be collecting money to which it is not entitled. He wants at least $75,000 in damages and wants other Verizon customers affected by fraud to receive settlements as well. He is also taking his business elsewhere after 17 years with Verizon.

“I am not sure if the competition provides comparable service, but to my knowledge, they don’t actively engage in defrauding their own customers,” Sidney said.

Sidney warns that “autopay” and electronic billing make it more difficult for consumers to scrutinize their bills and catch fraudulent charges because they have to seek out a monthly statement instead of getting one sent directly to them.

Judge Set to Hear N.Y. v. Charter Internet Speed Suit Forced to Recuse; He’s a Subscriber

Judge Engelmayer

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will have to wait to bring his lawsuit claiming Charter/Spectrum is ripping off New York consumers with false speed claims until the courts can find a judge that isn’t a Charter/Spectrum subscriber.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer recused himself from hearing the case in state court Wednesday because he has a conflict of interest – he’s a Charter/Spectrum customer and could receive monetary damages if the cable company is found culpable.

“I am obligated to recuse,” Judge Engelmayer said, while also apologizing for not doing so earlier. As a former Time Warner Cable customer, he was unfamiliar with the Spectrum brand and only recently realized Charter Communications had acquired Time Warner Cable. “I can barely use a toaster. I have no idea what internet service I subscribe to.”

Charter Communications is trying to get the case heard in a presumably more friendly venue – federal court, and the case is on hold until Schneiderman completes his argument to have the case heard by a New York court. Charter argues that Schneiderman should not be allowed to bring enforcement actions under state law in state courts just because he is dissatisfied with the performance of the FCC.

The New York Attorney General brought the action after allegedly finding extensive evidence Time Warner Cable was not delivering the internet speeds the company promised in its advertising and in some cases left customers with equipment incapable of supporting the higher speeds customers purchased.

If Schneiderman can successfully keep the case in New York, the courts will have to find a judge with Verizon FiOS or no internet at all — a tall order in a state where Charter/Spectrum’s service area covers Buffalo to Manhattan and all points in-between.

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  • Lee: Phone line dead 4 times in last 2 months. Third time tech said was cut at neighbors yard pedestal. Fourth time this Sunday I went to neighbors to chec...
  • Me: well well well..cutting all their services..getting antenna..all else is on my cell...
  • Matthew H Mosher: Sure, but it's pretty easy to crap on NY when my wife a d I pays these ridiculous tax rates so that MY KIDS can't get broadband. Meanwhile it runs fib...
  • Lee: It would be interesting to see the age cohort distribution of stock owners this analyst champions. I suspect the majority are not in the 20 to 30 rang...
  • Josh: Ugh. If I used Comcast for TV I'd be using it with my TiVo...never with their box. And I always figured the "Xfinity" thing was just to trick people...
  • Josh: LOL! Sounds like basically "we're a huge corporation, so you should do this for us for free". At least hopefully they'll pay now... Of course this ...
  • goonierag: I am sick of wallstreet the cable companies and telco's gouging the people and of here this s**t from their fans. The internet was developed by the ...
  • FredH: Like cable company CEOs need to be told to raise prices by some a-hole Wall Street analyst....
  • Roger W: Go ahead. Raise it to $90. I dare you. I guarantee you it will be the last day I subscribe to cable service. That'll be your loss....
  • FredH: Charter/Spectrum is rapidly catching Comcast in the "race to the bottom"....
  • Phillip Dampier: Yeah, because Charter is hurting so much it cannot afford to extend service itself so it wants welfare to do it. Keep in mind most techs have no clue...
  • Matthew H Mosher: Guaranteed. "BROADBAND FOR ALL (that matter)"...

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