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Huge Optimum Outage, No Refunds, and Callers Learn Customer Service is “Disconnected”

Phillip Dampier September 10, 2019 Altice USA, Consumer News No Comments

No customer service for you.

“The number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number and dial again.”

When Altice USA/Optimum customers discovered their TV and internet service stopped working Friday night in parts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, many called the customer service number printed on their monthly bill and discovered it was “disconnected or no longer in service.”

Outraged customers took to Twitter to express their displeasure.

“Since you shut off your Customer Service line, we all deserve a hefty credit to our accounts. ‘We’re always here to answer your questions.’ NO clearly you’re not, otherwise we’d be able to call you when there’s a sudden outage across multiple cities & no one knows why,” Nathalie Levey tweeted in frustration.

With the widespread outage affecting at least tens of thousands of customers across three states, some found other phone numbers to reach out to Optimum, but those lucky enough to get through were left languishing on hold “for hours,” according to the Connecticut Post. More than a few decided calling 911 was a better idea, much to the consternation of local police departments across the northeast that asked them to stop.

For some reason, Optimum phone service still worked for some, but not others. But it proved useless for reaching the cable company, with a recorded message asking callers to try again later. But calls placed from mobile phones or landlines still managed to get through, sometimes.

…when it works

It was an outage made to frustrate, in part because shortly after Altice acquired Optimum from Cablevision in 2016 as part of a $17.7 billion dollar acquisition, Altice promptly closed down Optimum’s call centers in Shelton and Stratford, Conn., employing nearly 600 workers.

An Altice spokesperson curtly described the outage as “power related” and left it at that, refusing to indicate if customers would be given a bill credit for the outage.

“We still don’t know, because you can’t reach these people on the phone at all and the people at the local cable store tell you that you have to call in, so they are also useless,” complained Sally Davis, an Optimum customer near Litchfield.

There may be another way to ask for a refund, but there is no proof it will actually result in a future bill credit:

The company maintains a general website where customers can request bill credits as noted by Hal Levy, chairman of a regional cable TV advisory council that keeps tabs on carriers and the quality of services they provide. The website on Monday directed customers to telephone, online chat and Twitter for follow-up on requests for bill credits.

“In past instances of widespread outages when the company was owned by Cablevison, automatic bill credits were issued to subscribers,” Levy wrote in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media.

The newspaper notes the outage hit just two weeks after Altice USA tacked $5 onto the rate for Connecticut customers who subscribe to its “Premier” TV package, raising the monthly charge to $110 on par with the rate for a “Gold” plan the company discontinued, while transitioning those subscribers to “Premier” status.

“Who are they kidding?,” Davis told Stop the Cap! “Optimum treats its customers to ‘PoS status.’ I wish we had FiOS.”

Altice Launches Altice Mobile: $20 Unlimited Plan for Optimum/Suddenlink Customers, $30 All Others

Phillip Dampier September 5, 2019 Altice USA, Competition, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband 9 Comments

Altice USA today launched its nationwide mobile phone service, offering “lifetime unlimited talk, text, and data” for $20 a month for existing Optimum and Suddenlink customers, $30 a month for non-customers.

Altice has agreements with Sprint and AT&T to host its wireless service on both provider’s 4G LTE networks when customers are outside the range of a suitable Wi-Fi network. Altice’s plan is designed with pricing simplicity — $20 per line, up to five lines per account. A $10 activation fee may apply and prices do not include taxes, fees, and surcharges. The plan provides:

  • unlimited data, text, and talk nationwide (up to 50 GB data usage per month, after which speed is subject to throttling to 128 kbps for the rest of the billing cycle),
  • unlimited mobile hotspot (speed limited to 600 kbps),
  • unlimited video streaming (streaming video will play “at DVD 480p quality”),
  • unlimited international text and talk from the U.S. to more than 35 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Israel, most of Europe, and more, and,
  • unlimited data, text and talk while traveling abroad in those same countries.

Altice discloses customers connected to 4G LTE service should expect download speeds of 6-8 Mbps and upload speeds of 2-3 Mbps with “round-trip latency of less than 100 ms.” If you connect to a 4G LTE Advanced cell tower, customers can expect faster download speed of 12-30 Mbps. Altice does not allow customers to connect to 3G service and does not support 5G service at this time.

Altice claims its mobile plan can save customers up to $600 per year for one line, and up to $1,100 per year for households and families with five lines. It is also the first cable mobile plan that will accept non-customers, at a higher price. Non-Optimum or Suddenlink customers (or current customers who discontinue cable service or who fall seriously past due on their accounts) will pay $30 a line, a $10 premium.

Altice claims its mobile network welcomes customers bringing their own devices, and offers an online compatibility checker. But an FAQ claims Altice Mobile is currently only able to support iPhone for Bring Your Own Phone service. It must be iPhone SE, 6 or newer, and operate iOS 12.2 or above.

In contrast, Comcast and Charter both accept a wider range of devices and rely on Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network, but at a price of $12-14/GB or $45/month for unlimited talk, text, and data. Those two cable companies only sell mobile service to customers subscribed to their home broadband services.

T-Mobile Prepares for Boost Auction if Dish Network Talks Stall

(Reuters) – T-Mobile US Inc is preparing an alternative plan if a deal to sell wireless assets to Dish Network Corp falls through, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which is advising T-Mobile, the third largest U.S. wireless carrier, on selling prepaid brand Boost Mobile as part of the company’s concession to gain regulatory approval to buy Sprint Corp, is expected to send out books to prospective buyers in two weeks, one source familiar with the matter said.

While satellite television provider Dish Network remains the front-runner to acquire the Boost assets, Goldman has told prospective buyers as late as Tuesday that it is preparing for an upcoming auction of Boost.

Another source characterized the process being run by Goldman as moving slowly. Among the details holding up an auction is that Goldman is not yet clear what exactly is up for sale from the merger, one source said.

T-Mobile and Sprint did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

T-Mobile and Sprint have agreed to a series of deal concessions, including to sell Boost, to gain regulatory approval for the $26.5 billion merger with Sprint, but still needs the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust chief, though his staff have recommended the agency block the deal.

A source close to the discussions said T-Mobile was hopeful it would reach an agreement with the Justice Department by early next week.

The Boost assets have stirred up interest from a variety of parties, including Amazon.com and cable companies Comcast, Charter Communications, and Altice USA, according to sources.

T-Mobile and Sprint are still negotiating possible additional concessions with the Department of Justice, and Goldman Sachs is waiting for the details of the agreement before working on the terms that will be sent out to bidders, one source said.

Two potential bidders told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that they are still in the dark about critical information related to the Boost sale, such as how the Boost wireless deal with T-Mobile will be structured, or financial details about the Boost customers, which the bidders will use to determine the prepaid brand’s valuation.

Dish is also speaking with other parties on potential partnerships with Boost, sources said.

T-Mobile has agreed to negotiate a contract with Boost’s buyer that will allow the spun-off company to run on the combined T-Mobile and Sprint network, according to a regulatory filing that outlined the merger concessions. But the carriers are currently debating whether to provide the buyer an infrastructure-based mobile virtual network operator deal, which would allow the buyer more control over the wireless plans, including control of the user’s SIM card, one source said.

That could help convince the Department of Justice to approve the merger, which has held discussions on how to preserve competition in the wireless industry.

Cable provider Altice is one of the few so-called MVNO partners to have this type of wireless agreement, which it currently has with Sprint. An infrastructure-based MVNO is generally seen as more favorable than a standard deal that allows wireless providers that do not own and operate their own network to piggyback off of one of the four major wireless carriers for wholesale prices.

Other concessions being discussed include whether T-Mobile and Sprint will divest wireless spectrum, or the airwaves that carry data, and the possibility of giving up more retail customers or retail shops from either T-Mobile or Sprint’s prepaid brands, according to one source familiar with the matter.

Reporting by Sheila Dang and Angela Moon in New York and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker

Altice Struggles With Video Programming Costs That Eat 67% of Video Revenue

The reason why many cable companies are no longer willing to cut deals on cable television with customers looking for a better one is that the profit margin enjoyed by cable operators on television service is shrinking fast.

Researcher Cowen found that smaller cable operators are particularly vulnerable to the high costs of cable programming because they do not get the volume discounts larger operators like Comcast, Charter, DirecTV, and Dish are getting.

Researcher Cowen found that programming costs are increasing fast at smaller cable companies. (Image: Cowen/Multichannel News)

Altice USA, which divides about 3.3 million cable TV subscribers between Optimum/Cablevision and Suddenlink, says it paid $682.4 million for cable TV programming during the first quarter of 2019. That amounts to 67% of the company’s total video revenue. If Altice offered complaining customers a 40-50% break on cable television, it would lose money. Cable operators already temporarily give up a significant chunk of video revenue from new customer promotions, which discount offerings for the first year or two of service. Many operators consider any video promotion to be a loss leader these days, because programming costs are exploding, particularly for some local, over-the-air network affiliated stations that are now commanding as much as $3-5 a month per subscriber for each station.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, unsurprisingly also gets the best programming prices. With volume discounts, Comcast reports its programming costs consume about 60% of revenue. Charter Spectrum and Dish report about 65% of their video revenue is eaten by programming costs. Both are seeing dramatic declines in video subscribers as cord-cutting continues. The more customers a company loses, the less of a discount they will command going forward.

According to Cowen, just three years ago Comcast gave up 53% of video revenue to cover programming costs. With programming rate inflation increasing, many smaller cable companies are considering exiting the cable TV business altogether to focus on more profitable broadband service instead.

Suddenlink Putting Its Lines Anywhere It Wants, Drooping in Yards and Roadways

Phillip Dampier June 17, 2019 Altice USA, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Suddenlink is taking full advantage of a lax approach to regulatory oversight in Texas by laying its cables just about anywhere it pleases, and without talking to local officials about exactly what the cable system is doing.

Huntington residents have been complaining to city officials about Suddenlink’s ongoing expansion of its cable system in the city, reporting the cable company is putting cables just about anywhere it wants, often leaving them drooping in yards and roadways. The Altice-owned cable company’s ultimate plans are a complete mystery to the city, because the cable company has said nothing specific about its expansion plans or where exactly the company’s crews are working.

The Lufkin Daily News reports Huntington City Manager Bill Stewart has been hearing second hand about Suddenlink’s expansion since March 2016, but the company has never approached the city formally to share details.

“For the most part, when they finally decided to do it they just started laying lines,” Stewart told the newspaper.

The quality of the construction work is what bothers residents, who complain Suddenlink’s lines are hanging low across yards and even across city streets, with no sign of repair crews willing to fix the problem.

“If they’re going to come in and do something, we expect it will be done right and will be taken care of correctly,” Stewart said. “We want to have a positive relationship with them. But things just need to be done differently if you’re going to come and do something like that. You need to fulfill what you say, and at this point a lot of people are upset because that’s not been done.”

Suddenlink’s response was a general statement:

“Since launching our Suddenlink by Altice broadband, TV, and phone services in Huntington earlier this year, we have seen great demand from residents and have been bringing additional resources to the area to ensure a positive experience for all of our new customers,” Suddenlink media representative Lindsey Angioletti said. “We thank our customers for their support and look forward to serving them with advanced products and services for many years to come.”

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