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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.”

Stray Bullet Causes Large Service Outage for Suddenlink in North Carolina

A stray bullet that hit a fiber optic line in late May eventually disrupted Altice/Suddenlink service in eastern North Carolina and caused a minor outage for the Beaufort County 911 Communication Center.

The bullet, recovered by the Washington, N.C. Police Department, damaged the overhead fiber optic line it struck, eventually bringing service down for nearly a day.

Suddenlink first detected the problem on a Saturday in late May, but did not identify the fiber line as “shot” until a day later, at which point WPD officers responded to the scene. The cable company evidently did not start repairs until after a widespread service outage began.

Most of the information about the outage was provided by the local police department, because Suddenlink has not responded to requests for details about the outage’s extent or duration. A police report about the incident shows that there were no calls to 911 to report the shooting, and a suspect has not been identified. The WPD classified the incident as “damage to property.”

The Washington Daily News reports that there was some disruption to the city’s public safety operations.

“911 operations are impacted by any interruption in internet service, but we can operate without it for a short period of time,” Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Rose told the newspaper. “We may receive notice if there is a planned outage for maintenance. Our service has been slow today, but hasn’t been out completely.”

Altice Preparing to Offer $20-30/Mo Unlimited Data Mobile Plan

Altice USA could be your next cell phone provider, if you subscribe to Cablevision’s broadband service in the metro New York City area.

The Wall Street Journal reports Altice is preparing to launch an unlimited calling/texting/data plan that will cost between $20-30 per month, powered by Cablevision’s in-home Wi-Fi, its network of public Wi-Fi hotspots, and Sprint’s 4G LTE network.

The service, likely to be called Altice Mobile, is the latest entry from cable operators pitching low cost mobile service as an incentive to keep customers from switching providers. Altice will charge dramatically less for its unlimited plan than Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile ($45) — both reselling Verizon Wireless service — (with speeds reduced to 1 Mbps download and 512 kbps upload after 20 GB of data usage in a month.)

Customers using AT&T and Verizon pay even more. Unlimited monthly plans for a single phone start at $80 at Verizon and $70 at AT&T, depending on bundling certain other AT&T-owned services. For less than half the price, Altice Mobile would deliver all the same services larger providers offer, although Altice intends to offload as much usage as possible to its network of Wi-Fi hotspots, to keep costs low. Before Altice acquired the cable company, Cablevision built a major Wi-Fi presence in the New York City metro areas where it provides cable service. Altice announced it intends to strengthen that network to support its mobile initiative, including the possibility of deploying its own small cell network.

Where Altice cannot supply its own wireless connection, it will rely on Sprint to take over, paying the cell phone company for its customers’ traffic. In return, Sprint will be able to bolster its network in Altice’s service area, perhaps even using Altice’s fiber-to-the-home network, now under construction. That could help Sprint launch 5G service relatively soon in the region, regardless of whether its pending merger with T-Mobile USA is approved. To protect the venture, Altice has secured an agreement with both T-Mobile and Sprint not to terminate its contractual agreement with Sprint should a merger be approved. But the service will still be dependent on network owners like Sprint willing to sell connectivity. Should Altice Mobile take a significant share of the market, network owners may be reluctant to renew such contracts, or price them much higher at renewal time, raising prices.

The cable industry’s incentive for getting into the wireless business, even if it proves unprofitable, is plain to see. All entrants require their mobile customers to maintain a broadband account in good standing to qualify for mobile service. Comcast, Charter, and Altice are aware their video packages are increasingly untenable in a cord-cutter’s marketplace, but maintaining internet service remains essential. In most areas where the cable operators provide service, Verizon or AT&T also sells both broadband and wireless service. Customers may be reluctant to bounce between providers looking for a better deal if they also have to switch mobile providers at the same time.

Comcast Gives Up on Rescuing Cord Cutting TV Customers; No More Deals

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2019 Comcast/Xfinity, Competition, Consumer News 3 Comments

Watson

Unhappy about your cable TV bill? Don’t bother complaining to Comcast, because the cable company is ready to tell you to take your business elsewhere.

New competition usually means those already in the business freshen their game, get creative, cut prices, or out-compete the competition with a better product. But Comcast plans to lose its restless cable television customers if they complain about the company’s prices for cable TV.

Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, told investors at the Deutsche Bank 2019 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach the company is done handing out retention deals with cut-rate pricing to keep cable TV customers from leaving.

“[Comcast is] simply not going to chase unprofitable video relationships,” Watson said, noting with the growing number of new streaming video competitors, more and more customers are calling looking for better deals and threatening to cut the cord. Watson says Comcast is prepared to let them.

“Because of consumer choice, because of all this competition, we’re just not going to chase video [customers],” Watson repeated.

Comcast’s new “we don’t negotiate” attitude with its customers isn’t groundbreaking in the industry. Satellite providers and some cable companies like Charter/Spectrum have largely stopped negotiating with customers as well.

Some cable operators have intentionally avoided significant video price hikes in recent years, already sensitive to the cord-cutting calls that increase after each rate hike announcement. Others hide rate increases in surcharges, often for local TV stations or regional sports channels. For some companies, giving customers a better deal may even make their video pricing unprofitable.

To compensate for tightening margins on cable television, most providers have been significantly increasing broadband pricing in recent years, knowing broadband is one service customers are least likely to drop as a result of rate increases.

NY City Hall to Charter: Where is Our $6 Million? 10 Days to Pay or Spectrum Shouldn’t Stay

Phillip Dampier March 7, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Spectrum workers on strike during the 2017 Labor Day parade in New York City. (Image courtesy: IBEW/Local 3)

New York City officials are giving Charter Communications 10 days to send $6 million in unpaid franchise and royalty fees or make a strong and credible case for why it shouldn’t pay, with likely litigation and the possible non-renewal of Spectrum’s contract to supply cable service on the line if the mayor isn’t satisfied.

In a letter addressed to Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio accused the company of deliberately shorting the city’s share of revenue from Spectrum’s advertising sales, calculating the city’s cut based on the lower net amount collected after expenses, instead of on gross revenue, as the contract requires. The mayor also claims Charter is withholding royalty revenue from an ancillary business Charter partly owns.

“Charter Spectrum has proven time and time again that they’re unwilling to play by the rules,” the mayor told the Daily News. “This is money that can be reinvested in our communities instead of going into Charter’s coffers as they continue to hike rates for New Yorkers. [This latest] default is another thing we’ll take into consideration when their contract expires in 2020.”

Charter’s Endless Labor Problems Upset New York Officials

Charter is already in hot water with New York officials over its treatment of workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3, which have been on strike since March 2017. The highly skilled technicians were incensed when they learned hard-fought benefits were being clawed back by Charter, even as the company paid its CEO a record-breaking $98 million in compensation.

Mayor de Blasio

Over 1,800 middle class workers represented by IBEW Local 3 have suffered greatly over the past two years, according to labor reports. Many have had to cash in retirement savings, some have lost their cars or homes to foreclosure, others face mounting medical bills, in addition to family pressure at home. The union argues it is one of the last bastions to protect all middle-income earners from a race to the bottom mentality that is reducing wages and benefits. When a union worker is replaced with a less-skilled contractor, the pay and benefits Charter offers are significantly lower. Those technicians, regardless of their intentions, are also often poorly trained and risk alienating customers when repairs are incomplete or fail.

Many politicians in New York City have sided with the union strikers and have deplored the seemingly endless strike. Time Warner Cable, in contrast, had reasonably good relations with its unionized workforce. Prior to the merger, the biggest cable vs. labor union friction in the city was between the Communications Workers of America and Cablevision, which began after the CWA started organizing workers in Brooklyn and the Bronx in 2012.

With the Charter dispute approaching its second anniversary, the cable company has been spending subscriber dollars on a slick effort to convince its replacement workers to team up with the cable company to vote for decertification of IBEW Local 3 with the National Labor Relations Board.

Ironically, the same company that has dragged its feet settling the dispute has sent email to replacement workers claiming the union has done a lousy and ineffective job… of wearing down Charter.

In a Jan. 31 internal email obtained by In These Times, Charter Communications regional vice president of New York City operations, John Quigley, told workers, “In my opinion, Local 3 has not earned the right to represent you. Over the past several years they have misled their members, led them out on a strike without a clear plan, mishandled almost every aspect of the strike, made it very clear what they think of employees who are working with us today, and continue to make empty threats about harming our business. We hope that you vote ‘no’ and give us a chance to continue to make Charter a great place to work together.”

Race to the Bottom for Workers, Higher Rates for You

If Charter is successful in organizing replacement workers to side with the cable company and vote in larger numbers than the strikers, the current union representation will essentially end, along with the strike, handing total victory to Charter Communications. The cable company will likely impose its own terms on workers shortly afterwards. Critics claim that should be a familiar story for Spectrum subscribers.

“The company is basically union busting in New York City, and they’ve come in, raised rates on people and set their own terms because they hold a monopoly right now and there’s really no one to stop them from doing what they’re doing,” Troy Walcott, a striking worker, told In These Times.

With ongoing controversies with Charter on both the state and local levels, the company is likely to face increased scrutiny if the cable operator applies for a franchise renewal with the city next year, assuming state regulators do not move to enforce their own July 2018 decision to effectively kick Charter Communications out of New York State.

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