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Fuming Spectrum Customers in Queens Spend an Hour on Hold to Report Multi-Day Outages

Ralph Romano is still on hold with Charter Spectrum, waiting to report an outage that began late Sunday evening in his apartment in the Jamaica, Queens neighborhood.

“You sit on hold for an hour and then the call disconnects, which is exactly the kind of treatment you know you are going to get from this shabby operation,” an angry Romano tells Stop the Cap! “I am 72 years old and ran my own business for 46 years. If I treated my customers the way this cable company does, I would have been out of business in 4-6 months. I don’t know how they did it but Spectrum is even worse than Time Warner Cable.”

Romano is one of dozens of customers reportedly experiencing a multi-day outage in Queens. For some, the outage takes out phone, internet and television service but for others, internet service is the worst affected.

Romano’s neighbor gave up on wasting her cell phone minutes on hold to report the outage. She took a taxi to the Spectrum Store in Elmhurst and then waited over 90 minutes before someone called on her.

NYC rats are not to be trifled with. This one is taking a slice home on the subway.

“I just wanted to report the outage, not turn in equipment or pay a bill, but the door greeter could care less,” Sandra e-mailed us. “They want your name and then they can’t be bothered. I watched people come in after me get called up to pay their bill, sometimes with a sack of change spilled out on the table that took 15 minutes to count. It was infuriating. When they finally called me, I was helped by Mr. ‘I Don’t Care’ who wanted my account information, then said my cable box appeared to be fine. He never tested the internet modem, which is where the problem was. When I told him the whole building was out, he said he couldn’t take reports about other people and they would have to come down themselves to report the trouble. He gave me a $5 credit for service we still don’t have back. Useless.”

“We have a lot of elderly people in this building so they are not going to run down to Spectrum and wait for hours to report a problem that could be discussed over the phone,” Romano said.

Like several other buildings in Queens, there are no immediate alternatives. Although Verizon claims FiOS is available to the building where Romano lives, the only neighbor who ordered it waited two months for engineering work and then had his order summarily canceled without explanation. The building owner warned FiOS is not available because Verizon was unwilling to place its incoming cables in the appropriate conduit, which is rat-resistant.

“The rats around here eat anything, especially cables,” Romano said. “Everyone seems to know that except Verizon.”

Over in Kew Gardens, intermittent internet access from Spectrum is often a fact of life.

Espinal

“When it rains, the internet is gone,” says Ana López. “You might get 15 minutes worth of use, but then the cable modem light starts blinking and the service is just gone. We have called them at least 10 times, and the riff-raff they send out here couldn’t find their rear end with their hands. Since the strike, the people who knew what they were doing must be on the picket lines because the guys taking their place are scary stupid. One suddenly decided to replace some inside wiring, but he ended up ripping the cable out of the wall by mistake and tore up the plaster. One thing they did make sure to do was laugh when they cut the old Verizon (FiOS) cable the old tenants must have used and then let it fall inside the wall. The other guy accidentally dropped one of his tools into my aquarium.”

López has repeatedly told them the problem has to be outside because it does not rain inside her home, but the latest contractor she dealt with confided he doesn’t climb poles unless absolutely necessary because “he is afraid of heights. ¡Dios mío! I am not lying to you.”

Unsurprisingly, the technicians did not fix the problem. As the problems in Queens mount, Rafael Espinal, chairman of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing in the New York City Council, has set up his own website to take complaints about Charter Spectrum across the city. “FixMyCableNow.com” does not appear to forward complaints on to Spectrum, but angry and dissatisfied customers can get more responsive service for unresolved problems by filing an online complaint with the N.Y. Attorney General’s office.

Frontier Abdicates Basic Responsibilities in Minn.; One Resident Has Phone Cable Draped Over Propane Tank

Ceylon City Council Member John Gibeau shows this Frontier Communications cable intentionally laid across the customer’s propane tank. (Image courtesy: Mark Steil, MPR News)

Frontier Communications technicians decided it would be perfectly safe to drape their telephone lines on top of a propane tank, use overhead tree branches as makeshift telephone poles, and leave phone cables laying on the ground — in lawns, fields, and farms — for up to three years in southern Minnesota.

Minnesota Public Radio found a number of problems with Frontier Communications in a special report outlining years of complaints about the phone company’s performance — or lack thereof — in small communities around the state, including in the town of Ceylon in Martin County, located along the Minnesota-Iowa border.

John Gibeau, a city council member, might tell visitors to be careful of Frontier’s phone cables, some that have laid on the ground in parts of town for years.

“There’s three lines there, that are just laying across the ground,” Gibeau told MPR News. “And they run down for probably another 60 yards.”

Frontier laid out the phone cables sometime ago, but they have never seen a day attached to a utility pole.

In another part of town, a Frontier line technician thought nothing about draping a phone line across the top of a homeowner’s propane tank. At one address, there was no convenient utility pole in sight, so the technician used a few trees in the neighborhood as makeshift poles, distributing the line through the tree branches which help keep the cable above ground so vehicles do not drive over it. Gibeau said Frontier has left it that way for almost three years.

Ceylon, Minn.

Another resident deals with Frontier’s phone line each time he mows his lawn. That is because Frontier just dropped the cable on the grass and left it there. He relocated it to a nearby flower bed to avoid an accidental entanglement with the lawnmower. Other neighbors have done their part, attaching Frontier’s lines to the top of fences and fence poles — anything in sight that can get the cable off the ground where it can be ruined over time.

In all these cases, Frontier has refused to fix the problems, despite repeated calls. But that may be asking for too much. At a hearing recently in Slayton, Frontier customer Dale Burkhardt lost his phone and DSL service after a construction crew accidentally severed the phone cable that serves his farm. More than a year later, Frontier’s repair crews have never shown up to repair the line, regardless of the number of trouble tickets and calls to customer service.

“I still don’t have a landline, I don’t have an internet,” Burkhardt said. “I’m getting a little fed up.”

As Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission continues a series of public hearings around the state to hear complaints concerning Frontier Communications, regulators are getting an earful. Nearly 400 people have turned out for the hearings so far. Many report Frontier has not fixed their problems, no matter how often customers complain.

Javier Mendoza, Frontier’s vice president of communications, told MPR the company is listening to customers.

“For us, one customer who is out of service is one customer too many,” Mendoza said. “So, we would thank our customers for their patience. We recognize that from time to time we experience service issues and delays. And for those customers that are affected, we apologize to them.”

Frontier Communications scatters its phone cables on residents’ lawns, across a propane tank, and through tree branches as makeshift utility poles, reports Minnesota Public Radio (3:56)

AT&T’s Abandoned Wiring Oozing Lead On Customers’ Property

Phillip Dampier September 26, 2018 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 3 Comments

Opening a lead insulated buried cable. Lead can be resealed with solder after repairs.

In the early to mid-1950’s, thousands of landowners between Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth, Tex. were asked to grant a right of way and easement to what was then known as the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (AT&T). After winning permission, AT&T buried a 4-6 inch wide copper telephone cable sheathed in lead to connect the two cities — 200 miles apart — together. Almost 70 years later, that cable is coming back to haunt the phone company.

Telecommunications companies have used copper phone wiring for over 100 years to deliver telegraph, telephone, and data services. AT&T’s “trunk lines” often contained dozens, if not hundreds of individual cable pairs used to connect regional long distance calls and distant central switching offices together. To protect the cables, phone companies relied on simple paper insulation until the mid-1950s to keep the cable pairs from making contact with other wires. Buried cables were traditionally sheathed in lead, a very popular and durable insulator that dependably kept moisture out while allowing technicians easy access to the cables within. As the 1960s approached, phone companies began to switch to plastic insulation, but paper and lead-wrapped copper wiring remains in service in some areas to this day, often in large cities.

As with most AT&T-owned underground cables, the one in Texas was wrapped in lead. The company used a network of subterranean concrete rooms and above ground small cinder block buildings for maintenance, offering technicians direct access to the cable and various network equipment. Landowners knew the additional infrastructure belonged to AT&T because the company placed their logo on it.

Ongoing technological advancements eventually allowed AT&T to transition service to fiber optic cables, and by 2010, the Houston-Dallas copper cable was decommissioned. AT&T employees removed its signage, sold the cinder block structures and abandoned the underground vaults.

But AT&T did not remove the cable, which remains unused and buried to this day, allegedly leaching dangerous lead into the ground. Property owners fearing AT&T’s cable may be fouling the soil and groundwater with lead contamination took AT&T to court in 2016, seeking a class action case against the phone company for abandoning its cable and easements.

AT&T’s Environment, Health, and Safety Division offered a presentation at the 2010 International Telecommunications Safety Conference warning about the perils of old lead-sheathed phone cables, claiming “underground cable presents real possibilities for overexposure to lead:”

  • Some older metropolitan areas may still have over 50% lead cable.
  • Buried cable leaches many compounds to the surface of the insulation: lead carbonate, lead monoxide, lead sulfate, lead chloride, lead dioxide, lead acetate, lead nitrate, and lead sulfide. Many of these compounds do not adhere tightly to the cable and are easily airborne.
  • Once in the soil, 83 and 98 percent of the released lead remains intact in the soil within 2 inches of the cables.

In addition to the cost of removing the unused cable, AT&T’s own safety engineers suggest removing old cables can also pose a significant health risk to employees and property owners if not done properly:

  • Extraction of cable from underground duct can release unexpected high levels of lead dust.
  • Wetting was not capable of controlling dust in many cases.
  • Location of employees to cable extraction is important.

Despite the health risks, a judge denied class certification of the lawsuit on Tuesday, ruling each affected property owner will have to bring a separate lawsuit against AT&T.

U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett issued the 11-page ruling against the claimants.

“Plaintiffs present the general retirement of underground coaxial and fiber optic cables, removal of signage/equipment for those cables, and planned release of some easements as class-wide proof that abandonment is a common question for the proposed class,” Judge Bennett wrote. “However, because the class does not deal with one easement, rather hundreds (if not thousands), each class member would need to present evidence of the definite acts revealing AT&T’s intent to abandon the particular easements associated with that member’s property.”

Bennett was also unpersuaded by claims that the abandoned AT&T cable created a presumption of imminent harm, and his ruling stated each property owner would have to provide evidence of the cable’s lead contamination on that owner’s land. In addition, each claimant would have to prove damages, assuming the statute of limitations had not run out years ago.

“Certainly, a separate soil analysis for each property would have to be present, along with evidence pertinent to determine the existence and cause of any contaminates on each of the properties,” Bennett wrote.

The law firm bringing the lawsuit plans an appeal.

AT&T Tearing Up Yards in Dixon, Calif. for Fiber Build; Causes Evacuation After Gas Line Hit

Phillip Dampier September 6, 2018 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

Residents in Dixon, Calif. are being inconvenienced by AT&T’s fiber buildout. (Image: KOVR-TV)

AT&T’s contractors turned a Dixon, Calif. neighborhood into “a disaster zone” while attempting to install fiber optic cables for a forthcoming upgrade.

For almost half a year, AT&T’s outsourced construction crews have dug up yards around the growing community of 19,000, located 23 miles from Sacramento. The Valley Glenn neighborhood has seen the worst of it, according to homeowners who complain crews left concrete debris buried in their front yards, killed their lawns, and have been inconvenienced by heavy equipment partially blocking streets for months. Two weeks ago, an AT&T contractor crew hit a gas line, forcing the evacuation of the entire neighborhood.

Homeowner Natalie Avina sought help from Sacramento’s CBS station KOVR-TV, with the hope that drawing media attention to the debacle would force AT&T to ‘do the right thing.’

“They’ve ruined our front yard,” Avina told the station. “Everything’s been dug up. You know we take pride in our homes. You don’t want to come home and see this.”

Heather Craig, another homeowner, reports her lawn is struggling to recover.

“They put concrete instead of dirt back underneath our grass, so it’s dying,” Craig said.

Neighbors agree AT&T has been remiss on keeping the neighborhood informed about the duration of the construction and have not given them information about who to contact to discuss damages and concerns.

AT&T responded to the concerns earlier this week.

“As we work to expand and enhance our fiber network to deliver ultra-high speeds to the Dixon area, our goal is to minimize the effect on residents as much as possible,” AT&T said in a statement. “Unfortunately part of this project was not completed to our standards and we are working to fix it.”

Dixon homeowners are demanding AT&T pay for repairs after a contractor damaged lawns and sidewalks during fiber optic infrastructure installation. KOVR in Sacramento reports. (2:14)

Charter Spectrum Refuses to Air Political Ad Slamming Spectrum for High Rates

Brindisi’s ad has been “censored” by Charter Spectrum.

A Democratic candidate running for Congress in central New York cannot get his 30-second ad slamming New York’s biggest cable company on Spectrum’s cable channels.

Anthony Brindisi slammed Charter Communications for “censoring” his campaign by refusing to air his latest ad which claims Spectrum has almost doubled its rates since taking over for Time Warner Cable and has broken its promises to the state. Brindisi also accused his Republican opponent — incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney — of siding with the cable company, and “voted to give the company a $9 billion tax cut while they were raising our rates.”

The fact that Brindisi opens his ad claiming, “if you’re watching this ad on Spectrum cable, you’re getting ripped off,” may have been partly responsible for Charter’s refusal to air his ad.

“The ad did not meet our criteria,” said Maureen Huff, a spokesperson for Charter Spectrum.

Rep. Tenney

But the ad is not factually inaccurate, just hyperbolic. Many Spectrum customers complained about steep rate increases switching between their original Time Warner Cable plans and new plans offered by Spectrum. Some customers needed to upgrade to higher tier cable TV packages to keep channels they would otherwise lose and the company’s ongoing digital conversion convinced many customers they needed to rent set-top boxes for every television in their home, at a substantial cost.

Brindisi’s claim that “Claudia Tenney’s campaign is bankrolled by Spectrum,” is slightly misplaced, although Charter Communications has spent $5,000 on contributions to her campaign in 2017. In fact, Comcast is her third largest contributor, spending $12,900 on her campaign so far during the 2017-2018 election cycle. The Koch Brothers, a cable industry ally, comes in fourth.

Brindisi hoped to air his ads in the Utica and Binghamton markets through Spectrum, but will have to spend more buying time on over the air channels. He says he doesn’t like Spectrum’s stranglehold on local views aired on cable channels.

“It’s a scary precedent for them to be setting just because I’ve been a vocal critic of the company,” Brindisi told the New York Times. “I don’t think I should be precluded from informing the public about their practices here in New York State and letting people know that, at the same time they are raising your cable rates, they are a big beneficiary of the tax bill and a major supporter of my opponent.”

Watch the 30-second advertisement Charter Spectrum refused to allow on its cable channels. Anthony Brindisi is a Democratic candidate for Congress in central New York (30 seconds)

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