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Altice USA’s Optimum Selling Gigabit Service for $45 a Month… With a $200 Prepaid Visa Card

Altice USA is pushing hard to grab market share away from Verizon FiOS — its biggest competitor in the northeastern U.S., with a new customer promotion that offers a year of gigabit broadband speed for $45/month, as well as a $200 prepaid Visa gift card just for signing up.

To qualify for this rate, you must be a new Altice customer (or a customer that disconnected Altice service for at least 30 days). To get the gift card, you must be a new customer and have not received an earlier gift card from Altice in the last 12 months. This offer is good for residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The Bill Breakdown:

  • $50/mo for 1 gigabit service (up to 940 Mbps download/up to 50 Mbps upload) + $5/mo discount for signing up for paperless billing and autopay (total equals $45/mo)
  • $10/mo optional gateway modem/router rental fee
  • $3.50/mo mandatory “Network Enhancement Fee”
  • Your out the door price is $58.50/mo if you use their gateway, $48.50/mo if you bring your own.

Customers can also choose a 500 Mbps tier for $35 a month with similar fees.

If you sign up, you will also be offered the option of multiple TV packages, including a Basic TV package of 50 channels for $15/mo or a Core TV package of 210 channels for $25/mo. Home phone service is also available in this promotion for $10/mo. A bundle including gigabit internet, Core TV and home phone service is priced at $80/mo. There is no installation fee for customers that can manage their own inside wiring if needed.

New York Mandates $15 Low-Income Broadband Tier Available to All Who Qualify

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed affordable internet at the State of the State address in January 2021.

Low income New Yorkers will soon be able to subscribe to internet service at speeds starting at 25/10 Mbps for $15 a month, thanks to a new law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

To qualify, a consumer will need to show proof of active enrollment in any of the following programs:

  • Medicaid
  • Free or discounted school lunches
  • the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps”
  • A senior or disability rent increase exemption

Almost every internet service provider of consequence in New York will be required to introduce a low income discounted internet program by June 2021. Consumers will be offered at least two options, depending on the technological capacity of a provider’s network:

  • $15/month basic service at speeds of at least 25/10 Mbps
  • $20/month enhanced service bringing download speeds up to 200 Mbps.

Rates will be fixed for at least five years, after which providers can increase prices based on the rate of inflation or by a modest percentage allowed by the state. In 2023, the New York State Public Service Commission will be permitted to require increases in the minimum download speeds offered.

The measure is part of New York’s effort to expand broadband availability and affordability across the state. Earlier broadband funding programs helped expand service into rural, unserved areas. This year, the legislature and the governor are targeting the digital divide between those who can and cannot afford internet access. The state’s largest cable operator, Charter Spectrum, already offers low-income customers its own Spectrum Internet Assist program, with similar qualifications. The company charges $14.99/month for 30/4 Mbps internet service, but excludes current customers from enrolling and may reject customers with past due balances owed in the past.

Gov. Cuomo announced the initiative at the State of the State Address in January. Critics called the plan “window dressing,” noting the state’s largest telecommunications companies including Charter Spectrum, Verizon, Altice, and Frontier already offer internet discount programs. Many also continue to question the governor’s contention that 98% of New Yorkers can now access high-speed internet and the overall cost and quality of service.

To assist residents in finding a suitable provider, the state launched an Affordable Internet website to help consumers sign up for discounted service. In some cases, additional discounts may be available.

The legislation also mandates the Public Service Commission to study and report back on internet accessibility and affordability by this time next year. The PSC will scrutinize how many New York homes and businesses still lack access to high-speed internet, as well as studying how reliable service providers are, what rates they charge, and the current state of competition in New York.

New York consumers can share their own experiences with internet service providers the state will use to guide potential future legislation.

WGRZ in Buffalo took a closer look at whether New York’s mandate for affordable internet service was a game changer or just window dressing. (2:33)

Gov. Cuomo’s “Broadband for All” Under Audit by Comptroller; Angry NY’ers Still Waiting

Phillip Dampier October 13, 2020 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rural Broadband, Video 1 Comment

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses his rural broadband initiative in New York.

Despite repeated assurances that 98% of New Yorkers now have access to high-speed internet, rural New Yorkers from the state’s border with Massachusetts to farm country outside of Niagara Falls don’t believe it. Now New York’s Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, is auditing the half-billion dollar program to determine where the money went and where broadband service is now available.

A source told WGRZ-TV in Buffalo that an audit of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Broadband for All” program was initiated by the Comptroller’s office back in March 2020 after rural residents and the lawmakers that represent them began complaining the program never delivered on its commitments. WGRZ Reporter Nate Benson notes that what may have started as a routine audit may now be under additional scrutiny because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many New Yorkers online for work and learning from home.

The broadband program, introduced with great fanfare by the governor in 2015, promised that every New Yorker that wanted high speed internet (at least 25 Mbps in rural areas, 100 Mbps in urban communities) would have access by the end of 2018. The governor claimed the state earmarked $500 million — mostly proceeds from legal settlements with large New York City banks accused of criminal activity surrounding the Great Recession — towards the program, with dollar for dollar matching from companies awarded grants to expand internet access in specific areas.

Benson noted that publicly available data on the N.Y. Broadband Program Office website found a significant shortfall in private investment dollars, with only four out of 53 internet service providers awarded grants matching or exceeding the amounts they received from the state broadband fund. In short, they accepted generous subsidies without being equally generous with their own money.

DiNapoli

The program used a reverse auction approach to award state broadband funding. Phone, cable, and wireless providers bid to serve one or more of the 256,000 “census blocks” the state identified as lacking access to high-speed internet. Most companies chose the most densely populated census blocks next to their existing service areas, assuring higher profits while the state paid a significant amount of the construction costs. In the end, 76,000 census blocks in very rural, sparsely populated areas least likely to get broadband service attracted no bids at all. To achieve the state’s vaunted “98% served,” officials signed a contract with a satellite internet provider to service the remaining 30% of rural New Yorkers left behind, despite the fact satellite internet providers had a reputation for not meeting subscriber expectations and rarely guaranteed consistent minimum broadband speeds of 25 Mbps. Hughes Satellite provides the service, but our readers using the service warn it comes with a stingy data cap inadequate for today’s average household usage. Speeds are wildly inconsistent as well, often way below 25 Mbps.

Even with satellite internet as an option, New Yorkers continue to tell Stop the Cap! they are still without access, including satellite, even in communities just a few miles outside of major cities like Albany, the state capital. The true scope of the problem became apparent last spring as the coronavirus pandemic emerged, forcing employers to send workers home and schools switched to online learning.

Westerlo, N.Y.

The Berne Knox Westerlo School District, located in the hill towns of Albany County, quickly realized there was a wide gap between the state’s “98% covered” claim and reality.

“We had about 28-30% of our student population without internet access or with very poor internet access.” Superintendent Dr. Timothy Mundell told WRGB News. The district tried stop-gap measures like parking Wi-Fi enabled school buses around the district and handing out Wi-Fi hotspot devices, which proved to work unevenly. Mundell says the only real solution to this problem is ubiquitous fiber to the home internet access, and that is a long way off.

“It concerns me because every day we’re without, my students have the potential of falling behind their peers down in the suburbs and the urban areas,” Mundell said. “So this is a real equity issue for us and we want to make sure rural areas get served.”

Two Republican lawmakers from Western New York also introduced a bill this year to repeal a 2019 state tax on optical fiber cable projects. Senators George Borrello and Pam Helming believe the tax will discourage fiber optic buildouts, especially in higher cost rural areas.

“The reality is that broadband is no longer a luxury this is a basic infrastructure need just like water sewer electric and roads, and without it we’re not going to be able to expand.” Sen. Borrello said.

Dundee, N.Y.

But the biggest proponent of the law’s repeal, Verizon Communications, is also one of the telecommunications companies showing the least interest in expanding its fiber internet service in rural New York. Verizon is fighting the tax so it can save money on expanding its mobile 4G and 5G wireless networks, which are connected with fiber optic cables, not because it wants to expand FiOS fiber to the home service.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers without broadband remain stuck.

“It’s all a lot of empty promises with no sign of service,” Katy tells Stop the Cap! from her home near Dundee, in the Finger Lakes region of the state. “I’ve lived here since the days when the only phone line you could get was a party line shared with four other homes and I still have my rotary dial phone New York Telephone installed in 1965. These companies don’t want me to forget I am living in the past.”

Katy lives about 500 feet from the nearest address able to subscribe to Charter Spectrum and was quoted $9,000 to extend cable to her home, set far back from the main road. Verizon has never offered DSL in her neighborhood, because she is located too far away from the central office. Her property is set in a small forest, so satellite internet is not a possibility either.

“I can watch two channels over the air from Syracuse with my outdoor antenna, but that is all. I guess I prefer reading anyway,” she tells us.

WGRZ in Buffalo reports the New York State’s Comptroller’s Office is auditing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Broadband for All program, which guaranteed 98% of New Yorkers high-speed internet. (3:06)

Tropical Storm Isaias Brings Frontier’s Network to Its Knees in the Hudson Valley of N.Y.

Phillip Dampier August 5, 2020 Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't 2 Comments

A tropical storm that swept up the east coast of the United States took out Frontier Communications’ landline network, its backups, and 911 service for residents of Orange and Sullivan Counties, N.Y. for 13 hours last night, requiring a response from local fire officials after Frontier’s backup equipment also failed.

Tropical Storm Isaias brought significant, but not unprecedented wind and rain to the Hudson Valley of New York on Tuesday. While most of the damage and service outages were further east in the New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey areas, a general power failure in the City of Middletown started a chain of events that left two counties without Frontier phone, internet, or 911 service from 7:30 pm Tuesday night until 8:30 am Wednesday morning.

When the power failure began, Frontier’s switching network went down. Calls to 911 failed to connect, and customers reported no dial tone or internet access. Frontier’s backup battery system, designed to operate in the event of a power failure, itself failed and literally melted under the pressure, spilling enough toxic chemicals to force Frontier to request assistance from the Middletown Fire Department and Orange County Hazmat, which responded to contain the toxic material. Frontier had to drive in a replacement backup solution from another service area to get its network up and running again.

“There were several equipment failures there related to the power outage,” Brendan Casey, commissioner of emergency services told the Times Herald-Record. “Their backup system failed, their switch failed, battery issues that resulted in a minor hazmat issue. It was like everything just failed up there.”

After dealing with the failed battery equipment, county officials, firefighters, and Frontier technicians were left in the building’s parking lot cooling their heels until 2 am trying to figure out how to restore 911 service to the area, without success. Casey reported Frontier successfully restored 911 service later Wednesday morning.

Orange County, N.Y.

As Frontier technicians gradually restore service to individual customers affected by the storm, county officials are calling on the New York Public Service Commission to conduct a review of the incident and investigate if Frontier was adequately prepared to deal with the storm. Frontier will not be alone. Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted utility companies across downstate New York, accusing them of being ill-prepared to handle the storm. Some customers are expected to be without power, phone, and internet service for up to a week.

“We know that severe weather is our new reality and the reckless disregard by utility companies to adequately plan for tropical storm Isaias left tens of thousands of customers in the dark, literally and figuratively. Their performance was unacceptable,” Cuomo said. Cuomo ordered the PSC to “launch an investigation into Verizon, PSEG Long Island, Con Edison, Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Orange and Rockland Utilities, and New York State Electric & Gas to understand how such a failure could have taken place. New Yorkers deserve answers and they deserve better. The large volume of outages and the utilities’ failure to communicate with customers in real-time proves they did not live up to their legal obligations. The fact that many customers still do not know when their power will be restored makes it even more unacceptable. The worst of this situation was avoidable, and it cannot happen again.”

Frontier was not the only telecommunications company embarrassed by the tropical storm. Along the Westchester-Putnam border, power outages knocked out cell service. At one location, a backup generator designed to provide backup power to the cell tower immediately caught fire, causing damage to the building at the base of the tower.

“While there was a fire at the cell tower in question, I have no information if all carriers on that tower are down or just one. What we do know is that cell services across the county are negatively impacted for all carriers. We had reports that cell towers in this region (Putnam, Orange, Rockland, Passaic) were damaged during the storms,” said Thomas Lannon, director of Putnam County’s technology office.

Frontier filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2020.

Rural New York Legislators Slam Charter Spectrum’s Request to Limit Rural Broadband Funding

With an estimated 90,000 New Yorkers stranded without broadband service, a proposal from Charter Communications to block funding for future projects is coming under fire from a bipartisan group of rural legislators.

Charter, which does business as Spectrum, filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission to exclude certain census blocks for funding under the agency’s new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The cable company claims it intends to privately fund expansion of internet service in those areas, and does not welcome government-subsidized competition.

“Good cause plainly exists to grant the waiver to avoid overbuilding areas in which Charter has already begun the process of deploying service and is investing private capital well in excess of $600 million,” company officials wrote. “This will ensure scarce universal service support is deployed to close the gap/digital divide in actually unserved areas. The commission has previously granted rule waivers where, as here, the purposes of the rule would be disserved by its strict application, and where waiver would affirmatively serve the public interest.”

Many of the rural homes Charter claims it intends to serve have been waiting for internet access for well over a decade. Many were hopeful that wait would end shortly after the cable company agreed to expand service to an additional 145,000 rural New York households as part of an agreement with state regulators approving its merger with Time Warner Cable. But a March 2020 audit conducted by the Comptroller of New York found Charter was not meeting its commitments:

“[…] It has been over three years since the merger was approved. Network expansion should have already been provided to approximately 126,875 unserved or underserved premises based on the 2016 Commission Order approving the merger. As of July 2019, Charter had only extended its network to 64,827 premises. Based on the original Order, 62,048 additional customers should have received access to these services. Charter now has until September 2021 to complete the network expansion of 145,000 premises previously scheduled to be completed by May 2020.”

Barrett

Some New York legislators believe Charter is out of line asking the FCC to exclude funding for other rural broadband projects while taking its time meeting its own commitments.

“Charter’s waiver request is simply self-serving and will in no way benefit the residents of upstate New York who, even in the year 2020, are struggling to access adequate broadband by any provider,” Rep. Didi Barrett (D-Hudson) wrote in a letter to the FCC. “Charter’s petition is a blatant attempt to reduce competition and leave consumers with no choice but to wait around for Charter to finish a job that should already be complete. In Upstate New York, tens of thousands of residents and businesses are still waiting for internet service because of Charter’s years-long effort to renege on their obligations to New York State and the people who live in rural communities. We must continue to call Charter out until every household and business is served as planned under their agreement with New York State.”

Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik from Schuylerville agrees with many of Barrett’s views, blasting Spectrum for seriously delaying its rural rollout commitments. Stefanik worked with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to change the qualification requirements for the RDOF program, which originally would have excluded New York from receiving funding. If the FCC adopts Charter’s request, it would block much of her district from receiving broadband funds, either because Charter previously indicated it would (eventually) offer service or because the state previously supplied broadband subsidies, which would also seem to disqualify RDOF grants.

“I have heard directly from constituents and local elected officials that this decision would have a severe impact on their ability to gain rural broadband access, which is essential, especially during this time of crisis,” Stefanik said. “Charter’s request would exclude parts of the North Country from this critical federal funding, and I will work with my upstate colleagues and the FCC to keep it available.”

WNYT in Albany reports rural New York communities like Stillwater have waited years for Charter Spectrum to provide broadband service. The addresses Spectrum grudgingly will serve in the area are routinely quoted installation fees starting at $8,000. (2:16)

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