BPU Investigation of Optimum/Altice USA Continues With New Order
UPDATED: April 27, 2021
Led by the considerable efforts of Robbinsville and Hamilton Townships, the State Division of Rate Counsel has formally requested the NJ Board of Public Utilities (BPU) "proceed with an in-depth investigation to assess the functionality and capabilities of the Company’s network/infrastructure and its business practices."
That investigation led to an April 27, 2021 order requiring Optimum/Altice USA to provide responses to a variety of cited requests from petitioners, including Robbinsville, within 30 days of the order. Upon receipt and analysis of the aforementioned data, the BPU "will evaluate the appropriate action with respect to enforcement of existing rules and regulations governing the services provided and what measures are necessary to ensure the continued provision of safe, adequate and proper services are rendered throughout the state."
The report, dated March 23, 2021, follows a March 16 hearing where more than 100 elected officials, attorneys and members of the public took Optimum/Altice USA to task for its service, network reliability, pricing and other business practices.
Per the report, "Rate Counsel notes that Altice reached a $72 million settlement in New York to improve storm resiliency which included $3.4 million in credits to New York customers. Rate Counsel stands ready to work with the Board, the Company, the townships and other parties and stakeholders in a process that allows the Board and parties to discuss specific regulations; metrics; best practices; and examine the cause(s) of the service quality and customer service issues raised by customers, to assist in the development of a plan that provides a path in ensuring that safe, functional and reliable service is restored and maintained. This action will allow the Board to make an informed decision and issue targeted directives to assist Altice in resolving service issues and eliminating the apparent unfair business practices throughout its service footprint."
The BPU designated Commissioner Mary-Anna Holden was the Presiding Officer and is authorized to rule on all motions in order to "secure a just and expeditious determination of the issues."
The public hearing was held virtually. In addition to the Townships of Hamilton and Robbinsville, the boroughs of Dunellen and Sayreville, along with the Townships of Green Brook, Howell, Jackson, Montville, North Brunswick and Piscataway held Altice's feet to the fire.
The BPU received complaints and resolutions from at least 10 municipalities and several state legislators concerning various issues their residents and constituents cited alleging inadequacy and lack of service provided by Altice USA. In the complaints, the municipal and legislative officials cited: "Frequent and lengthy service disruptions (across all services), inconsistent connections and fluctuating Internet speeds, long telephone wait times, poor customer service, and an inability to get a satisfactory response to these issues from the company both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic."
Representatives from Mount Olive perhaps summed up the reason for the hearing best by saying: "We all can't be wrong ... and we can't keep having it (this type of service) from Optimum."
For it's part, Optimum government representative Marilyn Davis continued the company mantra of blaming the COVID-19 pandemic for the vast majority of complaints, however most of the elected officials given three minutes to speak, or via their submitted testimonies, dismissed that tired narrative by stating Optimum's poor performance "predates COVID-19 by several years."
Mayor Fried's submitted March 16 statement reads: