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Island Residents Can Submit Written Testimony in Altice Cable Dispute

Cable modem. (Credit: Sh4rp_i/ Flickr)

Cable modem. (Credit: Sh4rp_i/ Flickr)

Customers of Altice USA, the American subsidiary of the French-base Altice cable provider that owns the Optimum brand of services, will have until March 23 to put their grievances in writing for consideration by the state Board of Public Utilities.

A hearing was held Tuesday morning after 11 towns, including Seaside Heights, alleged Altice had broken its franchise agreements by way of frequent internet outages, data speed issues and poor customer service. Both an Altice representative, plus attorneys from local communities had the opportunity to share data on Tuesday before the board, however there have been no decisions made in the case. Theoretically, if complaints of sufficient severity are found, the state could force Altice to sell its franchise agreement to another cable provider, however officials in other towns, including Lavallette, have expressed concerns as to whether a new provider would, indeed, represent an improvement. The only other cable operator in Ocean County is Comcast, which offers its Xfinity suite of television, data and phone services. Comcast itself has come under criticism by residents of neighboring towns. Verizon, which offers its FiOS service in Toms River and small portions of Brick, is no longer laying new cable, instead pivoting to 5G wireless data to power its future data, video and phone services.

Mayor Anthony Vaz said Marilyn Davis, a representative from Altice who has previously addressed multiple municipal councils, presented her employer’s side of the story. Vaz was complimentary of Davis personally, telling a reporter that when problems are brought to her individual attention, they are often resolved – but the average customers trying to obtain help with a cable issue often finds it next to impossible to speak with a human being who is knowledgeable about the local cable system.

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“They haven’t lived up to their agreement,” said Vaz. “Marilyn shouldn’t have to solve every problem and I shouldn’t have to call her every time there is a problem.”

Internet service “goes down every day” in Seaside Heights, the mayor said.

Altice blamed the service interruptions, both technologically and with customer service, on the coronavirus pandemic. The company also said it had added extra bandwidth for its island system to sustain better internet connections. But Vaz said complaints against the provider began to pile up when Altice, the French firm, acquired Cablevision, the Long Island-based former owner of the Optimum suite of services.

“They had a lot of information but we provided [the board] with more documentation,” Vaz said.

The company provided its own statement on the matter to Shorebeat.

“Altice USA is proud to serve our Optimum customers in New Jersey and we value our partnership with the Board of Public Utilities and other government officials in the state,” a spokesperson said. “Altice is committed to ensuring that all our New Jersey customers receive reliable service and have positive experiences when they engage with us. We recognize that some of our customers experienced frustration particularly as broadband demand surged with the shift to remote learning and working. While dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, we simultaneously accelerated and increased our investments in New Jersey, resulting in more than $28 million in network investment in 2020 with plans to invest approximately double this amount in 2021 to ensure continued service quality.”

The company pledged to follow up on “individual issues” that customers are experiencing.

Now that the hearing has been conducted, the board is accepting public comment on the matter.

How to File Testimony

Comments may be filed in either Microsoft Word or PDF formats and should include in the subject “In the Matter of Request for an Investigation into the Operations of Altice USA in New Jersey, Docket No. CX21020139” along with the name of the commenter or the business/organization submitting the comment.

Comments must be received on or before 5 p.m. on March 23, 2021. Comments on this matter may be filed either at or through a state portal system that is linked in this document.

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