A trio of island communities are among 11 municipalities across New Jersey that are pushing for action by the state Board of Public Utilities against what they claim is poor performance and customer service by Altice, the French-owned cable conglomerate that operates the Optimum brand that serves the entire island south of Brick Township.
Seaside Heights, Seaside Park and Lavallette have joined with other towns such as Jackson and Hamilton townships in filing a complaint that has prompted the BPU to set a hearing date for Altice to appear and address ratepayers’ concerns. The municipalities and their attorneys are looking for concrete actions by Altice to improve the performance of internet service as well as their customer service activities.
Altice representatives have said they added bandwidth to island communities following a summer marked by connectivity woes, however residents say service is still spotty, signals drop frequently, and billing errors are difficult to correct. The problems have been magnified since more year-round residents began moving to the island over the last year.
The hearing will be held March 16. Residents will be able to view and, potentially, participate in the hearing via Zoom. Seaside Heights officials said Wednesday they would provide a link to the Zoom meeting on the borough website.
“We’re all dissatisfied with the services we get from Altice, and we’re also looking at the structure of their fees and the response time when there is a problem,” said Mayor Anthony Vaz.
Officials have also criticized Altice’s record on maintenance. For Altice, the meeting comes with potentially high stakes, as it is part of a formal investigation prompted by the complaints from municipal governments. On Feb. 17, the BPU announced it had reviewed the complaints and found sufficient cause to convene a hearing.
“It’s not just a meeting, it’s an actual hearing on a complaint that was filed by various municipalities,” explained Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani. “In terms of how the BPU is going to conduct this hearing, it would be beneficial to have as many people logged on as possible to make a statement.”
It is not clear whether or not public input will be accepted at the meeting, but a show of interest in a large way could demonstrate the veracity of the complaints from the municipalities and their residents.
For those residents who are unsatisfied with Altice’s service, there are few alternatives, though some are on the way. Verizon Wireless has made formal plans to install its 5G millimeter wave infrastructure in both Lavallette and Seaside Heights. Seaside Heights now has 60 days, under federal policy, to engage with the provider to set forth rules for implementation. Services such as 5G provide bandwidth comparable to cable service, and companies like Verizon are likely to offer television, ultra high-speed internet service and voice over the 5G network to compete with cable companies. Verizon Wireless, in particular, has proposed about ten 5G nodes in Seaside Heights.
Verizon is no longer deploying its wired FiOS service in communities in which it is not required by law to carry it, looking to the future with wireless service instead. Officials in Seaside Heights said another provider – wired or wireless – could offer their service in town, but would have to make an investment to build out a network.
The BPU’s hearing will not focus on competition.
“This particular hearing is not about getting another carrier in, it’s about improving the current service,” said Cipriani.
“This is a first step in a journey that will probably take a while to complete,” said Vaz. “We’d like to see other carriers come to Seaside Heights and communities around the beach.”