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Optimum Permanently Closes Island Cable Office, Pitches New Use As Fiber Upgrade Node

Cablevision/Optimum office in Seaside Heights. (Credit: Google)

Cablevision/Optimum office in Seaside Heights. (Credit: Google)

Altice USA, which markets cable television, voice and data services under the Optimum brand, has closed the retail portion of its barrier island office in Seaside Heights and plans to operate the building as a largely unmanned node for the company’s transition to fiber lines direct to customers’ homes.

Altice representatives appeared before the Seaside Heights planning board on Tuesday night to pitch a plan that would allow for the construction of a “mezzanine” that would serve as a platform in the rear of the building, located in what one official called a “pivotal” intersection on the Boulevard and Webster Avenue, to locate a generator that would keep equipment running during power failures. Under the company’s latest plans, the building would not house any staff and would not serve any retail customers. The first floor would not see any activity at all, and the second floor would be occupied by equipment that would relay fiber cabling directly to homes and businesses instead of the coaxial cabling that currently powers the company’s network. Running fiber optic lines directly to customers is a system largely similar to that of providers such as Verizon FiOS.

Board members did not approve the plans following an hour-long hearing on the matter, citing concerns over the potential for the current building, which occupies a prime location in the central business redevelopment district, becoming functionally abandoned and subject to aesthetic deterioration. Altice representatives were asked to return to the board at a future date with a landscaping plan and, board members hoped, some type of proposal to utilize the first floor of the building or use its exterior for a public art project.

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Kenneth Sliker, Area Manager for Altice USA, said the retail element of the Optimum building closed March 8 and will not reopen to the public. The nearest Optimum store locations to the island will be located in either Wall Township or Jackson Township. Optimum provides cable services on Ocean County’s northern barrier island from the Brick-Toms River border in Normandy Beach to South Seaside Park. Areas from Brick Township northward are serviced by Comcast’s “Xfinity” suite of products.

The company’s plans include upgrading its network on the island to provide “fiber to the home” service, which allows for significantly higher internet speeds for intensive usage and more bandwidth to avoid seasonal slow-downs which have been the source of complaints by some customers in recent years.

“Currently, we receive internet, phone and television signals into Parsippany, N.J. by satellite or by fiber,” said Sliker. “That signal is sent via fiber to a location in Brick, and that signal comes to Seaside as a distribution point.”

The company’s facility in Brick Township – despite the fact that it does not offer service in Brick Township – is located near a set of communications towers behind the property of an auto body shop on Mantoloking Road, adjacent to the bridge. While that facility carries data via fiber optic lines to the Seaside Heights office, the data is then transmitted over legacy coaxial cables to individual homes.

“Somewhere between the building and your house, it goes between a coaxial cable,” said Sliker. “What this project will do is allow us to bring fiber right to your home. It increases speed, increases capacity, and improves service for everyone from Mantoloking to Seaside [Park].”

Board members, despite welcoming more reliable service, remained concerned about the physical condition of the building on the Boulevard. Notably, several redevelopment projects are underway and in the planning stages around the former office, which would be left empty except for a technician visiting once every seven to 10 days, or teams that arrive to run the generator in the event of a power failure.

“I’m sitting here, suddenly becoming very worried that this very pivotal corner on the Boulevard has the potential to expand into some sort of utility – cable or fiber utility – when it would be best served with something under our master plan,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz, who serves on the board. “This seems to be the kind of thing you’d normally see on the other side of town, by Public Works and the cell tower, not in the middle of the Boulevard that has a redevelopment plan.”

Vaz said during a previous workshop meeting during which he and board members first met with Altice representatives, the aesthetic condition of the building was a major sticking point.

“It doesn’t seem like our concerns were heard,” he said.

Fiber optic cables being laid on Jersey City Avenue and Route 35 South in Lavallette, Feb. 2023. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Fiber optic cables being laid on Jersey City Avenue and Route 35 South in Lavallette, Feb. 2023. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The building, under Altice’s plan, would simply become an unstaffed technical facility that would be fenced off to the public, its representatives said.

“There will no longer be employees present in the building and there will no longer be customers served within the building – it’s sort of a dial-switching building now,” said Jacob Lewkowski, an engineer representing Altice.

The generator, which would only run during power failures or the occasional test during regular daytime business hours, would produce about 64 decibels of noise on the street underneath, said Lewkowski. The generator would be housed in a sound-proofed box, and its diesel fuel tank would be enveloped by a second steel tank as a backup to ensure no fuel could leak from the system. A partial shroud would be installed over the generator in order to block it from the view of a multi-story condominium and retail complex set to be constructed next door.

Despite the revelation that the Optimum building will be changed from a joint facility offering retail space for the company and some technical equipment to a purely technical facility, the company is unlikely to have to gain approval for a change of use. Utility switching and connectivity facilities are allowable uses in the Boulevard’s zone.

Altice representatives said they would bring the board’s concerns to their colleagues. The board adjourned the hearing until May 6, when Altice will return to address the remaining issues at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. in the council chambers above the borough’s fire house.

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