In what's described as the largest settlement of its kind in New York State, Altice USA has agreed to spend almost $72 million to upgrade its network and operations and issue customer credits following the state's investigation into the cableco's efforts to repair damage from Tropical Storm Isaias last summer.
The Aug. 4 storm generated strong winds and heavy rain across New York City, Long Island and the mid-Hudson Valley, causing extensive damage to the electrical grid and telecommunications infrastructure. That resulted in lengthy outages for many New Yorkers – including 400,000 Altice customers, some of whom had to wait up to 14 days to have service restored.
A New York State Department of Public Service investigation into slow responses by New York’s electric, telephone and cable companies found that Altice failed to adhere to its own severe weather response plan, contributing to its delays in restoring service. The report also cited Altice for poor communications with customers, government officials and electric utilities.
"This settlement makes it clear that telecommunication companies in New York have an obligation to prepare for severe weather and to develop robust storm-response programs, and if they fail to adequately do that job we will hold them accountable and force them to change the way they do business," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement.
As part of the settlement agreement approved March 18 by the state Public Service Commission, Altice will spend $68.54 million to make its operations and network infrastructure more storm-resilient – without billing customers for the upgrades. As part of those upgrades, it will spend $4.6 million on a new, state-of-the-art outage communications platform and hire six additional storm recovery and service coordinators, as well as a new full-time, post-storm remediation coordinator. It will also make upgrade its Outage Notification Board.
The remaining $63.94 million will be spent on planning and response for future severe weather events, including upgrades to its customer care infrastructure and additional technicians and other staff to improve service reliability. In addition, Altice has already issued $3.4 million in credits to customers in the billing cycle following the storm.
Altice has been working with the New York State Public Service Commission since last summer "to jointly examine opportunities for enhancements in how we communicate and engage with our customers, communities, and public officials during severe weather events," according to a company statement. "We appreciate the dialogue with the NY PSC as we look to ensure that the long-term service investments we’re making continue to improve the customer experience and benefit all our tri-state area customers."
Nor is Altice alone when it comes to penalties for storm response – a trio of power utilities also face significant fines, including Con Ed ($102 million for 33 violations); Orange & Rockland ($19 million for 38 violations); and Central Hudson ($16 million for 32 violations).
— Karen Brown, Special Contributor, Light Reading