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Cable Tech

Barber shop owner snips at Altice USA with $20M class action lawsuit

A barber shop owner in the Bronx has slapped Altice USA with a class action suit seeking a $20 million judgment over allegations that the service provider did not live up to its commitment to the FCC's "Keeping Americans Connected" pledge by terminating phone and broadband services, and then seeking additional fees to get those services restored.

The suit, filed October 6 on behalf of Artem Shalomayev in the Eastern District of New York, alleges that Altice USA "exploited the COVID-19 pandemic for profits, causing severe damages to small businesses in New York and the United States."

Altice USA has been asked for comment.

The complaint stems back to an FCC program launched March 13, 2020 that called on service providers to agree not to terminate services for residential and small business owners during the pandemic due to financial constraints, and to likewise waive any late fees for that group – until at least June 15, 2020. Dozens of US service providers, including Altice USA, backed the program, with many also extending certain commitments to the Pledge through the rest of 2020.

The suit notes that Shalomayev was forced to close his barber shop for almost four months in 2020 amid state shutdown orders for businesses deemed "non-essential." Upon returning to the barber shop in June 2020, Shalomayev claims he was greeted with three invoices, from March through June 2020, from Altice USA for Internet and phone services that Shalomayev had no use for during that period. He claims he likewise discovered that services from the operator had been terminated.

The complaint holds that Shalomayev proceeded to inquire with Altice USA about the situation and was told that, regardless of the Pledge, small business customers were still obligated to pay their bills in a timely manner and that failing to do so would automatically result in termination of services.

Shalomayev claims that situation forced him to pay the outstanding bills to Altice USA and also to pay a "one time activity" fee of $180 to reactivate phone and broadband services. He claimed further that Altice USA told him the company had to perform an installation of new equipment in order to restore services at Shalomayev's shop. The suit also holds that the barber shop owner had previously paid a one-time activity fee and an installation fee back in February 2020, when the shop's service plan with Altice USA was upgraded.

"Altice not only sought to recoup payments for the charges which it had pledged not to collect, but worse still, Altice coerced small businesses into entering new service agreements – imposing an exorbitant one-time 'start-up' fee – in order to restart their telephone and Internet services for their businesses," the suit alleges.

The class action suit is seeking a judgment of $20 million – $10 million for actual and statutory damages, $10 million for punitive damages, plus attorney fees and other expenses.

"We estimate tens of thousands of businesses have been affected," Jon Norinsberg, attorney for Shalomayev, said in a statement.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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