New York State has reached a record-setting settlement with broadband and cable provider Altice for the company’s muted response to Tropical Storm Isaias, which left some without service for upwards of two weeks.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday, March 18 that the state has reached the near $72 million settlement for Altice’s failure to adequately prepare for and restore broadband and cable television service after the storm struck in August last year, leaving 400,000 customers without service.
The settlement is the largest-ever in New York State for any company under Public Service Commission jurisdiction for failing to follow procedures related to emergency response.
“New Yorkers have every right to expect reliable broadband services, especially during a time when so many of us are working remotely and thus need such services to do our jobs,” Superintendent of Financial Services Linda Lacewell said.
“This settlement not only provides a measure of financial recompense for consumers who suffered without services in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, but also requires Altice to make significant investments in hardening their systems to prevent future long-term storm outages.”
On Aug. 4 last year, Isaias hit New York, bringing strong winds and heavy rain that particularly impacted the mid-Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island regions.
The storm caused extensive damage in downstate New York, impacting at least 400,000 Altice customers.
After the storm first hit the region, Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service to investigate New York State's major electric utilities, telephone corporations, and cable television companies to determine why the response was so slow and inadequate.
In February this year, the Commission released the details of its probe into Tropical Storm Isaias' impact on networks and services following a months-long investigation.
According to the Commission, the investigation found Altice had failed to adhere to many aspects of its response plan and severe weather preparedness plan, which contributed to the company's inability to timely restore service and effectively communicate to customers experiencing outages.
Violations include a failure to make sufficient readiness plans and post-storm restoration, poor customer service and communications, and inadequate communication and coordination with government officials and electric utilities during the recovery from the storm.
“It is beyond unacceptable to leave hundreds of thousands of customers without the ability to access the Internet, especially during a time when so many people rely on broadband for work and school," Cuomo said.
"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."
Under the terms of the settlement, Altice will spend $68.54 million to improve the storm resiliency of their system and make other upgrades, without billing customers for the upgrades. It has also already provided $3.4 million in credits to New York customers impacted by Isaias
"Altice USA has been working with the NY PSC since Storm Isaias 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," a spokesperson for the company said.
"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."
Other investments include $4.6 million toward a new state-of-the-art outage communication platform, the hiring of six additional storm recovery and service coordinators, a new full-time, post-storm remediation coordinator, and upgrades to Altice's Outage Notification Board.
Altice has also agreed to a series of programmatic, administrative, and policy "improvements" to its storm-related operations to improve the company's performance in planning for and recovering from future severe weather events.
“The primary task of companies under Commission jurisdiction is to supply safe and adequate service to customers,” Public Service Commission Chair John Howard said. “A key component of that is for the companies to be prepared for a storm and to restore service as safely and as quickly as possible, and we will hold them accountable to do just that.
"With this agreement, Altice will ensure that costs to improve its reliability will not result in any increased costs to its customers.”
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