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Howell will ask utilities board to order reduction in company’s fees

HOWELL – The Howell Township Council will ask the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to order a reduction in service charges for residents who pay for services provided by Optimum/Altice because of what officials assert is the company’s failure to provide adequate and proper service.

Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell and Councilman John Bonevich voted “yes” on a motion to pass a resolution during the council’s Oct. 20 meeting.

“If we tell (Altice) we don’t want to pay the fee they are charging, maybe they will understand how disappointed our community is,” O’Donnell said.

“We are moving forward, we definitely have to work on the service. I am lucky I am on Verizon or I would cut out right now,” Bonevich said.

Councilman Thomas Russo abstained from voting because his wife works for News 12 (Altice). Councilwoman Pamela Richmond was absent from the meeting.

The resolution states that Howell officials “have been inundated with complaints from  residents regarding inadequate service provided by its cable provider, Optimum/Altice, USA.”

“These complaints existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and have only been exacerbated as a result of the failure of this cable provider to provide adequate and proper service to this community; and the township has gone so far as to establish on its website a direct link to Altice so residents can voice their comments, complaints and concerns directly to the cable provider,” officials said in the resolution.

According to the resolution, only Verizon and Altice/Cablevision have franchises in Howell, as approved by the BPU, and Verizon’s service is not available throughout Howell, meaning Altice/Cablevision faces little to no competition for its services, even when customers have complaints; and that municipal officials have contacted Altice to complain about the services being provided to residents.

Regarding children who are receiving school lessons at home and the additional number of residents who are working from home due to the COVID-19 health crisis, officials said, “the inadequate service provided by Altice has interrupted the education of our youth and the ability of our residents to earn a living.”

Township Manager Brian Geoghegan said Howell officials met with Altice representatives.

“I was a little disappointed they were trying to pass the blame to a lot of the residents. Understandably, with everyone being at home, (Altice’s) network is being overloaded, however, that is no excuse and residents are still paying for the service,” he said.

Geoghegan said Altice employees are investigating the complaints to see if there are “pockets” in the community where a higher number of complaints are originating. He said more than 600 complaints have been received regarding the company’s service.

The township manager said Howell officials are discussing the possible expansion of Verizon’s Fios network in the community and he said the company’s representatives have been receptive to that possibility.

Berger asked if Altice’s representatives have offered to update their system in Howell.

“The infrastructure needs to be updated dramatically,” the mayor said.

Geoghegan said municipal officials are trying to get the company to update its infrastructure. He said Altice’s employees are looking at where the problems are so they can establish priorities for updating the system.

Attorney Andrew Bayer, who is a special counsel for the township, said Howell has an ordinance that sets forth the terms by which Altice has a franchise in the community.

Bayer said efforts are being made to obtain additional benefits from Altice that are not currently included in the franchise agreement.

He said Verizon is before the BPU because the company has an area of Howell where it has exclusive rights to provide service.

“Verizon doesn’t require an approval through a municipal ordinance in terms of its status before the BPU,” Bayer said.

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