Individuals and municipal officials from around New Jersey who purchase communications services from Optimum/Altice USA voiced criticism about the company to members of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) on March 16.
Some individuals who spoke during a virtual public hearing called for an independent investigation of the company. The speakers’ concerns focused on internet and cable television services provided by Altice.
The quality of services being provided by Altice have been a topic of public discussion in many Garden State communities for several months and the BPU responded to municipal officials who have lobbied for a hearing.
Former North Brunswick Council President Ralph Andrews recalls that township residents’ concerns over Optimum’s service did not just happen overnight.
“Prior to the pandemic and March 2020 shutdowns, residents were complaining of increasing fees and declining service and customer service support from Optimum, commonly referred to as Optimum-Altice,” Andrews said in a statement released by Burton Trent Public Affairs on behalf of the Township of North Brunswick on March 15.
Cablevision of Raritan Valley, also known as Optimum-Altice USA, provides telephone, cable and internet service to multiple communities in Central Jersey, including North Brunswick.
“Then the pandemic hit. Scores of people started working from home and students at all grade levels were homeschooling,” Andrews said in the statement. “Resident frustration with Optimum-Altice service outages and poor customer service was mounting. Complaints on the township’s Facebook page were multiplying. The council and mayor’s office were inundated with calls for help. We realized we had to escalate our involvement. Poor internet service was affecting people’s livelihoods and students’ ability to succeed.”
The North Brunswick governing body prepared to petition the BPU. Joining the Townships of Hamilton and Robbinsville in a formal request for a BPU investigation, the municipalities cited not only the company’s poor performance, but the lack of a response to their earlier requests for assistance, according to the statement.
North Brunswick’s efforts to get the attention of the BPU paid off, according to the statement. In its issuance of the Notice of a Public Hearing, the BPU said “after review of various complaints from municipal and government officials requesting a board investigation and intervention in this matter, found that there is sufficient cause to convene a public hearing to afford both the officials and Altice customers the opportunity to voice their concerns about the services received from Altice; as well as afford the company the opportunity to respond to these concerns before determining what corrective action may be warranted and should be taken in this matter.”
North Brunswick resident Marty Angstreich told the BPU during the March 16 hearing that, “I and too many of my neighbors continue to suffer from less than acceptable internet and wifi service, faulty and inefficient hardware and software equipment, poor customer service, and bills that are completely out of sync with the value they should bring.
“Too many times my family has had to resort to using our Verizon wireless phones as hotspots to compensate for (Altice) network issues, at a cost above and beyond what we are paying (Altice).
“We lose hours and days trying to get through to customer service to address our problems, only to waste more time performing the same troubleshooting tasks over and over again to no avail.
“I am sick and tired of paying through the nose for subpar service and knowing (Altice) doesn’t care one way or another about me. I am tired of waiting endlessly on hold with service reps who are ill-prepared to provide customer service and supervisors who often provide little to no added value.
“I am tired of texts coming in and out dozens of times with no actual problem resolutions. I am tired of (Altice) increasing my monthly bill while continually changing cable packages I have subscribed to for years.
“Raising my costs and reducing the features, inherently reducing the value of their services. I am tired of constantly losing my internet service, which has an impact on my daughter and I while trying to work remotely and earn a living,” Angstreich told the BPU.
The Howell Township Council asked the BPU to order a reduction in charges for residents who pay for services provided by Altice because of what officials assert is the company’s failure to provide adequate and proper service.
During the March 16 public hearing, Howell Councilwoman Pamela Richmond said Altice has about 15,000 customers in Howell.
“For the vast majority, (Altice) is the only cable and broadband internet provider available. Starting before the COVID-19 pandemic, Howell residents have raised substantial complaints with Altice’s internet and cable service, as well as its customer service.
“These complaints have only worsened since the inception of the pandemic. The service got so bad, and the complaints so numerous, that in the fall of 2020 Howell created a forum for residents to submit their complaints about Altice online,” Richmond said.
Howell residents submitted more than 700 complaints about issues such as hour-long service blackouts, slow internet speed, customer wait times and the company’s unresponsiveness.
“This poor level of service to our residents is unacceptable. It is also imperative that the residents of Howell, and New Jersey, have access to quality internet and cable service. Such services are essential; especially during the pandemic (so) residents (working at home) may earn a livelihood and so children (receiving instruction at home) may receive a quality education,” Richmond said.
She called on the BPU to investigate the issues being raised.
The suggestion was raised to provide Altice with meaningful competition and allow other companies to seek customers in the company’s service areas.
“Competition will spur Altice to make capital investments in Howell, which will result in better service and lower rates to our residents,” Richmond said.
Jackson municipal officials have filed two complaints with the BPU regarding the services being provided to residents who are Altice customers.
They said Altice executives are seeking to blame the COVID-19 state of emergency for the company’s inability to provide adequate service. However, the Jackson representatives said the complaints regarding the company’s level of service existed prior to the pandemic.
Residents from several counties who spoke during the BPU’s public hearing also pointed to issues that existed prior to the pandemic.
Andrew Kern, president of the Jackson Township Council, told the BPU that “it is essential to acknowledge Jackson has been receiving complaints from our 60,000 residents about Altice since 2019, well before the COVID shutdowns.”
“Customers suffer the loss of their TV signal, or the screen becomes pixilated. Customers need to reboot their cable box over and over during a program. TV programs are not recording, or are partially recording, because the cable (service) was out during that time,” Kern said.
Regarding internet service, Kern said, “Residents suffer a complete loss of the internet, or their wifi will not connect to the internet, and they need to reboot their router and their modem throughout the day, and loss of internet for hours at a time.
“Internet speeds are not what was advertised. I pay $133 a month for Optimum 400 and the highest speed test I have ever seen was not above 274 mps. Jackson has hundreds of teachers and thousands of students living in our town. Teachers are forced to piece together lessons because either they or their students lose connection during classes,” he said, explaining that streaming services are constantly interrupted.
Kern said Altice should be held accountable by the BPU.
“For service, the biggest complaint is that there has been a serious degradation of service since Altice took over. Waiting on hold for over an hour (to speak with the company) is expected. The frustration of the customer service operators comes through in their voices.
“Being told that equipment needs to be replaced and not having the needed equipment on the truck when the service team comes out, and being told that equipment is the problem because it is inferior to (previous) equipment.
“It takes a week for an appointment with a tech who comes out and cannot or does not fix the problem completely, and then another service call is needed and another week is lost. Our residents deserve to get what they are paying for and Altice should be held accountable by the BPU for not living up to their claims,” Kern said.
On behalf of residents, Jackson is seeking a refund of fees paid by residents since changes occurred in 2019.
“We ask that the reduced fees remain until infrastructure and residential equipment has been upgraded or replaced and performs as advertised,” Kern said during his remarks.
Residents from Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Morris counties urged the BPU to allow Verizon/Fios into their areas to compete with Altice. Many people said the inadequate service cannot be blamed on the pandemic because the problems with Altice existed prior to 2020.
Altice USA released a statement after the meeting.
“Altice USA is proud to serve our Optimum customers in New Jersey and we value our partnership with the Board of Public Utilities and other government officials in the state. Altice is committed to ensuring that all our New Jersey customers receive reliable service and have positive experiences when they engage with us.
“We recognize that some of our customers experienced frustration particularly as broadband demand surged with the shift to remote learning and working. While dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, we simultaneously accelerated and increased our investments in New Jersey, resulting in more than $28 million in network investment in 2020 with plans to invest approximately double this amount in 2021 to ensure continued service quality.
“Our teams continue to work diligently to continuously enhance the service experience for our customers and we plan to follow up on the individual issues raised by those who provided information through the Board of Public Utilities,” the statement reads.
Comments on this matter may be filed either at firstname.lastname@example.org or filed electronically through the board’s External Access Portal upon obtaining a MyNewJersey Portal ID. Once you establish a MyNewJersey account, an authorization code is required which you can request by emailing the NJBPU’s IT Helpdesk at BPUITHELPDESK@bpu.nj.gov. For more information, consult NJBPU’s e-Filing FAQs.
Comments may be filed in either Word or PDF formats and should include in the subject “In the Matter of Request for an Investigation into the Operations of Altice USA in New Jersey, Docket No. CX21020139” along with the name of the commenter and the company or organization.
Comments must be received on or before 5 p.m. March 23.
These comments are considered public documents for purposes of the State’s Open Public Records Act. Commenters may identify information that they seek to keep confidential by submitting them in accordance with the confidentiality procedures set forth in N.J.A.C. 14:1-12.3.
- Jennifer Amato contributed to this story.