Cablevision founder Charles F. Dolan, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to prevent Altice USA from making further layoffs at News 12 Networks, has asked more than 300 municipalities to review their franchise agreements with Altice to make sure the company is living up to its commitments.
In a letter dated Tuesday, Dolan asked the municipalities — in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — to examine their franchise agreements with Altice, which permit the provider of Optimum cable television, internet and telephone services to operate.
“We urge you to evaluate how your community might be negatively affected if Altice were allowed to continue eliminating jobs and reducing local programming,” he wrote. “You may want to determine whether Altice, as steward of News 12 and the local franchised cable operator in your area, is fully committed to meeting community needs and willing to cover issues of local importance.”
Altice spokeswoman Lisa Anselmo said, “We continue to invest in News 12, the most watched TV network on Optimum, to deliver meaningful hyperlocal news coverage for our communities, and we are proud of our talented News 12 team for achieving growth in TV ratings, digital viewership and social media interactions in 2018.”
Last year, Altice unveiled plans for $60 million worth of improvements to its Bethpage operations center, including new studios for News 12 Long Island. The proposed studios were a key factor in Nassau County awarding the company millions of dollars in tax breaks over 10 years, according to Richard Kessel, executive director of the county's Industrial Development Agency.
Altice USA was formed in 2016 after its parent Altice N.V. of the Netherlands purchased Cablevision Systems Corp. of Bethpage — including News 12 Networks — for $17.7 billion. Altice USA operates under franchise contracts with towns and other municipalities in 22 states and now has its headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.
Dolan's letter follows a September lawsuit filed by him and members of his family to stop a second round of News 12 layoffs. At the time, the family said 70 jobs had been eliminated at News 12 and plans were underway to cut “an additional 10 percent of the staff in each successive year.” The cuts were in violation of the 2016 sales agreement between the Dolans and Altice N.V., the lawsuit said.
The Altice USA representative said at the time that the suit was "completely without merit" and that the company was "committed to offering meaningful news coverage."
The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 28 in Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington, Delaware.
“Altice made these solemn promises to protect employees’ jobs and the quality of programming in the merger agreement by which Altice acquired News 12,” Dolan said in Tuesday’s letter.
He continued, “As the local franchising authority for cable TV services, you should be aware of these actions and consider whether Altice has breached similar commitments to you in your local franchise agreement or otherwise.”
Charles Dolan started News 12 and his son Patrick was the network's longtime president. Patrick Dolan now is owner of Newsday Media Group.
“Altice USA management has shown it’s willing to put profits ahead of good people and good journalism,” Patrick Dolan said Tuesday in a statement. “That’s unacceptable. It is imperative to maintain News 12’s rich legacy as one of the topmost local television operations in the U.S.”