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Altice: Service outages numbered more than 400,000 after Isaias

Power crews work to restore power on Potters

Power crews work to restore power on Potters Lane on Aug. 11, 2020 in Great Neck. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A top Altice official said upward of 400,000 of the company’s nearly 2 million downstate and Westchester customers lost service during Tropical Storm Isaias, the first time the internet, phone and video provider has put a figure on those service outages.

The state Department of Public Service, in a notice of apparent violation issued to the company this week, said “many thousands” remained without service as late as Aug. 16.

The DPS charged that the company’s response to the storm was “wholly inadequate,” saying Altice “apparently failed” to follow its PSC-ordered resiliency plan relating to network planning, customer service and communications and government coordination.

“At this point in the investigation, the Department has determined that Altice was ill-prepared for the storm and failed to comply with many aspects” of its severe weather and resiliency plans.

Altice chief operating officer Hakim Boubazine, in written testimony before Suffolk lawmakers Thursday, cited power loss as a major cause of the service outage.

“In this recent storm, as is usual, the vast majority of our customers lost our services due to the loss of commercial power,” he said. “As commercial power was restored, the majority of our customers came back online.” He said Altice had nearly 1,000 field repair workers on the ground restoring service, compared with more than 6,500 for PSEG.

Boubazine said Altice experienced “issues” with two computer systems “mainly due to the surge of usage that created challenges for our customers to reach us via phone,” and get information on outage status, even by logging into the Optimum account.

“We addressed those issues as quickly as possible, but understand the frustration felt by our customers,” he said, offering an apology for the “inconvenience.” Some customers as recently as this week have said they continue to be without Optimum service.

Altice will provide credits for the outages that Boubazine said “will exceed our regulatory obligations,” for Internet and phone, not just video service

In response to its findings, the DPS ordered Altice to make plans to secure additional crews and equipment before and during storms, work better with local governments’ emergency response teams, and develop plans to deploy and monitor power supplies, generators and backup generators for use during storm and restoration.

“Altice's apparent failure to follow the commission's merger order directives is a serious matter and provides grounds for several possible additional actions by the commission against the company,” including the ability to revoke Altice’s operating certificates in the state, DPS said in its notice.

PSC chairman John Rhodes, during the legislative hearing Thursday, said the agency was “deadly serious” about fixing problems at utilities.

“It’s very clear at this time that New York State is willing to use the stick,” not just carrots, to fix the problems, Rhodes said.

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