September 3, 2020
Dear Union Vale residents, friends and neighbors,

First, I would like to thank all of you who took the time to write us about your troubles with Optimum. Town Clerk Andrea Casey and I have combined all the emails we both received and sent fifty five pages of them to Optimum.

I have had several conversations with our new municipal contact at Optimum and learned the following:
  • There was what you might call a "perfect storm" of problems at Optimum before and after Hurricane Isaiah that all became obvious at once.
  • The call answering service had glitches disconnecting people. They had call box issues. They fixed the problems and expected the call volume to level off and then normalize by August. The storm complicated that issue.
  • They had a COVID outbreak at one call center and had to re-route the calls to India as employees settled in at home to receive calls.That took time.
  • Internet capability was completely overloaded when everyone started to work from home. They scrambled to increase bandwidth so they split nodes (directed traffic to additional channels) and added upstream channels.
  • There are also in-home issues that their diagnostic at the neighborhood level revealed. They will need to come in to many houses and tighten things up when problems are not due to other things described.
  • They do not have enough Service Techs, which was acutely apparent after the storm.

Optimum definitely had an overutilization issue in Union Vale. Due to our collective pushing and calling, they have now added Union Vale to a special list of towns requiring structural changes. This is a good development.
Basically, Altice is going to have to make improvements on several fronts - more plant improvements as well as coming inside your homes to fix things that may not have been touched in a few years. If that is mentioned when you call for service, you will know why.

Specifically, your emails revealed definite poor service patterns but there are aspects of our relationship with Altice-Optimum that are misunderstood. Let me highlight a few areas here:
  • Rates do not increase without Optimum getting prior approval to raise them from the FCC. The last rate increase they received was in February. If your rates have gone up mid-cycle it is because you are 1) coming off a promotion or 2) changed your service.
  • One major reason they request rate increases is because the programmers on their system double and triple rates for streaming services, often right before a contract negotiation (on New Year's Eve or other inopportune time). This requires Optimum to "eat" the difference or pass their increases on so they can afford to make necessary improvements.They typically pass them on, as we know.
  • The normal contract towns have with Optimum provides that they pay for service installation up to 150 ' from their poles. If you live 400 - 500 feet from a pole, you will pay the difference in construction costs for building out the network. There are tremendous requests for longer build outs and we need to understand how many of you are not proceeding as a result of these build out costs. Please send an email to my office, if this is the case.
  • From a density perspective, they look for 15 homes per mile. We have some rural areas with lower density and if you are in one of those areas with no service as a result, please contact me so I can make note. Contract negotiations are coming up next year and the Town Board will be reviewing all our needs in advance of these talks.
  • Altice - Optimum has committed to bring fiber cable to every home in Union Vale. This is great news and something I was not aware of. They are two years into the five year project. We are finding out where Union Vale is on that list and will let you know.

Additionally, with regard to fee credits:
  • Everyone will get a "proactive credit" (you don't need to call them, they are doing it automatically) for the time you were without service during the storm. Keep in mind, it will hit at different times based on your billing cycle.
  • Our municipal contact is setting up a "Corporate Customer Team" to contact everyone who submitted emails which we passed on. The Team member will discuss the details you outlined in your emails to determine if you deserve an additional courtesy credit. I am not sure what they are basing that additional credit on, but at least they will be in touch and you can discuss it with them. They want to work on the relationship after a very bad chapter. Look for that email as that is the contact information they will have.

Finally, you should know that
  • County Executive Marc Molinaro and Commissioner Dana Smith are working to get a coordinated communication process from Optimum for all future storms. They are also pushing to get the Public Service Commission (PSC) to change their perception that cell and cable service is NOT mandatory. Changes in perception must take place to recognize cable and cell tower service as mandatory public health services so they can be regulated by the PSC.
  • The Governor has discussed introducing legislation that will force PSC oversight of these important providers just like other utilities.

We all must keep focused on these important developments and commitments until Altice has proven they are up to the task. My office will send out information as we receive it. In addition, we need to keep hearing from you. We are adhering to the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" approach with Optimum so if you call for Service and are not satisfied, please let my office know. We will follow up on your behalf.

Warm regards,

Betsy Maas
Town Supervisor

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Town of Union Vale | Office of the Supervisor
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