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New Lebanon tells residents to file complaints about Charter/Spectrum with the Public Service Commission

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    This file photo shows what internet users know as a cable modem.
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    A map of what is or will be covered in Columbia County with investments through the New NY Broadband Program.
July 12, 2018 11:32 pm

NEW LEBANON — Town officials are urging residents to file complaints about Charter/Spectrum, the local telecommunications provider, to the state Public Service Commission or representatives of the company as it works to make good on upgrades and coverage expansion it promised as part of its merger with Time Warner Cable.

The town sent out a notice Tuesday encouraging residents facing problems with Charter/Spectrum to file their complaints with the state Public Service Commission, a similar notice the town of Ghent issued as it faces similar shortcomings from the telecommunications company.

“I personally have received a minimum of two dozen complaints about Charter/Spectrum,” New Lebanon Town Supervisor Colleen Teal said.

Most of the complaints Teal has handled regard poor customer service.

Teal had issues with the telecommunications company, including free cable service for the town hall, which the town does not use, and the highway garage, which uses the service to monitor the weather.

“The highway garage lost service around the end of March,” Teal said. “The clerk tried to get the service restored and got no response for two weeks. Then I tried for two and a half weeks to get the service restored.”

Teal has also received complaints from residents looking to get upgraded service from the company, something that should be available to all residents eventually, as part of the agreement with the Public Service Commission allowing the company to merge with Time Warner Cable in 2016. The company has until Dec. 31 to finish upgrades to its service.

Charter/Spectrum covers small pockets of Greene County as well including areas in the towns of Catskill, Hunter and Jewett and the villages of Hunter and Tannersville, according to the company.

“We have heard complaints that the speed is pathetic,” Jewett Councilman Michael McCrary said. “They are also not extending their coverage as a condition of the franchise agreement we signed with Time Warner several years ago.”

The town’s agreement with the telecommunications company still has a few years left, McCrary said.

“We are going to hang tough and see what the Public Service Commission does,” McCrary said. “If they do not extend coverage, we are going to end the agreement with them, most likely.”

Margaretville Telephone Company is installing fiber optic cable in unserved areas throughout the central Catskill region, including Jewett, with money from the state Broadband Program, according to an announcement from the company.

Margaretville Telephone Company’s expansion is something the town of Jewett is also looking to help, McCrary said.

Margaretville Telephone was awarded a total investment of $11.24 million from the New NY Broadband Program phase three awards.

Teal filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission in June, she said, which has agreed to work with her to better the franchise agreement the company has with the town. The town’s contract with Charter/Spectrum is set to be renewed in two years and negotiations could start soon, Teal said.

“I have personally experienced issues with Charter/Spectrum and it is deplorable,” Teal said. “For the company to bury its head and pretend these issues are not happening is not acceptable at all.”

The state Public Service Commission is looking into complaints about Charter/Spectrum’s customer service, something the company promised to improve as part of its merger agreement.

“The PSC has been actively investigating Charter/Spectrum’s consumer services performance as part of its overall review into the company’s activities,” said James Denn, public information officer for the state Public Service Commission. “Since the beginning of the year, the PSC received 12 complaints from Columbia County residents, and we are investigating those complaints. The PSC will continue to aggressively enforce the terms of its 2016 merger order, including Charter’s network upgrade in Columbia County.”

Charter/Spectrum encouraged customers to reach out to the company with any service issues, according to a statement the company released Wednesday.

“We take seriously our commitment to customers, and we encourage anyone who has service issues to contact us so we can look into it and we will work with them to resolve it,” according to the statement. “We are currently in the process of upgrading our network in New Lebanon, and we look forward to soon providing customers access to our full suite of Spectrum television, internet and voice products. Once launched, customers will have access to starting internet speeds of 100 Mbps with no data caps or modem fees, over 200 high-definition channels and thousands of hours of On Demand choices, and fully featured phone products.”

Complaints can be filed on the state Public Service Commission’s website or by calling 1-800-342-3377; or with the company by emailing Kevin Egan at Kevin.Egan@charter.com and Michael Chowaniec at Michael.Chowaniec@charter.com.

uncertain coverage in the future

With uncertainty about Charter/Spectrum’s plans for building out its coverage area as part of its commitment for approval of the Time Warner merger, the future of broadband coverage is unclear in some areas of Columbia County including a large part of New Lebanon.

Charter committed to expand service to 145,000 unserved and underserved locations statewide by May 2020, on its own dime, and to upgrade speeds for its existing systems to broadband speeds of 100 Mbps within a 30-month period after the merger. But Charter argued that plans for that committed expansion are considered trade secrets and was allowed to keep those plans from the public. Build-out plans in Columbia County are a part of the merger agreement, but are separate from the initial 145,000 locations statewide.

The state Public Service Commission fined Charter/Spectrum $2 million in June for failing to meet its required Dec. 16, 2017 build-out commitment to extend its network to pass additional residences and businesses by 12,245 passings, as well as failing to make up for its earlier failure by March 16, 2018, as required by the commission.

“Charter’s insistence on keeping its broadband build-out plans — which were required under its merger with Time Warner Cable more than two years ago and have already been found to be delinquent twice — is very problematic,” said Adam Kilduff, a spokesman for Empire State Development. “As local officials seek to map coverage within their communities, Charter’s continued withholding of this information does a real disservice to the public interest. We once again call upon Charter to make its maps publicly available so that residents can easily view how and where the company plans to install broadband in their communities.”