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PSC, Charter sign off on settlement

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July 11, 2019 04:56 pm Updated: July 11, 2019 11:57 pm

ALBANY — The state Public Service Commission approved a $12 million settlement agreement Thursday with Charter Communications after a seven-week public-comment period.

In the summer of 2018, the commission found that Charter did not fulfill its promise to expand broadband network access to an additional 145,000 residences and businesses, including in Columbia County. As a result, the commission ordered the Charter-Time Warner Cable’s 2016 merger revoked.

Charter Communications and the Public Service Commission reached a settlement in April that includes an additional $12 million for high-speed internet expansion in underserved areas in the state. The commission discussed the settlement agreement at its meeting Thursday, and voted to move forward with the pact with some recommendations after allowing the public to weigh in on the terms.

With the agreement in place, the communications company will be allowed to remain in New York.

The public was invited to submit comments on the settlement agreement by June 8. The commission decided Monday it would not extend the public comment period for the settlement agreement, despite calls and nearly two dozen letters calling for a 90-day extension of the comment submission deadline.

The commission and Charter Communications went back and forth for nearly a year negotiating the agreement.

Ancram Town Supervisor Arthur Bassin submitted a letter June 27 to the state Public Service Commission calling for some conditions to fine-tune the agreement.

“Charter/Spectrum should be required to announce the specific 145,000 addresses it plans to expand high-speed broadband to, by county, town and address with data available online to allow municipalities to map and track the planned expansion,” Bassin wrote to the commission. “This disclosure should be required within 90 days of the signing of this settlement agreement.”

Bassin also called for the 145,000 addresses and $12 million investment expansion to be completed by September 2020, not September 2021, with a “rollout schedule provided and maintained online which is accessible to municipalities and residents.”

Bassin wants heftier fines against Charter/Spectrum if it fails to deliver on the conditions of the settlement agreement. The proceeds of the fines should be used by the state Broadband Program Office to expand high-speed broadband, he added.

The community-based group, Connect Columbia, which includes residents, broadband groups and elected officials, also submitted comments in protest of several features of the agreement and proposed changes.

Among the recommendations by Connect Columbia are requiring Charter to extend its broadband build-out only to low-density upstate areas, which would include Columbia County, and deny Charter any credits for areas served by state broadband grants to other providers, which is consistent with the Commission’s previous orders, according to Connect Columbia.

The group also wants the state Public Service Commission mandate that the cable TV company provide necessary transparency to the upstate counties and municipalities in which it operates regarding its compliance with state requirements for its broadband expansion.

Those comments were supported by a number of local officials, including Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell, Columbia Economic Development Corporation CEO F. Michael Tucker, Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull and Hillsdale Town Supervisor Peter Cipkowski.

Charter Communications attorney Maureen O. Helmer sent a letter July 8 to Kathleen Burgess, secretary to the state Public Service Commission, regarding the agreement.

“Charter has submitted its Plan of Record to the Commission, and has been working with the Department to implement requested corrections and finalize the list of addresses in advance of the [state Public Service] Commission’s decision regarding approval of the Proposed Agreement.”

The final approved recommendations to be added to the agreement were not immediately available.

To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to apurcell@thedailymail.net, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.