By Jonathan Stempel
Altice USA Inc has reached a nearly $72 million settlement to resolve New York State claims that the phone and cable TV provider failed to adequately prepare for or respond to Tropical Storm Isaias in August, when more than 439,000 customers lost service.
The settlement is the largest for any company overseen by the state’s Public Service Commission for failing to follow emergency response procedures, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in announcing Thursday’s settlement.
Altice, which owns the Optimum brand, will spend $68.5 million to upgrade its infrastructure and technology, including for storm responses, and has provided $3.4 million in customer credits. Customers will not be billed for the upgrades.
In a statement, Altice said its investments are intended to improve service, including during bad weather, and benefit all customers in the New York metropolitan area.
The Long Island City, New York-based company is not taking a charge for the upgrades or credits.
Cuomo had last Aug. 5 directed the state’s Department of Public Service to investigate major utility, phone and cable TV companies over their response to Isaias, which had struck New York the day before and caused more than 920,000 outages.
A report in February from the Public Service Commission said Altice “apparently failed” to follow significant aspects of its emergency response and storm readiness plans.
It said this left Altice unable to restore service in a timely manner or to communicate effectively with customers experiencing outages.
Several other phone and TV providers also reported outages, and the agency’s report additionally faulted Frontier Communications Inc over its storm response.
Altice has about 5 million customers. It uses the Optimum brand in the New York area, and the Suddenlink brand in the south-central United States.
Isaias was briefly a category 1 hurricane, but had been downgraded by the time it reached New York.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese, Jan Harvey and David Gregorio)