While Comcast claims victory, Altice faces criticism (Update: Report on March 16th hearing)

Tom Paine

Altice’s NY, NJ & Connecticut footprint

Comcast issued a somewhat self-congratulatory press release yesterday morning, highlighting its network’s performance during the pandemic.

As the pandemic took hold, parent frequently worked from home, children were attending class via Zoom, and there was much more home entertainment via streaming.

Peak traffic on Comcast’s network increased 32% during 2020, reaching a peak of 50% in some markets in March.

But on the whole, response times held up. (Though I am not a Comcast customer; I am relying on other’s reactions and comments).

“The Internet was a bright spot during the darkest hours of 2020, keeping hundreds of millions of people connected to work, school, entertainment, and most importantly, each other,” said Tony Werner, President of Technology, Product, Xperience at Comcast Cable in the release. “We’re proud of the years of strategic investment and innovation that enabled us to build the foundation of a high-speed, intelligent network designed to scale to the needs of our most demanding users, and also adapt to unexpected events.”

As talk of reimposing some measure of net neutrality regulations rose with the change of administrations, Comcast wisely backed down from plans, at least on the east coast, to enforce data caps that could lead to extra charges for the remainder of 2021.

But the performance of Altice, the French outfit that bought the former Cablevision a few years back and serves wide swaths of New Jersey (perhaps more than half after its recent acquisition of a large part of Service Electric’s New Jersey service area) under the Optimum brand name, before and during the pandemic was not so warmly reviewed. From Montville to Jackson to Piscataway to Hamilton, the complaints sounded strikingly similar, according to a state Board of Public Utilities report:

“Citing issues raised by their respective residents concerning frequent and lengthy service disruptions (across all services), inconsistent connections and fluctuating Internet speeds,long telephone wait times, poor customer service, and an inability to get a satisfactory response to these issues from the company both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Although Altice has met with some local communities, overall it hasn’t resolved much.

A virtual hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 16, at 10 a.m., because of. the BPUs’ “review of various complaints from municipal and government officials requesting a Board investigation and intervention in this matter.” It will give both officials and Altice customers the opportunity to raise issues about the services received from Altice and have the company respond to the concerns, according to the BPU.

Update: Ashbury Park Press reports on yesterday’s Altice hearing.