By Sarah Richardson
According to a Final Order issued on Wednesday, Feb. 9, by the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC), it has been determined that Suddenlink Communications “failed to provide safe, adequate and reliable service” to area customers by “intentionally reducing its maintenance work and maintenance budget, reducing full-time employees, changing its methods of communicating with its subscribers and ignoring the thousands of customer complaints that resulted.”
The 38-page report details how Altice acquired Suddenlink in 2017 and closed its only West Virginia call center which was located in Parkersburg, West Virginia. They also closed a dispatch training center that was located in Shrewsbury, West Virginia. After the closing of the West Virginia call center, Altice began routing its customer calls to call centers located outside of the United States. In 2019, 36 percent of calls were answered in the United States. This number dropped to five percent in 2020; and only two percent of calls were routed to representatives in the United States in 2021.
A July 2021 order states that Suddenlink offers service to more than 300,000 households and small businesses over a hybrid fiber optic-coaxial network with more than 8,500 plant miles and eight headends across the state. The PSC has received nearly 1,900 complaints from West Virginia customers regarding Suddenlink’s service since 2019.
Members of the PSC met with Suddenlink representatives in May 2021 to discuss complaints regarding the quality of cable television service that it provides, including, but not limited to, delays in restoring service following an outage, billing errors, and the inability of customers to place orders for service or contact personnel regarding the status of customer service requests.
After this meeting, PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane directed Suddenlink to file a correction plan that included how and when Suddenlink will open a call center in West Virginia; hire technicians and other employees to promptly address quality of service issues; fix problems with incorrect E-911 fees being billed to customers; accurately and timely process payments and credits to customer accounts; correct billing errors; ensure late fees are accurately assessed; and identify the entity that provides Suddenlink’s billing service.
Suddenlink responded in June 2021, but “did not provide a correction plan or specifically address the issues raised.” The PSC determined that Suddenlink’s responde was “inadequate” and continued with legal proceedings.
The overview of the Final Order states that “Suddenlink Communications is penalized in the amount of $2,242,000; that Suddenlink Communications shall divide the total penalty by its existing West Virginia cable television subscribers and pay the penalty to its subscribers as a credit on each subscriber’s bill that is issued on the next billing cycle immediately following entry of this Order; that Suddenlink is put on notice that the Commission shall fully exercise the authority granted to it to impose continuing penalties for its failure to provide safe, adequate and reliable service to its West Virginia subscribers, and for any failures to adhere to the directives set forth in this Order, either prospectively under a court order or on a continuing basis for known violations; etc. Case Final.”