New York: $72 million settlement with Altice over failure during Tropical Storm Isaias
Topics: NEW YORK
Following the power and communication outages caused by the tropical storm, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service to immediately investigate the utilities' preparations and response to the storms.
The $72 million settlement is the largest ever in New York State for any company under Public Service Commission jurisdiction for failing to follow procedures related to an emergency response.
As part of the settlement agreement, approved today by the Public Service Commission, Altice will be required to develop a more robust storm-response program and enhance communication and coordination with municipal and county governments.
On August 4, 2020, Tropical Storm Isaias struck New York, bringing strong winds and heavy rain that particularly impacted the Mid-Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island regions. The storm caused extensive damage to electric distribution and telecommunication infrastructures that, in turn, led to lengthy outages for a substantial number of New York utility customers, including more than 400,000 Altice customers. The very next day, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service to investigate New York State's major electric utilities, telephone corporations and cable television companies following their slow and inadequate response to the storm.
The Department of Financial Services supported the investigation with its extensive legal and forensic resources, allowing for a more timely and comprehensive review.
On February 11, 2021, the Commission received a detailed investigative report on Tropical Storm Isaias' impact on telephone and cable television networks and services. The report evaluated the preparation and restoration efforts of the service providers in affected areas and includes input from, and consideration of, recommendations by municipal leaders, emergency response agencies and customers.
The report highlighted the need for modification to existing statutes or regulations to require the filing and annual updating of more robust emergency contingency plans, similar to those required of electric utilities, in order to improve the preparedness and response to future storms and other emergencies by major telephone and cable television companies.
The investigation found Altice had apparently failed to adhere to many significant aspects of its response plan and associated severe weather preparedness plan, which contributed to Altice's inability to timely restore service and effectively communicate to customers experiencing outages.
The apparent violations involved include failure to make sufficient readiness plans and post-storm restoration, poor customer service and communications, and inadequate communication and coordination with government officials and electric utilities. ■