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Wall Street Journal – New York City Wants New Ideas on Providing Internet Access

2017-11-14T11:58:37+00:00 November 14th, 2017|


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration Tuesday will make a request for information from companies interested in helping it expand broadband internet access, an action that could challenge cable giant Charter Communications Inc.’s market dominance in New York City.

The request, which is generally the first step before issuing a formal request for proposal, invites internet service providers and other industry stakeholders to advise the city on how it can reach its goal of having affordable, high-speed internet access citywide by 2025.

The request is meant to “maximize the benefits of competition,” according to a draft reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

“We are utilizing every approach to engage with partners that share our vision to expand citywide broadband and constructively inform the process,” said Miguel Gamiño, Jr. , New York City chief technology officer. “One thing we know for sure is that business as usual won’t work, which is why we’re keeping the door open to new ideas that will help us achieve success in this critical endeavor.”

 John Bonomo, a spokesman for Charter Communications Inc., said Monday that New York City is “one of the most competitive telecom and Internet markets in the country, with a host of wireline, wireless and other technologies offering services to all customer segments.”

“Our products and services provide the highest quality at competitive prices,” he said.

Critics have said the company, which is known to its customers as Spectrum, operates as a virtual monopoly in New York City. It is embroiled in a labor dispute with its workers, who went on strike in March after the company sought to eliminate its pension plan and restructure medical and retirement plans for employees. The company has said it is offering significant pay raises in exchange for the changes.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who was re-elected to a second term this month and who has generally enjoyed strong backing from unions, has sided with the company’s workers.

In what some said was a reflection of that support, the city’s request for information encourages applicants to consider how they could help the city increase “economic opportunity for all New Yorkers and the protection of workers’ rights.”

A spokesman for the Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said the city’s actions would help end what it described as a monopoly over the city’s broadband market.

“Public control of our public utilities like the internet must not be left solely in the hands of cable giants whose monopoly gives them no incentive to improve their services, keep rates affordable or deliver access to underserved communities,” said Austin Shafran, the spokesman.

One in five New Yorkers doesn’t have internet access at home, city officials said. Among those living in poverty, that figure is one in three, the officials said.

Responses to the request for information are due by Jan. 19.

POLITICO – Spectrum workers spend $500K on ads amid ongoing strike

2017-11-09T14:22:48+00:00 November 9th, 2017|

Union workers at the cable company Spectrum are taking out a $500,000 ad buy pressing their case in what has stretched into the longest city labor strike in the last 30 years.

Local IBEW 3, the union representing more than 1,800 Spectrum employees, is trying to raise public awareness in New York about the plight of its workers and end the nine-month impasse. The ad buy, which began Wednesday, is set to run until Thanksgiving. It will feature a television commercial that will air in prime time on broadcast channels including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, during morning shows, nightly news, and popular shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “The View,” a union spokesman said. The ad will also run on cable networks News 12, CNN, MSNBC, FXNC and entertainment networks.

The 60-second television ad features a longtime Spectrum worker named Marvin, who tells the story of how his daughter needed an expensive medical monitoring device when she was young — a costly machine paid for by his union benefits. In the ad, Marvin says Spectrum is trying to cut his health care benefits by as much as $12,000.

“It makes me feel like the time that I’ve put in doesn’t matter,” Marvin says in the ad, which also features a photograph of Spectrum’s CEO, Thomas Rutledge.

The buy also includes a 30-second online ad, which will be featured on Hulu, YouTube and some On Demand programming. The ad, titled “Spectrum Wants More,” focuses on the size of Rutledge’s compensation package — which, at $98.5 million a year, makes him the highest-paid CEO in the country.

“We just want a fair contract. No more corporate greed,” the online ad reads.

The union tried to buy air time for the TV ad on Spectrum’s channels, such as popular local news channel NY1, but were refused by Spectrum’s ad sales team.

Spectrum spokesman John Bonomo declined to comment on the network’s refusal to run the ad, but defended the offer the company has put on the table for its workers.

“By keeping its members out of work, Local 3 is denying our employees a generous compensation package that includes an average 22-percent wage increase — some employees up to a 55-percent wage increase — and comprehensive retirement and health benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6 percent of eligible pay,” Bonomo wrote in an email to POLITICO.

“This benefit package is in line with the medical, pension and savings plans enjoyed by more than 90,000 Charter employees nationwide. And this competitive offer will have a positive, lasting impact on employees’ standard of living and allows us to grow a well-paid, highly skilled workforce for the benefit of our customers,” he added.

The union workers’ cause has drawn sympathy from many of New York’s politicians. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer have all attended rallies and attempted to force the cable company to accede to workers’ demands. Politicians have also threatened various ways to revoke the company’s ability to operate in New York.

In October, Stringer, who serves on the city’s Franchise Concession Review Committee, raised questions about a customer data breach. In August, de Blasio threatened to revoke the company’s charter if an investigation prompted by worker complaints over Spectrum’s alleged use of non-local vendors yielded evidence it had failed to comply with terms of its franchise agreement.

In September, both de Blasio and Cuomo attended demonstrations in solidarity with the union’s workers.

At that demonstration, Cuomo promised workers he would review the Public Service Commission’s 2016 approval of Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and would try to take action against the company.

Wall Street Journal – Charter Communications Strike Ratchets Up

2017-10-05T17:35:54+00:00 October 4th, 2017|

A lengthy labor dispute between cable giant Charter Communications Inc. and its workers is escalating, with the union launching a new ad campaign.

The strike is being closely watched in New York, one of the most unionized states in the country.

“Our benefits are irreplaceable,” one worker, Marvin Billups, says in a digital ad expected to be made public on Wednesday. “It’s not just about me, it’s about a whole group of middle class people.”

The spot is part of a six-figure ad buy from the cable workers’ union, the Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The union plans to target the ads to Spectrum customers this week.

About 1,800 workers went on strike in March after the cable company, known to its customers as Spectrum, sought to eliminate pension contributions and restructure medical and retirement plans for employees. The company said that it is offering significant raises and other benefits.

“By keeping its members out of work, Local 3 is denying our employees a generous compensation package that includes an average 22-percent wage increase—some employees up to a 55-percent wage increase—and comprehensive retirement and health benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6 percent of eligible pay,” John Bonomo, a Charter spokesman, said in a statement emailed to The Journal.

Christopher Erikson, the union’s business manager, said the raises aren’t enough to offset the loss of pension benefits.

The union has drawn support from New York Democrats, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom appeared at a rally last month with the workers.

In a letter to the state regulator on Monday, Mr. Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, expressed concern about how the strike was affecting service. The company agreed in July to a tentative $13 million settlement for failing to meet service upgrades it had promised to win state approval for a 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable.

“We have significant concerns about whether Charter-Spectrum is meeting their obligations under the merger agreement,” Mr. David said in a phone interview. “We’re always concerned about the workforce in New York. We want to make sure that our workforce is treated fairly, whether they are part of the union or not. But I think that is separate and distinct from the issue here,” he said.

Mr. Bonomo said the company was committed to delivering excellent service and that, “other than the 130+ acts of vandalism that caused service interruptions to our customers, there has been very little impact to our customers” from the strike.

He said the company had hired more than 3,000 New York state residents this year.

Other local officials have opened investigations into the company’s business practices. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing the company for allegedly defrauding its customers by knowingly failing to deliver services as advertised, for example. The lawsuit was filed before the union went on strike.

A city agency is also probing whether the company is violating the terms of its franchise agreement by employing nonunion workers from outside New York City during the strike. De Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said the city had an obligation to the public to examine the issue. “We are not doing this to apply pressure on the company,” she said.

Mr. Bonomo said the advertisements central to Mr. Schneiderman’s suit were made by Time Warner Cable before its merger with Charter last year. He said upgrades were being made. And he said the company was meeting the terms of its franchise agreement with New York City.

“We will continue to invest in our business and deliver the highest quality services to our customers while we defend against these allegations involving Time Warner Cable practices,” he said.

As the strike wears on, tensions between workers and the company have risen. Charter said it suffered service outages this summer after vandals severed the company’s cable lines.

Union officials said they have warned their members not to engage in vandalism.

“There’s anger, I’m sure. But certainly the union does not condone that,” Mr. Erikson said.

The striking workers are set to lose their medical coverage next month, something union representatives say has created a new sense of urgency. After going months without pay, many of the workers are struggling. “It’s been six months,” said Mr. Erikson. ”They’re sleeping in their cars.”

Mr. Bonomo, the Charter spokesman, said the benefits package being offered by the company was similar to plans for its 90,000 employees elsewhere in the U.S. “This competitive offer will have a positive, lasting impact on employees’ standard of living and allows us to grow a well-paid, highly skilled workforce for the benefit of our customers,” he said.

New York Times – Spectrum Workers’ Strike Approaches 5-Month Mark

2017-10-04T17:55:50+00:00 October 2nd, 2017|

…On Friday, union workers remained embroiled in a contract dispute with Charter Communications, which offers cable, internet and telephone services under the name Spectrum. The strike has drawn the attention of the mayor’s office, which has begun a formal audit into Charter’s practice of hiring contractors from outside New York to serve its customers during the strike…

The Bronx Chronicle – Chairman Crowley Statement on Ongoing Labor Dispute Between Charter Communications and Members of Local 3

2017-10-05T20:11:44+00:00 September 26th, 2017|

… We need Charter to immediately come to the table and negotiate in good faith with these workers who take great pride in their jobs and deserve the benefits they’ve worked so hard to earn […]

IT Business Edge – Charter Agrees to $13M Fine Related to Time Warner Acquisition

2017-10-05T20:20:43+00:00 September 25th, 2017|

The New York State Public Service Commission has settled with Charter Communications for the cable company’s failure to build out its cable networks as quickly as it agreed to when its acquisition of Time Warner was approved last year.
The settlement… was the largest with a cable company in New York State history and possibly in the history of the United States[…]

NY Daily News – Dozens of unions to join IBEW Local 3 in major NYC rally against Charter Communications amid six-month strike

2017-10-05T20:26:05+00:00 September 15th, 2017|

…Fed up by the grinding contract dispute that’s brought some of the strikers to the brink of financial ruin, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 put out a call to arms […]

Forbes – CEO Raises Hit 3-Year High, Led By Charter, Whose Workers Have Been Striking For 5 Months

2017-10-05T20:26:25+00:00 August 11th, 2017|

….For example, news of Charter’s history-making CEO compensation comes as a group of its New York area employees, who provide Spectrum telecommunications support, continue a months-long protest of proposed changes at the company….