BECKLEY, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – On Thursday, the Public Service Commission (PSC) sent out a press release stating that it will be holding in-person public comment hearings to give customers the opportunity to express their concerns with Suddenlink’s quality of service.
This meeting stemmed from the numerous attempts Delegate Mick Bates, R-Raleigh, 30, made to contact the company and get answers as to why customer’s bills are being raised despite low-quality service.
Bates has long sought for the PSC to regulate broadband, specifically Suddenlink, which he says is essentially an “unregulated monopoly.”
Bates says broadband companies like Suddenlink have found loopholes in the PSC’s regulations, which only has jurisdiction over cable television.
During the last legislative session, the House voted House Bill 2002 into effect, which provided for clear direction and consumer protection against unfair billing practices and substandard service by broadband service providers. The bill became effective May 27, 2021.
According to Bates, when the bill returned from the Senate, the wording had been diluted, creating essentially guidelines for the companies rather than regulations.
“They have been allowed to operate in a gray zone, and it allows them to treat people poorly,” he said. “They’ve been able to take advantage of the loopholes.”
For weeks, Bates, who has experienced his own issues with Suddenlink, has pushed back at the company, demanding answers, and at the PSC, demanding action.
After sending a letter to Delegate Danielle Linville, R-Cabell, 16, chair of the Technology and Infrastructure Committee, Bates was able to involve the Hose and receive legislative support, catching the attention of Suddenlink/Altice.
The Vice President State & Local Government Affairs at Altice USA will travel to Beckley on Monday, August 9, to meet with Bates, who, over the weeks has collected the stories of struggling customers and will demand their issues be fixed.
“I intend to make it clear that we can do this the easy way or the hard way but that we are going to get this fixed. It’s unacceptable.”
In today’s world, Bates says reliable broadband is as essential as water or electricity.
“There’s no better option for providers,” he noted. “They’re [Suddenlink] the only reliable service because there isn’t competition. Parts of the state don’t have internet, parts do, but it’s abysmal, and some have good service, but it’s spotty. It’s keeping people from healthcare, from schoolwork, from work.”
Bates says that, while braodband has always been important, it is needed now more than ever.
“Essentially, now you can’t function without it. If we get people involved and start to bring the attention to the issue that it deserves, I think we are going to get somewhere.”
Following Bates’ meeting with Suddenlink/Altice executives, the PSC will hold its meetings in Beckley on Monday, August 23, and in Charleston on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.
Bates, detailing how Suddenlink can begin to rectify the situation, says he hopes customers rally together to get the company on all fronts.
“Pitchforks and flaming torches are what I hope for. First, Suddenlink needs to realize the seriousness of the situation and acknowledge what they’ve done wrong and are doing wrong. They need to devise a corrective action plan to fix the problems now and make them right for all those people that have been through these issues, and they need to put a plan forward, so this doesn’t happen in the future.”
After being given the opportunity to do right by their customers, if Suddenlink still doesn’t make changes, Bates, who has also enlisted the help of West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, says legal action may be taken.
“From a legal perspective, it would be difficult but not impossible to be able to win in court. That doesn’t mean we can’t enforce regulations. We make the law,” Bates stated, adding that he believes broadband companies going against regulations should first be subject to fines and penalties, ultimately resulting in legal action if they don’t comply.
After seeing southern West Virginians struggle with their Suddenlink service, and then struggling himself, Bates says he is simply trying to fix the issues that so many people have.
“I talk to people. I hear their personal experiences. We had the opportunity during the last legislative session to do something about it with House Bill 2002. That broadband bill provided a mechanism, a vehicle, to try to address this regulatory loophole that exists within the process. I left Charleston in March under the impression that we had done our jobs.
“These are real problems that real people have. We are going to stay the course until these issues are fixed.”
According to Bates, the best way to tackle the issues with Suddenlink/Altice is for any and every customer experiencing issues to attend the PSC’s meetings later this month.
He encourages those wanting to share their concerns regarding billing or poor service to mail the specifics to firstname.lastname@example.org. Those emails will be printed and presented to Suddenlink for rectification.
Those who want to make their thoughts known to the PSC but choose not to participate in a public comment hearing may send a letter to the Commission at 201 Brooks Street, Charleston, WV 25301, or they can submit a comment on the PSC’s website.