SOMERS, N.Y. - Town officials have long advocated for customers’ rights with power suppliers, especially New York State Electric & Gas. Now some residents are calling on them to hold the cable companies’ collective feet to the fire, too.
The interrelated issues of internet, TV and phone services was back in the public eye after a tree fell on electric power and cable lines on Route 22 in Goldens Bridge on Monday, July 6.
While NYSEG was able to restore power in a timely fashion, the internet reportedly was down in Somers and parts of North Salem for days.
That was because, Supervisor Rick Morrissey said at the Town Board’s July 9 meeting, resplicing broken fiber optic cables can take an “inordinate” amount of time.
Though they may grumble, humans can survive without TV. But the internet, that’s another thing altogether—especially now that so many are working from home and governing bodies are holding virtual meetings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some claim they’ve been trying to get Verizon Fios (Fiber optic service) to expand service in Somers but have been told that the town itself is blocking the company from doing so.
The town denies the claim.
It appears that only a tiny part of town can get Fios cable TV as part of Verizon’s so-called “triple play,” which includes internet and phone services. Other cable providers are Optimum (Altice) and Xfinity (Comcast). DirectTV, a subsidiary of AT&T, is a direct broadcast satellite service provider.
Morrissey recently addressed the conundrum in a Facebook post.
“Believe me, it’s not because of lack of trying,” he wrote, adding that the town “welcomes competition and routinely requests that Verizon expand into Somers.”
The company has told town officials that it’s increasing services in New York City’s boroughs and “it is not economically feasible” to do the same in Somers “at this time,” he said.
Morrissey urged residents to contact his office if they “are being told anything different, as Verizon has had to correct their staff messaging in the past.”
The town would “like to know who from Verizon is promulgating false information,” he added in the post.
Verizon was contacted for comment, but had not responded as of press time.
Councilman Rich Clinchy noted during the council meeting that the town has criticized NYSEG “not inappropriately, for not communicating with people properly when there’s an outage.”
Estimates for restoring power have frequently been off, he added.
The cable TV industry, on the other hand, “has got to be the worst” because it’s not regulated like other utilities.
“They make NYSEG look good. Their ability to communicate with their customers is terrible. There’s no sense calling them. You’ll never talk to a live person,” he said.
Referring to large cable companies such as Comcast, Clinchy said: “Anything happens in Somers they really don’t care about” because there’s “no one watching over them.”
This just “points out a weakness in our system. Electricity’s more important than cable TV. But it’s hard to do your work if you don’t have the internet. This is not a luxury service like, one might argue, TV is,” he added.
Clinchy said he felt the state or federal government should “do something about it, because we really can’t.”
Councilman William Faulkner disagreed. Offering to “spearhead the effort,” he suggested the town plan meetings with the company.
“And they will get better. NYSEG got better. It’s still not perfect. Electricity in West Somers Park went out and came back relatively quickly. Internet went out and didn’t come back for two to three days,” Faulkner said.
Without naming the company, the councilman decried the lack of customer service following outages.
Town Attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr., speaking on what powers the town has regarding internet and other services, said that service provider franchise agreements are subject to approval by the state.
If the town wanted to rescind a particular agreement and put it out to bid, it would have to “build a record” of any problems and file a complaint with the Public Service Commission, he said. But “the investment is going to be so great that nobody else is going to bid, because nobody else is going to build the infrastructure.”
As far as the town preventing service by Verizon, “That is as far from the truth as you can get,” said Councilman Tom Garrity.
“We would love for everybody to come here; there’d be more competition. The problem is that the investment is so high that it doesn’t make sense for them to do it,” he said.
Councilman Anthony Cirieco asked whether there was a “tariff” that would delineate what level of services cable TV companies should be providing. Baroni said he didn’t know.
To Garrity, the bottom line is that, even if the town pounces all over them, there’s “no recourse.”
“It’s a true monopoly because nobody else is going to pay to put their service in. If they were going to do it, they would have done it already.”
While the town may be feeling frustrated about what it can or cannot do about the situation, it can at least use its bully pulpit to bring attention to issues with utilities or phone/internet/TV services.
“There isn’t a person in town who has these so-called service companies that provide no service that doesn’t feel the same way.
At least we can be the megaphone for them. Maybe that will get something done,” Clinchy said.