Erin Jones, Altice USA director of government affairs provides an overview of services at the commission's Thursday, Feb. 27 meeting.

Residents want to know why Suddenlink Communications doesn’t reward long-time customers with lower rates

BUCKHANNON – Suddenlink Communications has around 2,000 or 3,000 customers in Upshur County alone.

Erin Jones, Altice USA Director of Government Affairs, attended Thursday’s Feb. 28 Upshur County Commission meeting to discuss services provided in Upshur County – and field several questions and complaints from some of those customers. Suddenlink is a subsidiary of Altice USA.

Jones first provided an overview of services.

“You’ve got speeds of up to 150 megabytes, I think we have around 2,000 to 3,000 customers in Upshur County … and everything here has actually been fairly quiet on my end,” Jones said. We did a lot of maintenance last year, which is just upgrading equipment, replacing anything that needs to be replaced. All of our systems are monitored 24 hours a day, so we know when there’s a problem [at a lower level].”

Jones said Altice USA purchased Suddenlink and Cablevision back in 2015.

“These two companies came from completely separate billing systems, so that if you had to call, there were two completely different call centers handling two different customer types,” Jones said. “Over Labor Day [2019], we went through and migrated everything onto one system to make it streamlined and to make it easier for billing purposes.”

“But I think in doing that, there were just a couple of issues that we had, and customers couldn’t access their online system or their portal or pay bills for a week, which we notified [them of] in advance,” she added.

Jones said Altice waived all late fees for paying bills before and after that time period, claiming things have calmed down again and appear to be business as usual.

“In January, customers were notified of an annual rate increase, which happens every year,” Jones said. “Nobody’s happy about it, but that happens because of our annual contracts that expire with the broadcaster’s, so to be able to have the content through cable, we have to pay them to post their content, and the shows and their prices go up every year as well, so then the cost of doing business with them does as well – which we’re always negotiating, trying to look out for the best interests of the customer because we basically pay per subscriber to air this content on cable.”

She said there was a cap to this increase so that no customer would be paying more than $10.50 for the increase.

“Some bills had an error where there were $10 [added on] in addition to that cap,” Jones said. “It was just a low number of customers, but we’ve already identified that, and customers will be credited back the difference of that in the next billing statement.”

She said they have a commitment to community investment and mentioned their work with the Stockert Youth & Community Center.

“We donate computers to them for their after-school programs so that the kids have access,” Jones said, “and we already provide the center with free internet services, so we we’re able to provide them with 20 or 25 laptops for them to be able to do homework and Wi-Fi.”

At the end of her presentation, Jones opened the floor for anyone wanting to ask her questions.

Community member Sheila Becker said she thinks long-term customers should be able to take advantage of discounts offered to new customers.

“We got mailers from Suddenlink for this special event and it’s been on TV advertisement, so I did call because that price would be cut in half what I pay,” Becker said. “I called and said I wanted exactly the same thing. The lady took my information and we got ready to do it and she said, ‘oh you’re an existing customer, we can’t do that.’”

“To me that’s not right,” Becker added, “and she said she would have to discontinue my service for 60 days and then sign up. I feel like we’re the customers that have been there for years – why can’t we get a discount?”

Commissioner Sam Nolte said that is also one of the most repeated complaints he has heard about Suddenlink.

“I’ll take that back with me to get more insight because I don’t have a good answer for that one,” Jones said.

Community member William Shannon said he brought his bill with him to ask about a charge he did not understand on his bill regarding sports programing.

“I brought my bill in today and it says I’ve been charged $6.65 for ‘sports programing,’ but I don’t have any sport programs,” Shannon said.

“I asked the same question because I wanted to verify it for everyone,” Jones replied. “The sports programming isn’t just ESPN or anything else, so when you’re watching local college sports or anything else – even NASCAR on like NBC, ABC, CBS and it might be TNT, TBS, they have a high cost for that programming as well, so that’s just a portion that is listed out as part of that cost.”

Shannon also said when he or his wife call Altice/Suddenlink’s call center, they usually connected to someone who has trouble understanding them.

“I’ve heard that complaint a lot recently,” Jones said. “We do have a big call center in Texas that enables a lot of volume, anytime day or night. I personally called it around 11 p.m. or midnight and I got somebody in Texas. So, what you get with that is, there’s a limited number of people who can answer the phone, so instead of having long wait times, they do resource that out, and we do have those outsourced teams. I was told they’re one of the best [based on performance metrics], so that’s why we try to use them.”

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