Spectrum must improve communication and redundancy

Syracuse Post-Standard

Feb. 18

New York regulators should hold Spectrum’s feet to the fire over its poor response to a service interruption affecting 2 million customers in the Northeast earlier this month.

Spectrum’s TV, internet and phone services went down Feb. 7 and 8 when snow and ice damaged the company’s fiber-optic lines in several locations. The storm also took out lines that are supposed to provide “critical redundancy.” Clearly, Spectrum needs a better backup. Regulators ought to examine the network’s vulnerabilities and ask whether Spectrum should be doing more to harden it or build in more redundancy.

The cable company also needs to improve the way it communicates with its customers. Spectrum announced its service failure on Twitter. That is not sufficient to reach hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Spectrum’s customer service phone lines were crushed by the call volume. That should trigger a review.

We’re glad to see Spectrum is crediting customers for the time they were without TV, internet and phone service — but only if customers call and ask for it. Surely, Spectrum knows which households were affected. Why not credit everyone, automatically? That would have been a gesture of good corporate citizenship.

At this point, the company could use all the goodwill it can muster. Spectrum is the cable and internet provider its subscribers love to hate. Many have no choice; Spectrum has no competition in many areas of Upstate New York. The company’s monopoly position means consumers have little recourse when it raises rates or offers poor service. For example, former Time Warner customers who wanted to watch Syracuse University sports on the new ACC Network were required to switch to higher-priced plans.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, has long criticized Spectrum over its pricing, expansion of broadband in rural areas and failure to deliver promised internet speeds. Brindisi also prodded the state Public Service Commission to investigate this most recent outage. “Spectrum needs to be held accountable and look to create redundancies to make sure this type of prolonged outage doesn’t happen again,” he said.

The regulator is following up with a “series of formal interrogatory questions” to Spectrum to establish the timeline and cause of the outage, its impact on customers and the steps taken to restore service. The company’s communication with customers also ought to be part of that investigation.

Spectrum’s spectacular failure merits more than a strongly worded letter as an official response.

Losing internet, TV and phone service is more than an inconvenience for people stuck inside during a snowstorm. It’s a lifeline in an emergency. It’s also a critical tool for businesses taking electronic payments or online orders.

Look, weather happens. Utility lines come down. It takes time to put them back up. Even so, the fact that one snowstorm could cripple an internet/TV/phone provider over two days, and across multiple states, deserves scrutiny from Albany and Washington.

Spectrum’s communication problem has an easy fix: Simply be more transparent and deliver information to the public as broadly and quickly as possible.


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