CT attorney general goes after Optimum over plan to cut customers' internet speed

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Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

File

State Attorney General William Tong is calling on internet service provider Altice to scrap its plans to reduce upload speeds for some of its internet service customers.

The plan, of which customers were informed late last week, will take effect July 12, will decrease upload speeds of the company’s Optimum internet service from 35 megabits per second to as little as 5 Mbps, Tong said during a press conference in Hartford. He was joined by state Sen. Norman Needleman, D-Essex, who is co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, and state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

Optimum internet service currently is available in 27 communities in Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven counties. The changes will apply to new Optimum customers as well as existing customers who make any changes to their service levels.

“Let me say how very disappointed I am that Altice is doing this right now,” said Tong, who lives in Stamford. “People are still trying to make ends meet and to lard this on families at time when they need internet the most and are least able to afford this is unconscionable.”

Duff and Needleman said that if Altice is not responsive to Tong’s letter, they will seek to hold public hearings in Fairfield County and will call the company’s executives to explain their decision publicly.

Duff called the company’s action “a slap in the face to consumers and a race to the bottom” in terms of providing broadband internet service.

“Fairfield County is the economic engine of the state of Connecticut,” he said. “They will tell you this is in line with the competitive marketplace. But they don’t really need to be competitive because they really have no competition.”

Both Duff and Needleman acknowledged that what limited regulation there is of internet service providers is at the federal level.

“I’d like to see Congress ignore lobbyists and pass a strong consumer-focused piece of legislation,” Duff said. “Short of that, I’d like to see them return the power to regulate these companies to the states.”

The federal government so far has taken a hands-off approach to regulation of internet service providers, according to Needleman.

“Competition has not instilled a greater sense of responsibility to these companies,” he said.

Needleman noted that Tong earlier this year had called on Comcast to postpone implementation of its plan to add a surcharge on data usage above a 1.2 terabyte cap. Under pressure from Tong and his counterparts in other states, Comcast agreed to postpone implementation of the cap until 2022.

“What we did with Comcast is shame them,” he said. “ I think Altice has a great deal to be ashamed of.”

Tong said his letter to Altice officials also asks whether the company’s Optimum service currently caps consumer data usage, or whether the company intends to institute a cap in the future.

Altice officials issued a lengthy written statement regarding the comments made by Tong and the two lawmakers.

“We appreciate the feedback from Attorney General Tong, State Senator Bob Duff, and State Senator Norm Needleman, and will engage with their offices to provide the information needed,” the statement says in part. “In Connecticut alone, we have invested millions of dollars in technology, network upgrades and building a new 100 percent fiber network. We have a variety of options and plans available for all our customers to meet their needs, and additionally, none of the plans Optimum offers include a data cap.”

Tong and the two lawmakers urged Connecticut residents who are broadband internet customers of Altice to sign onto an online petition that has been created.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com