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Jul 31

NYC Issues Default Notice Against Charter/Spectrum; Begins New Franchise Agreement Audit

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the New York State Public Service Commission’s decision to revoke its approval of the 2016 merger between Charter Communications, Inc. and Time Warner Cable, Inc., as well as comments from DoITT.

New York, NY – The agency overseeing IT and telecommunications services throughout the City of New York has issued cable-TV giant Charter/Spectrum a notice of default, and will immediately commence a new audit of the corporation’s Franchise Agreement, LaborPress has learned.

Striking Charter/Spectrum workers and supporters rally outside the corp.’s New York City HQ earlier this year.

The Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications’ [DoITT] decision to slap Charter/Spectrum with the default notice comes after the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] found that the telecom — one of just three major service providers in the city — engaged in unfair labor practices in relation to a work stoppage on Paige Avenue in Brooklyn back on April 2, 2014.

Specifically, DoITT issued its default notice against Charter/Spectrum as a result of the NLRB’s determination that the telecom “coercively interrogated employees regarding the events of April 2, 2104.”

No timeline has yet been given for completion of the new audit. In a previous audit completed earlier this year, Charter/Spectrum was found to be using an overly broad interpretation of the term “located in New York City” as it refers to Article 17 of the Franchise Agreement and the use of contract workers

IBEW Local 3 has been on strike against Charter/Spectrum for nearly a year-and-a-half.

In response to DoITT’s latest actions, a spokesperson for Charter/Spectrum said, “On the NLRB decision, the important thing is that the story reflect that the NLRB found the suspensions of the employees in question for engaging in an illegal work stoppage were appropriate. We are appealing the portion of the ruling that found some of the questions asked during the investigation of this illegal stoppage were improper.”

According to DoITT, the city is open to input from strikers who believe they have something to contribute to the new audit. Strikers have long held that Charter/Spectrum is flagrantly violating terms of the Franchise Agreement.  

DoITT Assistant Commissioner Kate Blumm, however, cautions that, on their own, photographs of Charter/Spectrum vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates isn’t strong enough evidence that the telecom giant is failing to adhere to terms of the Franchise Agreement.

Charter/Spectrum’s existing Franchise Agreement with the City of New York expires in 2020, and a notice of default on file against the corporation could impact its ability to secure a renewed Franchise Agreement.

A group of striking Charter/Spectrum workers with experience in survey and design has introduced a plan  to form a worker cooperative — New York City Communications [NYCC] — that could succeed Charter/Spectrum and make good on Mayor de Blasio’s plan to bring universal broadband to the city by 2025.

If the city were to act fast, workers behind the plan to replace Charter/Spectrum with a low-cost worker cooperative, maintain that the transition could be made with little disruption to subscribers.

“We need a strong Communication  system, one that everyone can rely on 24/7, stop rolling the dice with your broadband,” striking IBEW Local 3 member David Pabon told LaborPress. “New York City Communications (NYCC) [offers] better pricing, better service.”

The City of New York has never before revoked a cable franchise.

“The steps we are taking today demonstrate our vigilance in monitoring franchisees—including Charter Spectrum—to ensure they deliver on the terms of their agreement with the City, and the 8.6 million New Yorkers within it,” DoITT Assistant Commissioner Kate Blumm told LaborPress.

Striker Troy Walcott, the driving force behind the new worker cooperative, expressed little confidence that DoITT’s actions will have much effect on Charter/Spectrum’s operations in New York City.

“What it does highlight, is the fact that we need another option the citizens of this city can rely on to be there for them,” Walcott said. “I hope this idea of a cooperative company owned by the citizens of New York has finally shown the [administration] that there is a way out from under the thumb of this company — and they now start to truly hold Spectrum accountable. We have another option now.”

On Friday, the New York State Public Service Commission [PSC] upped the pressure on Charter/Spectrum tenfold when the agency announced it is revoking its approval of the 2016 merger agreement between Charter Communications, Inc. and Time Warner Cable, Inc.

“Charter’s repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments are well documented and areonly getting worse,” PSC Chair John B. Rhodes said in a statement. “After more than a year of administrative enforcement efforts to bring Charter into compliance with the Commission’s merger order, the time has come for stronger actions to protect New Yorkers and the public interest. Charter’s non-compliance and brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers necessitates the actions taken today seeking court-ordered penalties for its failures, and revoking the Charter merger approval.”

Charter/Spectrum dismissed the PSC revocation as a politically motivated move.

“In the weeks leading up to an election, rhetoric often becomes politically charged,” a corporate spokesperson said in an email. “But the fact is that Spectrum has extended the reach of our advanced broadband network to more than 86,000 New York homes and businesses since our merger agreement with the PSC. Our 11,000 diverse and locally based workers, who serve millions of customers in the state every day, remain focused on delivering faster and better broadband to more New Yorkers, as we promised.”

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