CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates committee working on a bill establishing new broadband regulations heard Monday from Suddenlink Communications about what the cable and internet service provider was doing to improve service to customers.
The House Technology and Infrastructure Committee heard from Jim Campbell, vice president of state and local government affairs for Altice USA — the cable television operator and Internet service provider Suddenlink.
“We are partnering with the state to expand our footprint into areas that we currently do not serve and where the cost to access was prohibitive,” Campbell said. “These places are unserved… It’s once in a generational life to really bridge the digital divide.”
The West Virginia Public Service Commission issued an order in July requiring Suddenlink to justify why the commission should not impose legal penalties on the company. The PSC also held two days of evidence hearings on Suddenlink’s service issues, as well as public comment hearings last summer regarding service issues with Suddenlink after receiving more than 1,900 customer complaints since 2019. regarding service-related issues.
According to a progress report submitted to the PSC in December, Suddenlink said that of 262 complaints received at public hearings and through the PSC, about 57% of the complaints had been resolved.
Another was to be filed in early January. Campbell said complaints about tech calls were down 44% year-over-year. Campbell said it was a sign the network was working better and customer service agents were handling complaints effectively.
“We share the state’s goal that we want to provide the best technical and customer experience for residents of West Virginia,” Campbell said. “We also recognize that we have had significant challenges over the past two years. We own them. Some of the factors that caused them are external. Many of them have been internal. We recognize that it is up to us to solve these problems and to solve these problems for our customers. »
Suddenlink and other internet service providers are the focus of a bill the committee is considering dealing with broadband service in West Virginia.
House Bill 4001 would create the Department of Economic Development Accountability Legislative Oversight Commission. The bill creates a new commission to oversee all financial investments made by the new state agency created last year.
The Department of Economic Development is the agency responsible for the influx of millions of state tax dollars for certain economic development investments, such as the Nucor steel project in Mason County. It is also responsible for spending federal funds on broadband broadband expansion.
The other half of HB 4001 creates a number of funds to invest dollars in various broadband programs, such as mid-mile broadband expansion, pole replacement and relocation, duct installation and right-of-way mapping, as well as additional consumer protections. If the Legislative Assembly decides to provide dollars for all these funds, the fiscal impact could reach more than $59 million, although committee lawyer Brian Casto said there would be no impact. tax.
The bill also includes an obligation for telecommunications companies that offer Internet services to request “status of eligible telecommunications operators” with the Public Service Commission to show that the companies are in compliance with the FCC’s Universal Service Fund.
A subcommittee met Monday before the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee to consider changes to HB 4001, sending the bill to committee of the whole. Subcommittee members heard testimony from Internet Service Providers and PSC Chairperson Charlotte Lane.
“We don’t have jurisdiction over Voice over Internet Protocol, so we wouldn’t even be able to find out which telecom carriers are providing this, because they don’t have any interaction with us,” Lane said. “We have done everything we can so far to make broadband accessible to the extent that we have any jurisdiction…It does appear that there are a lot of things being proposed with this bill.”
The updated bill empowers the West Virginia Attorney General’s office to determine compliance with various legal standards. The bill’s main sponsor, House Technology and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, led the charge to hold internet service providers accountable.
“The bill actually contemplates (telcos) applying for this status from the Public Service Commission, so they know because they are based on applying for this status,” said Linville. “It would give the state of West Virginia the ability to hold these vendors accountable.”
Linville said more than $700 million in federal broadband dollars could likely flow through the Department of Economic Development over the next few years.
“Although we trust, we hope to verify”, said Linville. “If people know someone is going to be watching, hopefully they will correctly realize the intent of the legislature and the intent of Congress.”