State lawmaker slams Optimum over hidden fee, demands refund for customers

by Editorial Team

ALBANY — A Brooklyn pol is calling on Optimum to offer refunds to internet customers after the company suddenly slipped a hidden fee into bills earlier this year.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie upbraided Altice USA, Optimum’s parent company, for the unexpected $2.50 increase.

“Ours is a community where all too many people are struggling to make ends meet,” Myrie, a Democrat who represents parts of Brownsville and Crown Heights, wrote in a letter last week. “This is especially true during the holidays, when we are scraping together every dollar we can in hopes of affording gifts for our friends and families.”

The “Network Enhancement Fee,” which first appeared on customer statements in February, was brought Myrie’s attention by eagle-eyed constituents who noticed the uptick despite being locked into service contracts for a set price.

Myrie, a member of the Senate’s consumer protection committee, said it wasn’t right for fees to be added mid-cycle, and called on the company to do the right thing.

“To place an unexpected and unjustified barrier between vulnerable people and an essential service is unacceptable, but refunding these fees would go a long way toward restoring the goodwill of your customers and helping them celebrate the holidays,” he wrote.

A spokeswoman for Altice said it doesn’t use service contracts, meaning customers can cancel at any time. She also said the company gave customers notice 30 days before the fee was implemented.

Altice will be reaching out to Myrie directly to “clarify some of the matters addressed in his letter,” spokeswoman Lisa Anselmo told the Daily News.

Other internet providers have been forced to reimburse customers for similarly sneaky fees.

Earlier this month, the Washington attorney general secured a $6.1 million settlement for customers hit with an assortment of deceptive add-on fees by cable and internet company CenturyLink.

The company was caught charging a “broadcasting fee” of $2.49 a month, a “sports fee” of $2.49 a month, plus an “internet cost recovery fee” ranging from 99 cents to $1.99 monthly.

Last year, Comcast agreed to pay $950,000 and cancel debts owed by 20,000 Xfinity customers in Massachusetts following a civil investigation by the state’s attorney general that found deceptive advertising over “lock-in” prices. The company denied any wrongdoing, saying it settled to avoid a protracted legal battle.

The non-profit advocacy group Consumer Reports noted in an October report that customers wind up paying almost 25% more than the advertised price for “lock-in” cable and internet services, amounting to an estimated $28 billion a year profit for the industry.

Myrie said he’s looking at other avenues if the company rejects his proposal. But comparing Optimum to Dr. Seuss’ famously stingy Grinch, the pol implored the company to have a heart.

“They’re making billion of dollars in revenue and here they are trying to nickel-and-dime the working class,” he told The News. “I am ready to have a very serious conversation with my colleagues in government to see whether we need to take legislative action or if there should be enforcement action on this because, for each individual, $2.50 a month could be the difference they need for people living paycheck to paycheck.”


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