Suddenlink
State lawmakers heavily criticized officials with Suddenlink Communications during a meeting Friday for the company's lackluster response in restoring internet service to homes and businesses damaged by Hurricane Laura. Legislators demanded quicker action so children can take part in online learning and so businesses and the healthcare industry can resume operations.
Members of the Joint Commerce Committee met in Baton Rouge with Robbie Lee, Suddenlink mid-south regional vice president, and Brad Ayers, senior director of government affairs for Altice USA, the company that acquired Suddenlink in 2016. Lee said service has been restored to 11 percent of Suddenlink customers in Calcasieu Parish so far. Ayers said 380 workers are currently on the ground in Calcasieu, with an intent to have 450 workers in town by Tuesday.
Those numbers didn’t sit well with committee members, including Sen. Ronnie Johns, the committee’s Senate chair. Johns, R-Sulphur, said power has been restored to more than 60 percent of Entergy Louisiana customers in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes since the storm.
“That is absolutely miraculous,” he said.
A lack of internet service has forced some local families to move to Houston and Baton Rouge so their children can take online classes, with one family moving as far away as Ohio, Johns said.
“If we cannot take care of our children, who can we take care of,” he asked.
Complaints by Suddenlink customers in Calcasieu Parish over the last three weeks have been “mind boggling,” according to Johns. Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, held up a stack of complaints from Suddenlink customers in areas impacted by Hurricane Laura over the last four days.
“It’s a book,” Magee said. “Never have I seen anything like that. I can understand why your customers are upset with you.”
Johns said the only reason Suddenlink has communicated better over the last few days is because local and state officials pushed hard for answers.
Johns and other legislators criticized Suddenlink and Altice for not adequately planning or communicating with them ahead of Laura’s landfall. Lee said preparation began “well in advance of the storm,” and the company has experience dealing with severe weather. 
Since the storm, Lee said Suddenlink has suspended late fees and collections for customers whose service was interrupted by Laura.
Magee pressed Ayers on whether a plan was in place to bring a mobile team to Calcasieu Parish to communicate with Suddenlink customers. Ayers said different plans were being discussed. Magee said he was frustrated by Ayers’ vague responses.
“I don’t think you've shown any kind of real concern for what is an obvious problem,” Magee said. “I think that’s very disappointing.” 
Ayers said Dexter Goei, Altice USA CEO, is expected to visit downtown Lake Charles next week to view damage caused by Hurricane Laura. He added there are issues with Suddenlink executives traveling outside of New York because COVID-19 requires them to quarantine for 14 days after returning.
Rep. Phillip Tarver, R-Lake Charles, said the only way Suddenlink executives can understand the magnitude of Laura’s destruction is to see it in person, even with COVID-19 restrictions. Tarver added that President Donald Trump visited Lake Charles two days after Hurricane Laura made landfall.
“I don’t care what the environment is,” Tarver said. “You could put (Goei) in a spacesuit or something, and he could come see it. You need to get serious about recovery here because we’re dealing with some serious problems.”
Sen. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, said there should be at least 1,500 Suddenlink workers on the ground in Calcasieu Parish right now instead of 380. Having that many workers isn’t problematic, when considering the thousands of Entergy workers already in the area, he said.
Tarver said he wants internet service restored by Sept. 28, the earliest date Calcasieu Parish schools expect to start offering virtual learning.
Abraham said Suddenlink and Altice have been more reactive instead of proactive. He criticized them for not having a set plan on post-hurricane response and not being able to say when the majority of customers will have restored service.
Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, had harsh words for Lee and Ayers.
“I don’t think you’re serving the people of Louisiana the way they deserve to be served,” he said. “You did not do your job. Going forward, I don’t know why Louisiana wants to do business with you.”
Misty Clanton, DeRidder mayor, said Suddenlink workers have not been in the area since the hurricane. She said there is a need for competition when it comes to internet service providers.
“This is necessary to conduct our lives that we live here as Americans,” Clanton said of having internet service.
Ayers said Altice and Suddenlink will improve its overall service and communication with customers, as well as local and state elected officials.
“I don’t want to get kicked out of Louisiana,” he said. “This is a huge market for us. This is 150,000 subscribers. We want to help you. We hear you.”

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