We are finally seeing progress on the utility front, as our constant pressure on both Optimum/Altice USA and First Energy/JCP&L is showing some signs of progress.

On March 16, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities will convene a virtual hearing to review “the various complaints, municipal government official resolutions and requests for board investigation and intervention” in regards to Optimum, giving its customers “the opportunity to voice their concerns about the services received from Altice; as well as afford the company the opportunity to respond to these concerns before determining what corrective action may be warranted and should be taken in this matter.”

The board designated commissioner Mary-Anna Holden as the presiding officer. Holden “is authorized to rule on all motions that arise during the proceedings and modify any schedules that may be set as necessary to secure a just and expeditious determination of the issues.” Residents and other customers were encouraged to participate by submitting their documentation via email to board.secretary@bpu.nj.gov. The listed deadline for those submissions was Feb. 26.

Information concerning participation in the public hearing will be posted at nj.gov/bpu. Attorneys for the townships of Robbinsville and Hamilton filed dual letters to the BPU Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, requesting an investigation into the under-performing utility back in August 2020. In addition to Hamilton and Robbinsville, the order lists the boroughs of Dunellen and Sayreville, along with the townships of Green Brook, Howell, Jackson, Montville, North Brunswick and Piscataway. The complaints are voluminous, and include: “Frequent and lengthy service disruptions (across all services), inconsistent connections and fluctuating Internet speeds, long telephone wait times, poor customer service, and an inability to get a satisfactory response to these issues from the company both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Regarding Elauwit, the internet service providing competitor, which presented its local vision for in-home internet and Wi-Fi before township council on Jan. 28, they are working on submitting a revised proposal that would make the project entirely private and eliminate the township from having to allocate any funds for implementation. As originally presented, such a public-private partnership would have been subject to so much state-mandated process that it would have taken several months to get all the necessary approvals to build the infrastructure. The original timeline for meeting those regulations likely would have bumped up against the eventual rollout of 5G service provided by Verizon and AT&T, among others.

As for JCP&L, we submitted written comments that were read into the record at a Feb. 25 BPU hearing vehemently opposed to a proposed rate hike disguised as an “Energy Efficiency and Peak Demand Reduction Program.” JCP&L should not be awarded another rate increase by the BPU until it vastly improves its level service and communication to its existing customers. Robbinsville has suffered a long history of poor performance at the hands of JCP&L, so if rate increases are the reward for such poor performance, why would JCP&L ever change? It is an illogical proposition and fundamentally unfair to the residents of Robbinsville Township and other municipalities throughout the state, who deserve better than what this utility has delivered.