Time Warner service quality has been questioned in numerous public comments regarding the pending review by the PSC of its proposed acquisition by Comcast.
Phone companies are required to maintain service quality records as to several indicia of service quality, and to file regular service quality reports with the New York PSC. PSC regulations set out the general standards, or “performance metrics.” The regulations list the current standards:
16 NYCRR § 603.3(k) The following table summarizes the foregoing metrics and performance thresholds. PERFORMANCE THRESHOLD METRIC (Monthly) Maintenance Service: Customer Trouble Report Rate (Initial Reports) Per individual central office entity 5.5 or less Percentage of total entities (for those providers with 7 or more offices) at 3.3 or less 85.0 or more Percent Out-of-Service Over 24 Hours 20.0 or less Percent Service Affecting Over 48 Hours 20.0 or less Installation Performance: Percent Initial Basic Local Exchange Service Line Installations Completed Within 5 Days 80.0 or greater Percent Installation Commitments Missed 10.0 or less Network Performance: Percent Final Trunk Group Blockages 3.0 or less Answer Time Performance: Business Office Answer Time % Answered within 30 sec. 80.0 or greater Repair Office Answer Time % Answered within 30 sec. 80.0 or greater Operator Assistance Answer Time % Answered within 10 sec. 90.0 or greater Average Answer Time in sec. 3.0 or less
The standards are explained in Commission Guidelines issued in 2011.
Failure to satisfy service quality standards may subject a company to adverse financial consequences under PSC orders regarding service quality plans. For example, Verizon makes $100,000 payments to the state treasury for failing to keep the number of “core” customer out-of-service troubles not cleared within 24 hours below 20%: “Verizon simply acknowledges that it failed to achieve the SQIP performance target in New York City in January, and it consents to a payment to the State Treasury in the amount of $100,000, without the need for further proceedings.” The Commission has reduced Verizon’s exposure to service quality sanctions by counting only service to so-called “core” customers, which are mainly low-income Lifeline customers, who comprise only about 8% of the customers.
Time Warner, the state’s second largest phone company, began filing service quality reports regarding phone service to its 1.2 million phone customers after the New York PSC recognized that its VOIP phone service is indeed phone service subject to state regulation — including customer protections, Lifeline service, and reporting of its service quality metrics. Time Warner petitioned to be relieved of service quality reporting on the theory that it is competitive, and in the alternative that service quality should be measured only by performance with regard to “core” customers. At the time, however, Time Warner had just started providing Lifeline service and had few identifiable “core” customers. The PSC rejected the waiver request and required reports on service quality in a 2013 Order.
Time Warner files its service quality reports under blanket claims of “trade secret” confidentially as to the entire report.
The Utility Project requested Time Warner’s service quality reports under the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), opposing the blanket request for confidentiality based on claimed “trade secrets” contained in the service quality reports. The Committee on Open Government has frowned upon blanket invocations of the “trade secret” exemption and in an Advisory Opinion pointed out that “the courts, and particularly the Court of Appeals, have clearly confirmed that in order to meet the burden of proof in denying access to records, agencies must provide “persuasive evidence” that disclosure would cause the harm envisioned by an exception to rights of access, specifically, §87(2)(d), rather than a “speculative conclusion that disclosure might potentially cause harm” [Markowitz v. Serio, 11 NY3d 43, 51 (2008)].”
The Public Service Commission Records Access Officer followed the principle discouraging blanket invocations of “trade secrecy” and allowing only narrow redactions. The Officer directed preparation of redacted copies of the service quality reports, in a June 19, 2014 letter to Time Warner:
“Prior to proceeding under POL §89(5)(b)(1)(2), a separate copy of each document, with appropriate redactions of the allegedly confidential statements in the documents, must be filed with the Secretary pursuant to the Secretary’s filing guidelines at www.dps.ny.gov – Filing Guidelines – Filing Documents with the Secretary. Please be advised that blanket-redacted documents (completely or substantially blacked-out documents) filed with the Secretary are not acceptable. TWICS is directed to submit the aforementioned documents within seven business days of receipt of this notification. Thereafter, [the requester] will have a reasonable amount of time to determine if these documents are responsive to his request before the process for a written determination of the RAO is commenced pursuant to POL §89(5)(b)(1)(2).”
The PSC Records Access Officer denied the Utility Project’s request for records of correspondence between DPS Staff and Time Warner regarding service quality. This reason for denial was that the case rejecting a Time Warner petition for exemption from service quality reporting rules, and which established Time Warner’s requirement to file service quality reports, Case 13-C-0193, is still a pending investigation, and thus the records of those communications are exempt from disclosure.
Gerald A. Norlander