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As Expected, Altice’s IPO Raising Money for Possible Cox, Mediacom Acquisitions

Altice USA today revealed the terms of its long-expected initial public offering likely to bring more than a billion dollars to the company’s merger and acquisition fund that many Wall Street analysts now expect will be spent to acquire privately held Cox Communications and/or Mediacom.

Cox has long claimed it is not for sale. But Altice founder Patrick Drahi has a history of being willing to overpay for the companies he covets, including Cablevision, which was a reluctant seller for at least a decade before Altice made an offer the Dolan family that founded Cablevision couldn’t refuse.

Telsey Group analyst Tom Eagan told his Wall Street clients he expected Altice would be “active” in American cable consolidation, with Cox and Mediacom systems being likely targets. Other analysts have downplayed potential interest in Cable ONE, another likely target, because of the company’s recent aggressive rate increases and the fact its systems are often in economically depressed areas. An acquisition of Cox and/or Mediacom would make Altice the third largest cable company in the country, but it would still be far behind Comcast and Charter Communications, which hold first and second place respectively.

Any acquisition would likely not get much scrutiny on the federal level by the FCC and Justice Department, and most states would likely give the deal only a perfunctory review before approving it.

Altice USA has applied to be listed as “ATUS” on the New York Stock Exchange.

Mediacom Promises $1 Billion Investment in Broadband Upgrades

logo_mediacom_mainMediacom, perennially rated America’s dead-last cable company by Consumer Reports’ annual subscriber surveys, will invest $1 billion over the next three years to combat increasing competition from AT&T and other telephone companies by improving its broadband service.

The chief goal of the upgrades is to introduce gigabit broadband speeds for nearly all of Mediacom’s three million customers across 22 states. The initiative, dubbed Project Gigabit, will require Mediacom to push fiber closer to customers and businesses and will depend largely on DOCSIS 3.1 technology.

Mediacom is already providing gigabit service in several communities in Missouri, including Jefferson City, where it sells 1,000/50Mbps service for $149.99 per month, with discounts available to customers bundling it with other services. Mediacom has placed a data cap on its gigabit tier of 6TB a month, with an overlimit fee of $10 per 50GB. The Missouri systems bond 32 downstream channels using DOCSIS 3.0 technology, and customers report speed test results averaging 980/60Mbps. In other areas, many Mediacom systems will be upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1 service as part of the gigabit rollout.

Mediacom gigabit

“From the time we acquired our first cable system in March 1996, Mediacom’s focus has always been to offer the smaller communities we serve the same communications and video services that are available in America’s largest cities,” said Mediacom’s founder and CEO, Rocco B. Commisso. “Project Gigabit will allow us to go even further by giving our customers access to one of the fastest broadband networks in the world.”

In addition to speed upgrades, Mediacom also plans:

  • Expansion of Mediacom Business’s high-capacity network inside downtown areas and commercial districts to create more “lit buildings” within the company’s footprint and bring tens of thousands of new business customers on-net with immediate access to fiber-based communications services;
  • Extension of Mediacom’s deep-fiber residential video, Internet and phone network to pass at least an additional 50,000 homes;
  • Deployment of community Wi-Fi access points throughout high-traffic commercial and public areas across Mediacom’s national footprint.
mediacom rating

Consumer Reports subscriber survey results for Mediacom

Customers hope the service improvements might finally lift Mediacom out of last place in consumer satisfaction scores, a rating it has maintained for several years.

Mediacom caps its Internet service and penalizes customers with a $10 per 50GB overlimit fee.

Mediacom caps its Internet service and penalizes customers with a $10 per 50GB overlimit fee.

Media General Yanks 16 Of Its TV Stations Off Mediacom Cable Systems Nationwide

Phillip Dampier July 15, 2015 Consumer News, Mediacom, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

media generalMediacom subscribers in 15 cities lost 16 Media General-owned over the air stations from the cable lineup in a retransmission consent dispute just as a Major League Baseball All-Star Game to be shown on some of them was about to get underway.

Most of the stations are in smaller cities served by Mediacom and include:

  • Alabama: WIAT (CBS) Birmingham, WFNA (CW) Mobile
  • California: KRON (CW) San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose
  • Indiana: WANE (CBS) Fort Wayne, WTHI (CBS) Terre Haute
  • Kansas: KSNT (NBC) Topeka, KTMJ Topeka, KSNW (NBC) Wichita-Hutchison
  • Iowa: KWQC (NBC) Davenport,  KIMT (CBS/My Network TV) Mason City
  • Michigan: WOTV (ABC) Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, WOOD (NBC) Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek
  • South Dakota: KELO (CBS/My Network TV) Sioux Falls
  • Tennessee: WKRN (ABC) Nashville
  • Virginia: WAVY (NBC) Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, WVBT Norfolk
  • Wisconsin: WBAY (ABC) Green Bay-Appleton

logo_mediacom_mainMediacom claims Media General was seeking excessive compensation to renew its carriage agreement with the television stations. Customers were told in a letter signed by Tom Curtis that some stations were demanding more than double the old rate to renew the contract.

“Not only was Media General demanding more than double the money, the price they set for KWQC [in Davenport, Iowa] was significantly more than any other broadcast station we carry,” Curtis wrote. “If we agreed to Media General’s demands, KWQC would have become the most expensive broadcast channel in all of the 1,500 communities that Mediacom serves across 22 states. Further, other broadcasters would follow and begin demanding to be paid the same as Media General, driving up costs for other channels on your lineup.”

This is the second time in four years customers have lost the stations. When LIN Media owned several of the outlets in 2011, it refused cable carriage for more than a month over a similar dispute.

Mediacom is America’s Worst Cable Operator (Again) in Consumer Reports Survey

Phillip Dampier June 2, 2015 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Mediacom, Rural Broadband Comments Off on Mediacom is America’s Worst Cable Operator (Again) in Consumer Reports Survey

logo_mediacom_main“Dealing with Mediacom is like stepping on a mound of fire ants,” says June Watts, a Mediacom customer in Alabama. “You are going to get stung no matter what you do.”

Watts is one of many unhappy Mediacom customers that once again bottom-rated the cable company into last place in Consumer Reports annual survey of telecommunications providers. In every case, Mediacom scored the worst or nearly the worst on bundled services, Internet, phone, television, service quality, and pricing.

“Missing channels, stuck channels, inconsistent Internet speeds, Internet and phone outages, boxes that won’t stay authorized, and wait times up to 45 minutes to get them on the phone are all part of my experience with them,” Watts tells Stop the Cap! “It never gets better because once they fix one thing something else breaks.”

skunkMediacom’s customer service forums offer some clues about what makes Mediacom such a problem for its customers. “Cyberpunk 1161” pays for 100/20Mbps service but is lucky to get 10% of that speed on a good day. He started corresponding about his speed issues with Mediacom’s social media team on Feb. 19. He is still having issues as of June 2, nearly four months later, and his conversation with Mediacom has now extended to 15 pages. “WhiteBengal50” has already managed three pages of complaints starting on May 18. Another customer spent one year and four months with his cable line left unburied on his lawn.

“They run a poorly maintained operation in mostly rural communities larger companies don’t want to deal with,” said Jerry Butler, a Mediacom customer in Iowa. “They are trying to keep up with larger operators but they have not invested nearly enough in reliability, which alienates customers with regular service outages and ongoing technical issues.”

Butler notes he can buy 100Mbps broadband service from Mediacom, but he won’t actually see 100Mbps speeds because the cable infrastructure between him and the cable office has deteriorated over the years.

“They need new overhead cable on their poles but they won’t spend the money to do it,” Butler said. “Cable operators should be budgeting to replace system components approaching their expected end of life instead of waiting for them to fail. They could also use more monitoring tools to find deteriorating infrastructure and replace it before it fails.”

Drahi Readies His Next Move: “If I Buy Five Smaller Cable Companies, I Am as Big as Time Warner Cable”

Drahi

Drahi

Patrick Drahi, the billionaire ruthless cost-cutting owner of Altice SA told a French parliamentary hearing he didn’t go ahead with a serious bid for Time Warner Cable because he lacked enough management talent to run a huge cable company in a country he only recently entered.

“I didn’t follow up on the exchanges we had on Time Warner Cable that were mentioned in the media because we were not ready,” Drahi told a French parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

Drahi testified French-owned banks were ready to help finance a deal that would have stolen Time Warner Cable away from Charter Communications. Instead, Drahi has decided to spend a little time digesting his acquisition of Suddenlink to gain experience in the U.S. cable market before he moves on other cable operators. Drahi believes he will be the only buyer left to cut major cable consolidation deals.

“Time is on our side” for the U.S. expansion,” Drahi said. “The two leaders Comcast and Charter will not be able to buy anything else because of their size so we will have an open boulevard ahead of us. If I buy five small operators, I can be as big as Time Warner Cable.”

The five most-likely cable operators Drahi will pursue, according to a business editor at RFI, the French overseas broadcaster: Cablevision, Cox, Mediacom, WOW!, and Cable One. Cox and Mediacom are privately held and Cablevision is tightly controlled by its founding Dolan family, so Drahi will likely have to sweeten deals to convince all three to sell.

Reuters reports Drahi is especially interested in the smaller, less profitable operators because they are ripe for his brand of cost management and consolidation-related savings.

“Even better, that means we will have room to improve them,” Drahi said.

Drahi remained enthusiastic about Cablevision, despite the fact it serves one of the most competitive markets blanketed by Verizon FiOS in the United States.

“It’s good actually since it means they know how to compete,” Drahi said.

Drahi’s reputation is well-known in Europe based on his earlier acquisitions. Altice favors telecom and cable companies seen as poorly managed or undervalued which Drahi targets for massive cost-slashing to improve profitability. The investments he does make are largely to benefit high-end customers he values the most.

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