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Charter Communications Facing $1 Million Fine and NYC Franchise Revocation

The Chair of the New York State Public Service Commission announced today that the Commission is seeking a possible revocation of Charter Communication’s franchise to serve New York City and a $1 million fine payable to New York State for failing to meet its network buildout obligations agreed to as part of its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable.

“It is critically important that regulated companies strictly adhere to the state’s rules and regulations,” said Commission chair John B. Rhodes. “If a regulated entity like Charter’s cable business decides to violate or ignore the rules, we will take swift action and hold them accountable to the full extent of the law.”

The most serious potential consequence is the revocation of Charter’s franchise agreement with New York City, which would force the cable operator out of the most important media market in the country. The Commission has opened an official proceeding to investigate whether Charter has tried to achieve its network expansion targets by using addresses in New York City where the company was allegedly already offering service or should have been.

Is Charter Meeting its Buildout Obligations in New York?

One of the key requirements Charter had to meet in New York in return for approval of its buyout of Time Warner Cable was an expansion of its cable footprint to at least 145,000 additional New York homes or businesses over a four-year buildout period. These “passings” — where service would be available for the first time, had to be in areas where the company was not already compelled to offer service through its existing franchise agreements. This requirement was designed to overcome the cable company’s traditional objections to servicing a location because of inadequate Return On Investment. A detailed audit performed by the Commission discovered more than 14,000 ineligible passings included by Charter in its December milestone report. Once these addresses were disqualified, Charter fall short of its obligation by more than 8,000 passings. As a result, this triggers an automatic $1 million fine, payable each time Charter fails to meet its agreed-upon buildout milestones.

New York City officials were concerned that Charter’s most recent milestone report asserted the cable company expanded service to 12,467 addresses in New York City, despite an existing franchise agreement with the city that included requirements that would guarantee those addresses either already had or should have had cable service available. If those allegations are proven true, Charter attempted to meet its buildout obligations by fudging the numbers.

“Metropolitan NYC is one of the most-wired cities in America and the world, and essentially, 100% of the NYC areas are served by one or more 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) wireline providers
such as Verizon FiOS, Cablevision, RCN, and Charter itself,” the Commission wrote.

The PSC’s staff conducted detailed reviews of 490 of those addresses claimed by Charter as having cable service available for the first time. None of them were found to be valid for inclusion in Charter’s service expansion reports, either because they were already serviced by Charter’s network or received service from a competing provider offering at least 100 Mbps service, or both.

In two instances, the staff found Charter was claiming new service expansion in buildings clearly already covered by the city’s existing franchise agreement.

“In a more egregious example, Charter also listed the Reuters Building as countable toward the December 2017 target in Charter’s January 2018 filing, which has a listed address of 3 Times Square,” the PSC wrote. “Staff could not find any photos of the building prior to 2014 beside aerial views, but construction was completed in 2001, well before the effective date of the current franchise agreements.”

In either case, Charter may be stuck between a rock and a hard place. If the company argues it did, in fact, provision cable service only recently, Charter probably materially breached its franchise agreement with the city, providing immediate grounds to begin franchise revocation proceedings under PSL §227.11. If Charter argues instead it was in compliance with its franchise agreement and did in fact already offer cable service to those addresses, Charter would be subject to an investigation about why it misled the regulator by claiming those locations as “new passings” when they were not.

Franchise Fee Dispute

A second controversy involves the amounts of franchise fee payments payable to New York City. City officials claim those payments have declined year-over-year since Charter completed its merger with Time Warner Cable.


A decline in franchise fee payments could be the result of cord-cutting, which has taken its toll on cable TV subscriptions at almost every cable company in the country. The fewer cable TV subscribers, the more likely revenue declines are going to occur, which in turn cuts franchise fee payments.

Charter Communications’ business model is also a departure from its predecessor, Time Warner Cable. In addition to ending many pricing promotions, Charter also stopped marketing stripped down, budget-conscious television packages. Many customers also faced dramatic rate increases as a result of Charter’s new bundled TV packages, which in some cases required customers to pay substantially more to keep all the channels included in their original Time Warner Cable package. As a result, many customers changed providers. Others decided to “cut the cord” and drop television service altogether while retaining broadband. The franchise fee does not apply to internet or phone service — just television.

Still, the PSC wants to audit Charter’s books to verify the company’s accounting has not departed from Time Warner Cable’s interpretation of the franchise fee agreement and unfairly undercut the city.

Charter has been given 21 days to respond with clear and convincing evidence it is not in violation of its franchise agreement with New York City or its merger obligations with New York State. If the Commission does not receive satisfactory evidence by the deadline, it is likely to begin hearings on whether Charter has committed material breaches of its agreements serious enough to warrant fines and/or franchise revocation.

Charter Communications CEO Made 148 Times More Than Average Spectrum Employee

Phillip Dampier March 19, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News No Comments

Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge’s 2017 salary was equal to the average pay of 148 Charter employees, according to a new regulatory filing.

The cable company’s proxy filing showed the CEO’s total compensation last year was $7.8 million. The average Charter employee is paid $52,722.

While the average cable company employee no longer qualifies for a pension, two of Charter’s top executives do, and Mr. Rutledge’s is currently worth $1,268,082.

Other top Charter executives all made in excess of $1 million in 2017:

    • President/COO John Bickham: $4.88 million
    • Senior Executive VP David Ellen: $3.14 million
    • Chief Financial Officer Christopher Winfrey: $2.07 million
    • Chief Accounting Officer and Controller Kevin Howard: $1.54 million

Each of Charter’s 12-member board of directors also received considerable compensation in 2017, ranging from $299,522-$506,628 in cash and stock awards.

Church of Scientology Launching New Cable TV Network Tonight

Phillip Dampier March 12, 2018 Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

The controversial Church of Scientology is going direct-to-home with its message to the masses with the launch of its new television network, Scientology TV, which begins regular programming tonight at 8pm EDT.

Although the Church was allegedly negotiating with Charter Communications to pick up the new network for its Spectrum TV subscribers, for now, it is confirmed the new network will launch on the DirecTV platform (channel 320), and for those owning Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku devices. An app version of the network is also available for iOS and Android.

A countdown timer is currently running on the network with its tag, “Curious?,” which is a question/theme regularly seen in Scientology advertisements.

Over the weekend, Scientology leader David Miscavige appeared at Flag Land Base, the Church of Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., to announce the imminent launch of the network. In Los Angeles, L. Ron Hubbard Way has been blocked off at the southern end for a celebration when the network goes live.

The launch of the new network was a surprise for many, despite the fact the Church acquired the multimillion dollar production studios of public TV station KCET in Los Angeles in 2011. The Church said it intended to use the studios for programming production and satellite distribution of HD content.

Although the network has promoted “full episodes of your favorite shows,” the initial schedule is limited to in-house produced Scientology programs that promote the Church’s agenda. “The Truth About Drugs” is a documentary complaining about psychiatric medications, something the Church opposes. Other shows include, “Inside Scientology,” “The Way to Happiness,” and the teachings of Church founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Whether the network also intends to air mainstream television programming to attract viewers to its Scientology message is unclear at press time.

Church critics contend Scientology TV is the Church’s response to a devastating series of exposé documentaries and ex-Church member Leah Remini’s popular A&E series “Scientology and the Aftermath.”

“Scientology TV will be little more than ‘mystery sandwich’ propaganda which we’re already quite used to from the church and its YouTube channel, the kind of stuff it’s been airing during Super Bowls the past five years, for example,” wrote Tony Ortega, who writes The Underground Bunkeran authoritative blog about the Church and its dissident ex-members. “Those slick ads are designed to make viewers curious about Scientology without actually telling them anything concrete about it. And we have grave doubts that Scientology TV, the cable channel, will itself go anywhere near explaining what really happens in the Church of Scientology.”

Ironically, at the same time Scientology TV is launching, the ID network will be airing a Vanity Fair Confidential special about the “strange disappearance” of Shelly Miscavige, the wife of the current head of Scientology.

Times of London: Sprint Parent SoftBank Lays Groundwork for Takeover of Charter/Spectrum

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son

Japan’s SoftBank “has laid the groundwork” for a $100 billion bid to acquire Charter Communications, better known to its customers as Spectrum, and merge it with Sprint, the American wireless company it controls, according to a report this morning in the Times of London.

London financial district sources leaked information early Monday morning that SoftBank’s billionaire CEO Masayoshi Son has already quietly purchased nearly 5% of Charter Communications stock, a prerequisite for launching a takeover bid. By purchasing a solid stake in Charter, the company hopes to be to taken more seriously about its proposition to combine America’s second largest cable company with the country’s fourth largest wireless carrier.

This isn’t the first time SoftBank has expressed an interest in a merger with Charter. Late in 2017, Masayoshi approached both Charter and its largest shareholder, Dr. John Malone, about the prospect of a merger. Malone was reportedly lukewarm about the deal, while Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge and the rest of his management team opposed the deal. But apart from Malone and Rutledge, many of Charter’s top shareholders were in favor of a merger — particularly the Newhouse family, which sold its interests in Bright House Networks, a mid-sized cable operator, to Charter in 2016.

Masayoshi has been a strong advocate of consolidation in the wireless industry, and has repeatedly lobbied for permission to acquire T-Mobile USA to combine it with Sprint. But regulator concerns during the Obama Administration made such a deal impossible. By targeting the acquisition of a cable operator, SoftBank can argue the transaction will have no material impact on competition because Sprint and Charter Communications operate different businesses.

Wyoming’s Rural Broadband Bill Rewritten by Telecom Lobbyists to Block Public Broadband

Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr

An effort to pass legislation that would award state grants to help rural Wyoming communities get high-speed internet was dead on arrival as far as telecom industry lobbyists were concerned.

So they “fixed it” with a secret substitute bill quietly written by the state’s telecom companies.

The replacement legislation effectively turns the state grant program into a fund for the state’s dominant telecom companies — CenturyLink and Charter Communications.

Stop the Cap! has learned the replacement bill gives high priority to eliminating potential competition by blocking funding for communities to establish their own public broadband alternatives to the phone and cable company if those companies already offer service anywhere inside the community.

The bill also seeks to define the Wyoming government’s involvement in broadband as a non-adversarial partnership with the telecom industry, according to Wyoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss (D-District 9).

Under the substitute bill, Rothfuss said the telecom industry will now have a say over how the state awards grant funds. The industry is concerned tax dollars could be given to their competitors to offer service in communities where CenturyLink and Charter already provide modest service. But nothing in the bill would keep either company from collecting state funds for themselves, to expand broadband into unserved areas.

The attempt to switch the bills during a state senate committee meeting was met with surprise and outrage by Cheyenne Mayor Marion Orr.

“I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn industry completely re-wrote proposed broadband legislation to their favor as a ‘substitute bill’ in legislative committee today,” Orr wrote on her Facebook page on Feb. 19. “The substitute bill is substantially different than the original bill. And it wasn’t posted online or anywhere for anyone except insiders to have access to. CenturyLink and Spectrum are bullies. It’s wrong, and they are hurting Cheyenne and other Wyoming communities from gaining affordable access.”

The committee working on the bill may have hoped to switch the bills without notice, but Orr was having none of that.

“As soon as I realized the committee was working a different version that none of us had access to – I spoke up,” she said. “The committee set it aside and will hear it again tomorrow night. This is NOT good governance and the committee realized it. I will stay on this. Guaranteed.”

The substitute bill appears to have subsequently passed and is still facing review by the state legislature.

Orr remains furious Wyoming’s telecom companies that have not delivered on ubiquitous, affordable broadband will now have more power than ever to determine who gets service, who pays to extend service, and what companies can provide it.

“It’s as important as turning on electricity, it’s as important as turning on a tap and having water, it’s an absolute must if we’re going to grow,” Orr said.

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  • EJ: What area do you live in? Are you in the area that is affected by the strike? That long of a wait time for phone service is generally not okay. They s...
  • Chris: I am glad I found this site. Been with charter for well over a decade. Finally have phone service available in my area, on the west coast. However, w...
  • C Hines: How bout my phone went out on Sunday and they’re telling me it will be 4/11 before they can maybe get it fixed. I live in a very rural area with no ce...
  • Rosemary Reich: Throughout conversion to digital we have consistently mislead, lied to and bait and switched. If you like the Post Office and old Ma Bell...you will ...
  • Sam: This is such a stupid problem. Every TV provider that isn't a cable company understands that selling service by the simultaneous stream is the future....
  • scott: but no fox sports midwest for cards and blurs games. sorry but charter is way late to the party. playstation vue has everybody beat by a long shot . ...
  • EJ: That is not a fair rational at all. Fiber can be run by backbone only companies. It will take time yes, but if the wireless companies are willing to d...
  • L. Nova: Anyone who thinks that this 5G is going to be the savior for wireless doesn’t get it: you still need a lot of fiber to connect these antennas. There’s...
  • EJ: Dear Germany take it from us Americans... do not and I mean do not go down that road. Look at our mess in the internet market and ask yourself is a pr...
  • kaniki: A lot of live action shows are like that.. Same with movies.. But, when you go toward the cartoons.. not so much. credits are a good example of the sp...
  • kaniki: Left most loop holes wide open?? and you expected them to close them?? If they did, it would hurt them, and they are too greedy for that.. As for the ...
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