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Negotiations… Interrupted: Charter Spectrum Panics As Time Runs Out to File N.Y. Exit Plan

Charter Communications ‘productive negotiations’ with New York’s Public Service Commission have deteriorated.

On Monday, Charter Communications filed a Motion for Stay to block the regulator’s July order revoking Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable and requiring the cable company to file an orderly exit plan with the state no later than Dec. 24.

“Discussions have, so far, not resulted in a settlement,” the company admitted in the legal filing.

Get Out of New York

Calling the order “draconian” and against the public interest, Charter all but accused the Commission of being petty for throwing the country’s second largest cable company out of the state over what it called “the Commission’s revisionist interpretation” of the agreement to expand cable broadband service to unserved parts of the state. It called the Commission unreasonable for not giving the company due process, setting an unreasonable deadline to formulate an exit from the state, and violating the company’s 1st Amendment rights.

“The Revocation Order imposes a draconian penalty on Charter’s New York operations, commanding Charter to undo a significant portion of a multi-billion dollar merger the Commission approved over two-and-a-half years ago and purporting to evict Charter from the State where Charter serves 3.1 million customers and has more than 11,000 employees,” the company’s lawyers argued. “To top it off, the Order, as extended, gives Charter only until December 24 to formulate an exit plan, and six months thereafter to accomplish the exit, timing that would (as the Commission knows) effectively insulate the Commission’s actions from any judicial review. The Commission’s actions reflect not reasoned decision-making directed to the public interest, but rather retaliation against Charter because Charter challenged the Commission by advocating for its good-faith reading of the expansion condition.”

“The Revocation Order is unprecedented in its scale and represents a unique and extremely unusual penalty that, to Charter’s knowledge, no other major cable or telecommunications provider has ever faced in New York,” the company added. “Merely developing an exit plan to meet the December 24, 2018 deadline would force Charter to divert significant resources from its business operations in order to explore what an exit plan might look like, if it is feasible at all. Already, business executives in various departments of Charter have had to take time away from overseeing the business in order to explain the impacts of the Revocation Order and expected impacts of any exit plan. Continuing to divert resources to such an effort, including the time of Charter’s management teams, will necessarily impact Charter’s ability to focus on its core operations.”

The 25-page attack on the Public Service Commission suggest negotiations have strained between the company and regulators, despite several deadline extensions and often-repeated claims from both sides that “productive negotiations” were underway. In a footnote, Charter attempts not to burn all of its bridges with the Commission, noting, “Charter is filing this petition to preserve its substantial and compelling legal rights. Nothing in this application is intended to foreclose the possibility of further discussions with the Commission to resolve this dispute without the need for judicial review.”

The company wants the Commission to stop the clock it imposed on Charter to get its affairs in order in preparation of leaving New York. It is requesting a stay that will drop the deadlines until the courts wrangle over what Charter is calling an “unprecedented and unlawful action.”

Scrambled Eggs

Charter argues the Commission has no right to insist on much of anything, because much of its business operation is unregulated and attempts to interfere with it would cause the company “clear and substantial irreparable harm,” and violate the company’s constitutional rights.

The harm from Charter’s actual departure from New York roughly seven months from now would itself be massive and irreparable, as there would be no way for Charter to restore its position by “re-entering” the State in a commercially reasonable way if Charter later prevailed on judicial review. The eggs here are scrambled—the merged companies’ national operations are fully integrated, and there is no obvious way to separate them. Any obligation to do so would require a massive commitment of time and resources—starting immediately—to navigate the complex business, legal, and regulatory requirements needed to implement the Commission’s order to unscramble the eggs. Moreover, the preparation of an exit plan would itself negatively impact Charter’s reputation with employees, customers, and suppliers in highly competitive markets and require Charter to expend substantial effort, resources, and money that could not be recovered if Charter ultimately prevails in challenging the Revocation Order.

The filing does not acknowledge that Charter was informed of the Commission’s decision in late July and that multiple deadlines have already been extended on the company’s behalf by regulators. Charter also does not mention there is a long history of cable companies separating, spinning off, selling, or trading parts of the business to other cable operators when business or regulatory conditions warrant. Several cable industry mergers have required spinoffs of certain cable properties which have been accomplished with little protest from the cable companies involved.

Charter also argues that the very idea New York’s PSC would demand the company leave the state is irreparably harming the company’s good reputation with its customers — a contention long in dispute with many of those customers and customer satisfaction surveys which have rated the company among the worst in the country. But that did not stop Charter’s attorneys from trying:

[…] The Revocation Order has negatively affected Charter’s reputation and goodwill, and will continue to do so unless stayed. The Revocation Order unfairly paints Charter as an irredeemable bad actor, and the Revocation Order’s unwarranted requirement that Charter exit the State within a matter of months has damaged Charter in the general public’s eye. Indeed, Charter’s goodwill was already harmed by the initial media attention the Revocation Order received, and this harm is likely to be exacerbated by the filing of an exit plan that will spur a second round of news stories and public speculation regarding the dispute.

Bad Faith

Charter claims the Commission changed the terms of the Merger Order after it was approved. In Charter’s view, the company’s expansion effort to reach unserved parts of New York State should include New York City, one of the most wired metropolitan areas in the United States. That the Commission took offense to Charter’s interpretation of the Merger Order should not mean the company should face the ultimate consequence — being asked to leave the state.

“The unprecedented revocation of the Commission’s approval of a merger that closed over two years ago is grossly disproportionate to any conduct at issue here,” Charter argues. “Although the parties dispute the meaning of the expansion condition in the merger order, the revocation of the merger approval serves no legitimate Commission interest when other remedies are available and when the Commission has no reason to doubt Charter’s readiness to comply with any authoritative judicial construction. Nor can the Commission’s unprecedented action be justified by any finding of “bad faith.” What the Commission inappropriately labels bad faith is simply Charter’s reasonable effort to challenge the Commission’s new interpretation, exhaust administrative remedies, and prepare its case for judicial review. There is no reasonable justification for the punishment the Commission imposed.”

Charter also takes issue with the way the Commission met and voted to throw the company out of New York, calling it “the paragon of procedural irregularity.”

“The Commission issued the ‘revocation’ penalty […] at a rump session of the Commission, without providing Charter with an opportunity to comment or present any argument on the availability of the remedy itself, or upon most of the grounds on which the penalty was predicated,” the company argued. “The Commission also denied the public—including Charter’s customer base, who would be required to switch to a new provider, and the local governments that are parties to Charter’s franchise agreements that the Order purports to vacate—an opportunity to comment on the unprecedented proposal to force Charter to exit New York.”

Charter Sets Its Own Deadline – Nov. 26

Charter expects the PSC to rule on its motion within a week of filing it, demanding a stay before the start of business on Monday, Nov. 26. If the company does not get what it wants, it will seek a stay from the Supreme Court in Albany County instead.

But the company also suggests the PSC is bluffing.

“The Commission is currently pursuing an action to enforce its interpretation of the Expansion Condition in the Supreme Court, suggesting that the Commission itself intends for the condition to remain in effect rather than for Charter to actually discontinue operations and leave the State,” the attorneys wrote. “And even if the Commission truly intended to revoke Charter’s merger approval and require it to leave New York, there is no reason the Commission needs Charter to do so—and to submit a plan to that effect—immediately, before Charter has had an opportunity to seek rehearing and obtain judicial review.”

FCC Proposes Another Grand Giveaway of Public Rights-of-Way to Cable Operators

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a new policy allowing cable companies to deduct the fair market value of their obligations to serve the public interest from franchise fee payments to towns and cities.

The proposal, MB Docket No. 05-311 — Cable Franchise Fee Deduction, will turn cable franchise laws upside down in virtually every state, reducing local government revenue and threatening public, educational, and government (PEG) access channels, access to cable in schools and other educational institutions, and undermining local control over the placement of wireless cell equipment and other infrastructure that some cable operators propose to install.

Critics of the proposal claim it would continue a concerted effort to shift oversight and regulatory controls away from local communities and states to a federal government that currently has a policy of favoring the interests of telecommunications companies over the interests of community leaders and the public.

Concord, Calif. Mayor Edi Birsan warned the FCC that if it adopts its proposal, it would strip his city, along with others, of its ability to manage where cable companies place cellular equipment and at what price.

Birsan

“Local governments may lose their authority to manage a cable company’s deployment of non-cable facilities, such as ‘small cells,’ Birsan wrote in a letter to the FCC. “This preemption would threaten to extend to fees for use of the rights of way, meaning:

  • Cable companies can use local rights of way for any purpose, regardless of the terms of the franchise, and avoid having to pay fair compensation to the local government for the use of publicly funded assets in the rights of way.
  • Cable companies could potentially install “small wireless facilities” with little to no public input, without having to meet any aesthetic or equipment size requirements aimed to mitigate blight and preserve community character.
  • Cable companies would gain a significant advantage against their competitors, including telecommunications providers even though the FCC has just adopted an order lowering their deployment standards, resulting in a race-to-the-bottom deployment strategy for both cable and telecommunications companies.”

Officials in King County, Wash., which includes the city of Seattle, were critical and suspicious of the FCC’s argument that the burdens of providing benefits to communities as defined in franchise agreements are slowing down the deployment of broadband services, a claim Tanya Hannah, chief information officer of the Department of Information Technology and Christina R. Jaramillo, manager of the Office of Cable Communications found had little merit and no evidence to back it.

Hannah

“It is not obvious that if a cable operator’s profit increases by one dollar that the operator will invest an additional dollar in broadband infrastructure deployment,” they wrote in a joint letter to the FCC. “Many cable companies are functional monopolies. Because the data transfer speed of fiber-line cable systems significantly exceeds the speed of wireless systems, cable broadband is the preferred broadband service if the prices for other broadband services are comparable.”

The two officials made it clear that since the FCC was proposing to impose these changes retroactively on town and cities around the country, the result would be detrimental to local government finances.

“If the FCC were to allow the value of the proposed franchise fee offset activities that were done in the past to be deducted from current or future franchise fee payments, the results to local  governments would be debilitating,” the officials wrote. “It could essentially end all monetary fee payments to King County by Comcast and WAVE Broadband for a number of years. This is not a feasible option. It is not realistic and it is not fair.”

The Alabama League of Municipalities told the FCC the issue was about basic state sovereignty, and Alabama does not want the federal government to run its affairs.

“Section 220 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 provides that no person, firm, association, or corporation shall be authorized or permitted to use the streets, avenues, alleys, or public places of any city, town, or village for the construction or operation of any public utility or private enterprise without first obtaining the consent of the proper authorities of such city, town, or village,” the League wrote. “The Supreme Court of Alabama has labeled this grant of authority as ‘an essential and sovereign power in local authorities […] in the nature of a bill of rights [that] recognize certain fixed constitutional rights which shall not be invaded.'”

Under the FCC’s proposal, Alabama’s Constitution would be violated by allowing cable operators near carte-blanche access to public rights-of-way without fair compensation or permission, the League argued.

For a lot of communities, any reduction in franchise fee payments will lead to a corresponding decrease in funding for PEG television services.

“Our town’s ability to invest and support its public access television unit and the telecommunications curriculum in our schools is directly linked to the funding received from Charter Communications as part of the franchise fee (“cable tax”) agreement,” noted Robert J. Oliveira, chairperson of the Westport, Mass. Cable Advisory Board. “Any reduction in these funds would mandate a corresponding reduction in programming levels and information access to the community and curriculum support to our students.”

Public comments are due to the FCC by the end of today — Wednesday, Nov. 14. Consumers can share their opinions by visiting the docket on the FCC’s website, and then selecting + Express on the left hand side of the page, which will open an online comment form. Municipalities can file formal submissions using the + New Filing link.

Say Hello to America’s Least-Taxed Corporation: Charter/Spectrum’s 2017 U.S. Tax Rate Was -883.95%

Phillip Dampier November 8, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

(Source: Wallethub)

When Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge met with President Donald Trump in early 2017, he probably did not realize just how much the Trump Administration was prepared to reward America’s second largest cable company.

After collecting a $98 million dollar compensation package for himself by successfully pulling off acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, Rutledge today presides over America’s least taxed corporation. In fact, the American people owe Charter a significant ‘refund’ after the company achieved a negative overall U.S. tax rate of -883.95%.

WalletHub analyzed annual reports for the S&P 100 — the largest and most established companies on the stock market — in order to determine the federal, state and international tax rates they paid in 2017.

Charter’s tax accountants took full advantage of the Trump Administration’s permanent corporate tax cuts, which lowered corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. But Republicans who supported the corporate tax cuts left intact most of the generous corporate deductions, offsets, and other credits that ensured few of America’s top corporations ever paid anything close to 35%. As a result, the lowered tax rate combined with what critics call “corporate welfare and giveaways” allow a growing number of companies to not pay a penny in taxes. In fact, many will be in the enviable position of avoiding taxes and still getting an effective ‘refund’ worth billions.

Companies that are required to regularly invest in their businesses and buy equipment, hardware, and other tangibles as part of the cost of doing business are often the most generously rewarded. Tax deductions originally intended to inspire corporate spending during tougher economic times are great news for companies that have significant capital investments. Most of these companies planned on making those investments with or without a tax break, but all are welcome to the idea of using those investments to reduce their effective tax rate to zero. Charter’s acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House came with the understanding both systems needed substantial upgrades — spending Charter is using to offset taxes not just this year, but several years in the future.

The next least-taxed company was Kraft Heinz, which was taxed at -98.7%. Other big winners are AT&T (-98.36%), Comcast (-55.59%), and Verizon (-51.36%). AT&T and Verizon are frequent winners of an effective tax rate of 0.00% because of the substantial deductions available to both as a result of continually upgrading their highly profitable cellular networks.

Source: WalletHub

22 Texas Cities to Spectrum: Where is Our Money?; Communities Take Cable Company to Court

Phillip Dampier October 23, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

 

Twenty-two Texas cities are taking Charter Communications and its corporate predecessor, Time Warner Cable Texas LLC, to state district court for systematically underpaying franchise fees worth more than $1 million.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Waco, accuses Time Warner Cable and Charter of cheating the Texas communities out of fees for using the public right-of-ways.

Austin attorney Thomas Brocato, representing the plaintiffs, alleges the city of Waco alone is owed several hundred thousand dollars, while nearly two dozen others could share a combined recovery in excess of $1 million if the suit is successful.

Earlier this year, 33 Texas cities filed a lawsuit against Charter Communications making similar allegations. In that case, an auditor found Spectrum had underreported more than $2.25 million allegedly owed to the cities.

The latest cities to file suit allege a recent detailed audit uncovered several instances where Time Warner Cable and Charter/Spectrum did not apply the 5% franchise fee on every transaction the two companies should have. The lawsuit claims the cable companies did not include “processing-reconnect fees” as gross revenue for the purpose of paying franchise fees. The companies also excluded revenue collected from chargeable commercial service calls and failed to fully report all advertising revenue earned showing local commercials on cable channels.

The lawsuit accuses the companies of intentionally underreporting, noting the underpayments continued despite the use of two different accounting methods used to calculate franchise fees due local communities.

Plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit include the cities of Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Belton, Carrollton, Cedar Hill, Colleyville, Coppell, Dalworthington Gardens, Euless, Fort Worth, Garland, Grand Prairie, Harker Heights, Hutto, Irving, Killeen, Lewisville, Mesquite, Rockwall, Rowlett and Wichita Falls.

Fuming Spectrum Customers in Queens Spend an Hour on Hold to Report Multi-Day Outages

Ralph Romano is still on hold with Charter Spectrum, waiting to report an outage that began late Sunday evening in his apartment in the Jamaica, Queens neighborhood.

“You sit on hold for an hour and then the call disconnects, which is exactly the kind of treatment you know you are going to get from this shabby operation,” an angry Romano tells Stop the Cap! “I am 72 years old and ran my own business for 46 years. If I treated my customers the way this cable company does, I would have been out of business in 4-6 months. I don’t know how they did it but Spectrum is even worse than Time Warner Cable.”

Romano is one of dozens of customers reportedly experiencing a multi-day outage in Queens. For some, the outage takes out phone, internet and television service but for others, internet service is the worst affected.

Romano’s neighbor gave up on wasting her cell phone minutes on hold to report the outage. She took a taxi to the Spectrum Store in Elmhurst and then waited over 90 minutes before someone called on her.

NYC rats are not to be trifled with. This one is taking a slice home on the subway.

“I just wanted to report the outage, not turn in equipment or pay a bill, but the door greeter could care less,” Sandra e-mailed us. “They want your name and then they can’t be bothered. I watched people come in after me get called up to pay their bill, sometimes with a sack of change spilled out on the table that took 15 minutes to count. It was infuriating. When they finally called me, I was helped by Mr. ‘I Don’t Care’ who wanted my account information, then said my cable box appeared to be fine. He never tested the internet modem, which is where the problem was. When I told him the whole building was out, he said he couldn’t take reports about other people and they would have to come down themselves to report the trouble. He gave me a $5 credit for service we still don’t have back. Useless.”

“We have a lot of elderly people in this building so they are not going to run down to Spectrum and wait for hours to report a problem that could be discussed over the phone,” Romano said.

Like several other buildings in Queens, there are no immediate alternatives. Although Verizon claims FiOS is available to the building where Romano lives, the only neighbor who ordered it waited two months for engineering work and then had his order summarily canceled without explanation. The building owner warned FiOS is not available because Verizon was unwilling to place its incoming cables in the appropriate conduit, which is rat-resistant.

“The rats around here eat anything, especially cables,” Romano said. “Everyone seems to know that except Verizon.”

Over in Kew Gardens, intermittent internet access from Spectrum is often a fact of life.

Espinal

“When it rains, the internet is gone,” says Ana López. “You might get 15 minutes worth of use, but then the cable modem light starts blinking and the service is just gone. We have called them at least 10 times, and the riff-raff they send out here couldn’t find their rear end with their hands. Since the strike, the people who knew what they were doing must be on the picket lines because the guys taking their place are scary stupid. One suddenly decided to replace some inside wiring, but he ended up ripping the cable out of the wall by mistake and tore up the plaster. One thing they did make sure to do was laugh when they cut the old Verizon (FiOS) cable the old tenants must have used and then let it fall inside the wall. The other guy accidentally dropped one of his tools into my aquarium.”

López has repeatedly told them the problem has to be outside because it does not rain inside her home, but the latest contractor she dealt with confided he doesn’t climb poles unless absolutely necessary because “he is afraid of heights. ¡Dios mío! I am not lying to you.”

Unsurprisingly, the technicians did not fix the problem. As the problems in Queens mount, Rafael Espinal, chairman of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing in the New York City Council, has set up his own website to take complaints about Charter Spectrum across the city. “FixMyCableNow.com” does not appear to forward complaints on to Spectrum, but angry and dissatisfied customers can get more responsive service for unresolved problems by filing an online complaint with the N.Y. Attorney General’s office.

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  • EJ: Lack of competition equals high prices. If I had to guess they are in undeserved areas so they can of course do what they want. The map tells the stor...
  • Dylan: Yeah. No way Comcast is going to be competing with Charter Spectrum anytime soon. If it all. Tom Rutledge and Brian Roberts are good friends!...
  • Ian S Littman: Question is, when will C1 start doing DOCSIS 3.1, so they can afford to have higher tiers. They could double speeds on all but the top tier. Particula...
  • Milo: Comcast rep said "We offer internet speeds of up to two giga'bytes' per second and 100 giga'bytes' for businesses." Charter Spectrum in my area only ...
  • Ian S Littman: Good to know Comcast's rep still doesn't know the difference between gigabits and gigabytes. Wonder whether they'll do the overbuild via FTTH or coax...
  • Pat: My Internet bill was $14.99 in 2017 (33% increase) then $19.99 in 2018 (25% increase) and in November of 2018 (20% increase), it was raised to $24.99....
  • YC Wong: one of the reason I am using phone service is VoIP app... not this app is not longer available to us... what is the alternative solution!!!...
  • Debbie Hudson: Last month my bill was $55.09 this month is jumped up to $115. I called to ask for offers and they would only get my bill back down to $83 with a $100...
  • EvilCorp: Early Xmas 200 Mbps $1 increase from $69.99 to $70.99 use my own modem...
  • Abby: Did you find out why they wanted this information? I also got the same email and was just curious as to why they wanted it. Proof of residency? Credit...
  • Steve: As more people opt out of cable TV for Sling TV and the like (which requires internet), Spectrum will continue to raise their rates on the internet po...
  • Andy: They hiked the legacy ELP internet from 19.99 to 24.99 in november 2018. It used to be 14.99. The only reason these Charter spectrum effin ass holes a...

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