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Charter Donating $10 Million to Civil Rights Groups That Lobbied for Time Warner Cable Merger

Al Sharpton: Friend of Charter/Spectrum

During a period of renewed consciousness about the Black Lives Matter movement, many U.S. corporations are stepping up to donate money and resources to address what they call systemic racism. Charter Communications, which owns and operates Spectrum, is one such company.

The cable and broadband provider announced this week it was “investing $10 million” with the National Urban League and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. The two civil rights groups coincidentally are long-standing recipients of Charter’s sponsorships and donations and are among the cable company’s best non-profit friends, reliably writing letters to regulators urging them to approve whatever is on the cable company’s agenda, including mergers and acquisitions, rolling back regulations, or blocking pro-consumer legislation.

Charter claimed in a press release its $10 million “investment” would help provide low-interest loans to businesses in underserved communities:

Charter’s Spectrum Community Investment Loan Fund (the Loan Fund) will invest $3 million in NUL’s community development financial institution (CDFI), the Urban Empowerment Fund (UEF), which will make individual loans to minority-owned small businesses and, under the direction of and on behalf of NAN, the Loan Fund will invest an additional $3 million in low-interest loans directly to CDFIs. In addition, Charter will provide $3.5 million in PSA value to promote its partners’ Loan Fund opportunities, and will contribute a $500,000 capacity grant to the NUL for revitalizing its CDFI platform including funding for staffing, infrastructure, and operations.

“In all communities, small business ownership and growth are fundamental to developing and sustaining economic power, which is critical to their long-term success,” said Tom Rutledge, chairman and CEO of Charter Communications. “Building on our valued partnerships with the National Urban League and National Action Network, these investments will support small diverse-owned businesses through access to much-needed low-interest capital and help build thriving communities across the country.”

The contributions might also be seen as “returning the favor” for the groups’ work on behalf of Charter’s 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Both non-profit groups were instrumental in contacting state and federal regulators, urging them to approve that merger that proved unpopular with many consumers.

Wilson, N.C.’s Fight for Better Internet Found Lots of Opposition from Big Telecom and Republicans

If you’ve ever lived in small-town America, you know how bad the internet can sometimes be. So one town in North Carolina decided: If we can’t make fast internet come to us, we’ll build it ourselves. And they did, despite laughter and disbelief from Time Warner Cable (today known as Spectrum).

When the city started installing fiber optics, the incumbent cable and phone companies did not like the competition and fought back, hiring an army of 40 lobbyists. The telecom companies enlisted the support of the now Republican-controlled state legislature, often with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other conservative groups. Together, they hammered home scare stories with suspect studies critical of municipal broadband written by not-so-independent researchers ghost-funded by many of the same big cable and phone companies.

National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” looks at what happened when the City of Wilson decided to try and start its own internet provider, and how it started a fight that eventually spread to dozens of states, a fight about whether cities should even be allowed to compete with big internet providers, and what the effect the outcome might have on working remotely. But the citizens of Wilson seem to love Greenlight Community Broadband, right down to its well-regarded customer service, which includes dropping by elderly customers’ homes during lunch to troubleshoot set-top boxes and nefarious remote control confusion. (22:47)

Californians That Subscribed to Time Warner Cable Maxx Internet Service Getting A Refund Up to $180

Only former TWC Maxx customers in Southern California qualify for bill credits.

If you were a Time Warner Cable internet customer in California, Charter Communications may refund you up to $180 if the company did not deliver the internet speed it advertised.

Charter has settled the lawsuit filed by the district attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside that alleged Time Warner Cable knowingly sold customers internet speed it could not deliver. Charter will pay $16.9 million, most of which will be returned to affected customers in the form of a bill credit.

“This historic settlement serves as a warning to all companies in California that deceptive practices are bad for consumers and bad for business,” said Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “We as prosecutors demand that all service providers — large and small — live up to their claims and fairly market their products.”

There are three tiers of relief for impacted customers:

  • Customers subscribed to Time Warner Cable Maxx internet service in the past will be offered one of two free services. Cable TV and internet customers will receive three free months of Showtime (current subscribers excluded). Internet-only customers will receive one free month of Spectrum Choice, a slimmed down streaming TV package (current subscribers excluded). Both services will automatically be disconnected at the end of the free service period, protecting customers from future billing unless they subsequently subscribe.
  • Internet customers subscribed to a premium Time Warner Cable Maxx speed tier will receive a one time credit of $90.
  • If the customer was also supplied a legacy cable modem unable to support the subscribed premium internet speed tier, the subscriber will receive a one time credit of $180.

Charter Communications will automatically notify impacted subscribers and apply service credits within the next 60 days, but you will have to call Spectrum to activate the Showtime or Spectrum Choice offers.

The settlement also sets aside a payment to the plaintiffs of $1.9 million, to be split evenly between the three cities.

The lawsuit and corresponding settlement are similar to the 2017 internet speed case filed against Time Warner Cable by the New York Attorney General’s office. New York and Los Angeles were among the first cities upgraded to Time Warner Cable Maxx service, which raised internet speed for customers up to 300 Mbps. In New York, the lawsuit alleged Time Warner Cable knowingly advertised higher internet speed its network could not always support because of congestion and antiquated cable equipment and modems.

Trump Pardons Junk Bond King Michael Milken, Financier of America’s Cable Monopoly

Phillip Dampier February 19, 2020 Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Milken in the 1980s (Image: The Gentleman’s Journal)

President Donald Trump granted clemency on Tuesday to Michael Milken, the so-called “junk bond king” who violated scores of securities and insider trading laws and was instrumental in helping finance the creation of America’s cable monopoly.

Milken used his position at the now-defunct Drexel Burnham Lambert to run its “high-yield bond unit.” More commonly known as “junk bonds,” these high-risk securities are typically issued by companies to finance mergers and acquisitions, often to strip assets or put competing companies out of business.

As a result, a new era of media and telecommunications tycoons emerged. Many successfully gained control of other companies and consolidated them into business empires, significantly reducing or eliminating serious competitors. Most of those companies still hold dominant positions today or have since merged with even larger companies. President Trump credited Milken for helping “create entire industries, such as wireless communications and cable television.”

By the late 1980s, Milken had advised scores of firms to rely on leveraged junk bond financing of corporate takeovers, a practice that endures to this day. Milken financed Rupert Murdoch’s ambitions to turn what was once a small newspaper chain into News Corp., which today still dominates in broadcasting, cable news channels like Fox News, and newspapers including the Wall Street Journal.

Milken also helped arrange financing for Craig McCaw, an early pioneer in cellular communications that leveraged cellular licenses McCaw borrowed heavily to obtain into one of the country’s first major wireless companies. But McCaw found bigger riches buying and selling mobile companies, first acquiring MCI’s cellular division in 1986 and selling his family’s cable operations to what would later become Comcast. By 1990, McCaw was the country’s highest paid CEO. Four years later, he sold McCaw Cellular to AT&T for $11.5 billion. AT&T sold that wireless company to Cingular in 2004 and then acquired Cingular itself some years later. McCaw would later plow $1.1 billion of family and borrowed money to take control of Nextel in 1995, only to sell it 11 years later to Sprint for $6.5 billion.

Malone

The country’s first cable giant, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) would not have been possible without Milken’s junk bond financing scheme. Cable tycoon John Malone acquired hundreds of regional cable operators to create a cable empire that was often loathed by subscribers. TCI leveraged its position as a de facto monopoly, scaring off competitors, raising prices, and often delivering horrendous service. Vice President Al Gore would later characterize the Milken-financed emerging cable industry as a “cable Cosa Nostra,” and Malone himself as “Darth Vader.”

Time Warner’s cable division was also created as a result of a wave of consolidation that snapped up countless locally owned cable operators and smaller operators run by various media companies. Ted Turner also depended on Milken’s junk bond financing to create Turner Broadcasting, turning what was originally a single UHF independent TV station in Atlanta, Ga., into a superstation seen around the country and the launch of Cable News Network, better known as CNN.

Sometimes Milken’s clients benefited from his advice, sometimes they became targets themselves. Years after Turner Broadcasting was a major powerhouse in the cable programming business, Time Warner relied on a similar acquisition strategy to acquire Turner Broadcasting itself. Milken reportedly received a $50 million bonus for “advising” on the transaction, despite being in jail at the time. Years later, TBS founder Ted Turner would regret the buyout, which took CNN and TNT out of his hands.

Turner

Other household names from the past and present that expanded as a result of Milken’s financial advice include Viacom (now a part of CBS), MCI (embroiled in one of the country’s largest fraud schemes before being quietly sold off to Verizon), Telemundo (now effectively owned by Comcast), and Metromedia (which sold its network of popular independent TV stations to News Corp., which rechristened them FOX television network affiliates).

Milken quickly attracted the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which took years to build a case against the Wall Street star. It took arbitrageur Ivan Boesky to help bring Milken down after pleading guilty to securities fraud and insider trading. He ‘ratted out’ Milken, which prompted a major investigation of him and the investment firm he worked for.

Milken was eventually indicted for racketeering and securities fraud in 1989 and through a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to securities and reporting violations, which won him a reduced sentence. He was supposed to serve 10 years in jail, but was released after just 22 months for good behavior. He was also fined $600 million (later apparently reduced to $200 million), a fraction of his reported net worth of nearly $4 billion. Although Milken was permanently barred from the securities industry, he still received compensation from certain transactions after that ban, which raised eyebrows.

Critics claim Milken’s legacy emboldened Wall Street to engage in riskier behavior and to innovate new leveraging schemes. Some claim that eventually helped create the conditions leading to the 2008 Great Recession.

The president offered nothing but praise for Milken in his pardoning statement and claimed prosecutors were overzealous in pursuing Milken. The president received an earful of advice in favor of a presidential pardon from his Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who is a close person friend of Milken and has flown on his private plane. Many Trump allies, including conservative powerhouse donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson and property developer Richard LeFrak also lobbied the president on Milken’s behalf. So did the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who ironically helped prosecute Milken in the 1980s. Some benefactors of Milken’s financial advice were also in favor of a pardon, including Rupert Murdoch.

Milken’s fans have been persistently seeking pardon relief for years. They failed to win a presidential pardon from former president Bill Clinton in 2001, after a joint letter strenuously objecting to the idea was sent from the SEC and U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. The letter said pardoning Milken would “send the wrong message to Wall Street.”

Charter Quickly Settles California Internet Speed Lawsuit

Charter Communications, doing business as Time Warner Cable, has quickly moved to settle a lawsuit filed last week by the district attorneys of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside, Calif.

The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, alleged that Time Warner Cable misrepresented the internet speeds it marketed to California consumers and failed to deliver the level of service advertised.

“We cooperated fully in the review, have resolved this matter comprehensively, and this is expressly not a finding nor an admission of liability,” Charter said in a statement.

The lawsuit is very similar to one filed in New York in 2017 and later settled by Charter involving Time Warner Cable Maxx service, which offered internet speeds in upgraded service areas around New York City up to 300 Mbps.

The suit claimed that Time Warner Cable knowingly oversold its services using infrastructure incapable of meeting the level of service customers paid for. The California suit claimed Time Warner Cable allegedly engaged in unlawful business practices starting as early as 2013. Time Warner Cable was sold to Charter Communications in 2016 and began operating as Spectrum by the end of that year.

The district attorneys requested civil damages and a formal injunction prohibiting Spectrum from advertising internet speeds it cannot support. None of the district attorneys involved in the case had any comment about the settlement. It is not known what damages, if any, Charter has agreed to pay in return for settling the case out of court.

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