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Charter Spectrum CEO Says Company Using Tax Breaks to Buy Back Its Own Stock

Rutledge

Charter Communications is using the benefits of the Republican-promoted tax cut to buy back its own stock, because the only other option under consideration was using the money to buy up other cable operators.

“From a [mergers and acquisitions] perspective, I think cable is a great business. If there were assets for sale that we could do more of, we would do that,” said Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge at this week’s UBS Global Media & Communications Conference. “We’ve been buying a lot of our own stock back. Why? Because we think the cable business is a great business and we haven’t been able to buy other cable assets.”

Charter is not using the company’s lower tax rate to benefit Spectrum customers with lower bills or more extravagant upgrades. Instead, it is accelerating efforts to please shareholders and executives with efforts to boost its share price — something key to top executives’ performance bonuses.

With digital and broadband upgrades nearly complete in areas formerly served by Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — the cable companies Charter acquired in 2016 — Rutledge told investors he can initiate additional upgrades without spending huge sums on infrastructure buildouts.

Gigabit speed is now available in most markets, and the company has doubled its lowest internet download speeds in areas where it faces significant competition from AT&T from 100 to 200 Mbps, boosting sales of Spectrum broadband service, according to Rutledge.

Today, about 60% of Spectrum customers are offered 100 Mbps, while the other 40% — mostly in AT&T service areas — are getting 200 Mbps.

Rutledge told investors he does not see much threat from Verizon FiOS or its newly launched 5G offerings, and has no immediate plans to upgrade service in Verizon service areas because neither offering seems that compelling.

“I saw that Verizon had some passings that they could do 800 Mbps in,” Rutledge said. “We have 51 million passings that we can do 1 gigabit in and we can go to 10 gigabits relatively inexpensively and I think we will because I think the world will go to 10 gigabits.”

Analysts are uncertain whether Rutledge’s comments are naïve or brave.

“We see 5G fixed wireless broadband [like that offered by Verizon] as the largest existential threat to broadband providers, by far,” wrote analysts at Cowen. Until now, most broadband competition for cable operators came from phone companies pitching DSL. Verizon retrenched on its FiOS offering several years ago. But AT&T has been more aggressive upgrading urban areas to fiber service, which has forced Charter to respond with higher speeds and better promotions.

Rutledge does not see Verizon’s 5G being a significant competitive threat for several years, and suspects Wall Street may once again punish Verizon for spending money on a wireless network less capable than what the cable industry offers today. Shareholders may also dislike watching Verizon distracted by the home broadband market when portable wireless revenues are much more important to the company.

Verizon officials claim about half of those signing up for its 5G service plan were not current Verizon customers. But the company would not say whether their new fixed wireless customers were coming largely from cable or DSL disconnects, which would prove marketplace disruption.

N.Y. Gives Charter Spectrum Another Extension

New York’s Department of Public Service (DPS) has granted Charter Communications an unprecedented additional 18-day extension to file its threatened appeal of the Commission’s decision to boot the cable company from the state and its six-month exit plan.

“Charter and DPS Staff state in their request for a limited 18-day extension of time that discussions are ongoing, that Charter and DPS Staff have established a framework for how a settlement agreement might be structured, and that any final agreement would necessarily address: issues relating to the inclusion of certain categories of addresses and whether they are valid ‘passings’ under the Merger Approval Order; penalty actions and amounts under dispute in Supreme Court; and a schedule for compliance (including enforcement mechanisms) going forward,” the order granting the extension reads.

Despite last week’s filing from Charter’s attorneys excoriating the Public Service Commission for its decision to remove Spectrum from the state, the DPS claimed this week that because of Charter’s “continued obligations to comply with the Public Service Law and regulations, good cause exists […] to allow for further discussions while both sides reserve their respective legal rights.”

But some consumer groups, including Stop the Cap!, are wondering exactly when patience will run thin at the Commission.

“When the latest deadline arrives in January 2019, it will be nearly six months since the Commission voted to strip approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable,” said Phillip M. Dampier, founder of Stop the Cap! “While we can appreciate the benefits of negotiation and dialogue, these conversations are taking place behind closed doors with no public input and no formal ability for groups like ours to intervene and offer our own views.”

Stop the Cap! has advocated that Charter Communications be allowed to remain in business in New York, but only with their agreement to meet some additional terms and conditions:

  1. Further extend Spectrum service to additional customers in rural New York scheduled to receive satellite internet service;
  2. Increase entry-level broadband speed to at least 200 Mbps immediately and further extend availability of Everyday Low Price Internet service ($14.99/mo);
  3. Settle the ongoing labor dispute with striking Spectrum workers in downstate New York.

“At present, it appears the DPS/PSC is only negotiating to get Spectrum back in compliance with the original terms of the Merger Order they have been ignoring, which is hardly a concession,” Dampier said. “Charter’s arrogance and blatant disrespect for the terms of the merger deal and its flippant adherence to those terms should cost the company more than just a monetary fine lost in the state’s coffers. Visible benefits to New York consumers must be part of the equation.”

Dampier

The state seems mostly focused on keeping Charter in compliance with the agreement while the lawyers talk.

“As the Commission noted in prior extensions, however, this limited extension should not be viewed as an indefinite grant of time for discussions to continue between DPS Staff and the Company,” DPS officials wrote. “Many Upstate New Yorkers living in Charter’s franchise areas are understandably frustrated by the lack of modern communications infrastructure. The Compliance and Revocation Orders were designed to deal with very serious consumer issues presented by Charter’s conduct related to the company’s network expansion. As such, the processes envisioned therein must continue in the absence of an agreement.”

The current extension resets the deadlines to file an appeal to Dec. 14, 2018 and the six-month exit plan to Jan. 11, 2019. Both are just the latest in a series of extensions.

Important Dates:

  • July 27, 2018: The PSC votes to rescind approval of the Charter/Time Warner Cable merger in New York, effectively disallowing the company to continue to do business in the state.
  • August 17, 2018: Charter files a 60-day extension request, which is granted on Aug. 20.
  • September 7, 2018: Charter files a 30-day extension request, which is granted on Sept. 10.
  • October 9, 2018: Charter files a 60-day extension request. The DPS grants a 45-day extension instead on Oct. 10.
  • November 21, 2018: Department of Public Service (DPS) Staff and Charter filed a joint letter stating that they had not yet been able to reach a fully executed settlement agreement, but that they had established a framework for how a settlement agreement might be structured and that discussions remain ongoing. A limited 18-day extension is granted.
  • December 14, 2018: Deadline for Charter to file its appeal with the Commission.
  • January 11, 2019: Deadline for Charter to file a six-month exit plan showing the Commission how the company intends to orderly transfer its Spectrum cable operation to another provider.

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

AT&T Cuts Off DirecTV Competitor Dish from HBO and Cinemax; DoJ Claims Vindication

Phillip Dampier November 6, 2018 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Dish Network, Online Video, Sling 1 Comment

More than 2.5 million HBO and Cinemax customers are blacked out after AT&T cut off its biggest satellite rival Dish Networks and streaming provider Sling TV in a dispute the Department of Justice claims confirms its concerns that AT&T’s merger with Time Warner (Entertainment) would be bad for consumers.

It is the first time HBO has faced a contract renewal blackout on any platform in its 46-year history. But some groups feel it was predictable, considering AT&T owns DirecTV, Dish’s biggest rival. AT&T acquired HBO’s parent company, Time Warner (Entertainment) in 2018, changing its name to WarnerMedia. Last summer, Judge Richard J. Leon, senior district judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia gave AT&T approval of that $85 billion merger deal with no conditions, scoffing at Department of Justice claims that the merger would give AT&T undue market power that could be used to threaten competitors by depriving them access to popular cable networks and content or use of those networks in marketing materials to attract new subscribers.

As the DoJ pursues an appeal of Judge Leon’s decision, this week’s blackout seems to add ammunition to the government’s case against the merger.

“This behavior, unfortunately, is consistent with what the Department of Justice predicted would result from the merger,” a DoJ representative told Reuters. “We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will correct the errors of the District Court.”

A statement from Dish Networks harmoniously echoed the government’s position.

“Plain and simple, the merger created for AT&T immense power over consumers,” said Andy LeCuyer, senior vice president of programming at Dish, in a statement. “It seems AT&T is implementing a new strategy to shut off its recently acquired content from other distributors.”

Consumer groups like Public Knowledge also agree.

“In opposing the AT&T/Time Warner deal, opponents — including the Department of Justice — predicted that the newly combined company would have the incentive to withhold content, and would gain stronger leverage in negotiations like this one, ” said John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge. “AT&T stands to benefit if customers, frustrated by missing their favorite HBO shows, leave DISH to switch to DirecTV. Time Warner, as an independent company, did not have the incentive to hold out on HBO content in these situations before the merger. Now, consumers are the ones paying the price.”

Dish is accusing AT&T of demanding the satellite service pay for a guaranteed number of subscribers, regardless of how many consumers actually want to subscribe to HBO.

“AT&T is stacking the deck with free-for-life offerings to wireless customers and slashed prices on streaming services, effectively trying to force Dish to subsidize HBO on AT&T’s platforms,” said LeCuyer. “This is the exact anticompetitive behavior that critics of the AT&T-Time Warner merger warned us about. Every pay-TV company should be concerned. Rather than trying to force consumers onto their platforms, we suggest that AT&T try to achieve its financial goals through simple economics: if consumers want your product, they’ll pay for it. We hope AT&T will reconsider its demands and help us reach a swift, fair resolution.”

On its face, the nationwide blackout of HBO and Cinemax on America’s second largest satellite TV provider could be a public relations disaster for AT&T, depriving customers from accessing premium movie networks for the first time. But AT&T is fighting back in a coordinated media pushback.

In its defense, HBO is claiming Dish was not negotiating in good faith. Simon Sutton, HBO’s president and chief revenue officer: “Dish’s proposals and actions made it clear they never intended to seriously negotiate an agreement.”

“Past behavior shows that removing services from their customers is becoming all too common a negotiating tactic for them,” echoed AT&T.

“The Department of Justice collaborated closely with Dish in its unsuccessful lawsuit to block our merger,” a WarnerMedia spokesman said in a statement. “That collaboration continues to this day with Dish’s tactical decision to drop HBO – not the other way around. DoJ failed to prove its claims about HBO at trial and then abandoned them on appeal.”

As always, customers are caught in the middle. For now. AT&T and HBO are telling consumers to drop their Dish subscriptions and stream HBO and Cinemax online directly from their respective streaming platforms, or find another provider. Dish has told its satellite and Sling TV customers they will be credited on their bill for time they do not receive HBO or Cinemax. Dish is also offering customers a free preview of HDNET Movies.

Oral arguments for the DoJ’s appeal are scheduled to begin Dec. 6. Court documents revealed today the judges that will hear the appeal are: Judith W. Rogers, Robert L. Wilkins, and David B. Sentelle.

Spectrum Raises Price of “Everyday Low Priced Internet” to $24.99

Charter Communications, which does business as Spectrum, has raised the price of its legacy “Everyday Low Priced Internet (ELP),” a 2/1 Mbps service that Time Warner Cable introduced in 2013 for $14.99 a month. Our reader Todd writes the service is going up another $5 a month (after an earlier $5 rate increase) effective in November 2018, as his latest bill shows:

At Spectrum, we continue to enhance our services, offer more of the best entertainment choices and deliver the best value. We are committed to offering you products and services we are sure you will enjoy. Important Billing Update: Effective with your next billing statement, pricing will be adjusted for:

• Internet Services from $19.99 to $24.99.

New York residents were allowed to keep ELP at the price of $14.99 a month for several years after Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. But that deal requirement has since expired.

Spectrum continues to offer its income-qualified Spectrum Internet Assist ($14.99) for those receiving:

  • The National School Lunch Program (NSLP); free or reduced cost lunch
  • The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP
  • Supplemental Security Income ( ≥ age 65 only)

That service is also promoted in mailers in low-income neighborhoods without an income or benefit pre-qualification requirement, so anyone in those neighborhoods can sign up.

Spectrum Internet Assist offers:

  • High-speed 30/4 Mbps Internet with no data caps
  • Internet modem included
  • No contracts required
  • Add in-home WiFi for $5 more per month

Offer not valid for current Spectrum Internet subscribers.

At a new price of $24.99, Spectrum is clearly trying to convince customers still hanging on to the very low-speed internet product Time Warner Cable originally introduced five years ago to move on. Time Warner marketed ELP to budget conscious DSL customers willing to accept lower speed for a lower bill.

Spectrum’s latest promotions for 100-200 Mbps Standard internet start at $29.99 a month for up to two years, depending on your service area and local competition.

Updated 11/6 4:56pm ET: Thanks to our readers for some clarifications:

  • New York customers may not be subject to the rate increase. Existing ELP customers in N.Y. can keep ELP until at least May 17, 2019, as long as they do not make changes to their account that would result in their enrollment being canceled.
  • In former Maxx areas and under some other circumstances, ELP is 3/1 Mbps.

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  • ADubb: I completely agree with the comment above. I go over my limit each month, have a few Nest cams and cloud back up devices on my home network. Something...
  • Paul Houle: I think AT&T is more interested in fixed wireless using low band spectrum in exurban areas. At my location Unlimitedville (AT&T) was able to ...
  • EJ: How about investing in some CAPEX. Identify and fix problem areas. O wait Spectrum don't need to do that. If I had to guess my bottom dollar I would b...
  • Gary: Spectrums service is horrific . Look at all the complaints on their Facebook page. Omg . I think they are giving mega bit speed. Not mega bite speed....
  • busty girls: Awesome! Its really amazing piece of writing, I have got much clear idea regarding from this paragraph....
  • Dylan: While I don’t really mind these tax cuts being used for the purpose of buying back shares, which you kind have to as one of these companies, I do wish...
  • Dylan: Proves if the corporation is suffering from losses, then it will change its habits very quickly. This is why I welcome the cord cutting trend. It work...
  • Racerbob: Thanks for the article. We are in the first year a 2 year contract. But, my wife accepted a job recently that will make our DirecTV bill go away compl...
  • John: TWC ELP went up this month to $24.99. That's $5 more than it was at $19.99. It used to be $14.99 originally when I first got it. This does make me wan...
  • dean: no one can actually qualify to get it. Damn straight. My dad is a WWII vet but not on medicaid (yet). We are not sure ...
  • Fran: Well! I had no idea of this price hike! Shock at the amount of hike! One year ago I was paying 53.99 a month for Charter/Spectrum internet. Then this ...
  • Hebrew: This is what happens we let hebrews control all of our institutions. They're never going to lower rates again for you goyim....

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