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Commission statements might not tell the whole story

CONCORD—Following an alleged failure to meet conditions set by New York, Charter Communications, Inc.’s merger agreement with Time Warner Cable, Inc.’s has been revoked. The Public Service Commission of New York, on July 27, revoked the 2016 agreement, saying Charter Communications has “made it clear it has no intention of providing the public benefits upon which … the approval was conditioned.”

Charter Communications, which operates as Spectrum in the state, agreed to multiple conditions in order to acquire Time Warner. According to the Commission, Charter failed to meet deadline, attempted to skirt obligations to serve rural communities, used unsafe field practices and failed to commit to its obligations under the 2016 merger agreement.

“Charter’s repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments are well documented and are only getting worse. After more than a year of administrative efforts to bring Charter into compliance with the Commission’s merger order, the time has come for stronger actions to protect New Yorkers and the public interest,” said Commission Chair John B. Rhodes, in a press release. “Charter’s non-compliance and brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers necessitates the actions taken ... seeking court-ordered penalties for its failures, and revoking the Charter merger approval.”

The “repeated failures,” the Commission says, shows the company is not interested in being a “good corporate citizen,” which led to the decision to revoke the 2016 agreement. 

Under the 2016 merger agreement, Charter was to deliver broadband speed upgrades to 100 Mbps by the end of 2018 and 300 Mbps by the end of 2019 as well as build a network to pass an additional 145,000 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in rural areas. In June, The Commission questioned Charter’s claims that it has been meeting its goal of providing internet services to rural homes.

Andrew Russell, Northeast director of communications for Charter Communications, said the dispute stems from the number of locations receiving access to the network, not the speed commitments.

“In the weeks leading up to an election, rhetoric often becomes politically charged. But the fact is that Spectrum has extended the reach of our advanced broadband network to more than 86,000 New York homes and businesses since our merger agreement with the PSC,” Russell said. “Our 11,000 diverse and locally based workers, who serve millions of customers in the state every day, remain focused on delivering faster and better broadband to more New Yorkers, as we promised.”

Though the PSC says Charter hasn’t met requirements on time,  the Concord area has already seen work being completed, including the creation on infastructure.

“As far as getting homes connected … they haven’t gotten there yet,” Concord Supervisor Clyde Drake said. “They’ve been working on getting the lines installed and the infrastructure in place.”

It’s still unclear what the impact will be, with the case possibly ending in court. The company has 60 days to create an exit plan, which should include a transition to a “successor provider.” In the interim, customers will continue receiving Spectrum services with no interruptions.

“We don’t know if it will affect the residents,” Drake said. “I’m certainly hopeful it won’t. I will be very disappointed if something happens.”

For some in the area, the provider is the most reliable or only option for internet service. According to Broadbandnow.com, Spectrum covers 66 percent of the 14141 zip code and 45.8 percent of the 14055 zip code, with the fastest speed at 50 Mbps. The download speed, the website says, is 1.58 Mbps, 96.4 percent slower than New York’s average. The average Mbps is higher than Verizon, HughesNet and Viasat, which run between 12 and 15 Mbps.

Russell said those numbers are inaccurate, and the company made 100 Mbps speeds available in all service areas in March 2017, more than a year and a half ahead of the December 2018 deadline.

He noted, too, the company is on track to launch 300 speeds acorss its New York footprint by the end of 2018, inclduing 300/20 speed tiers and residential gigabit speeds in the Springville area in the coming weeks.

“Certainly something was needed here and that wasn’t happening before [Spectrum] stepped up,” Drake said. “I’m disappointed to see the Public Service Commission making those statements.”

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