By David Z. Morris
July 29, 2018

The New York State Public Service Commission has moved to kick Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable and internet service out of the state, citing Charter’s “repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments”. The commission voted Friday to rescind approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable, which would effectively end its ability to do business in the state.

The commission approved the Charter-Time Warner merger in 2016 on a number of conditions, including expanding services to 145,000 homes within four years, with a focus on rural areas. The commission says the company has failed to meet milestones for that expansion, and has now given the company 60 days to come up with a plan to hand over its customers to other providers—that is, to sell its assets in New York.

That transition is unlikely to actually happen. Charter has said it will contest the order, calling the commission’s actions “politically motivated.” Experts speaking to Syracuse.com speculated that the move is intended to “give Spectrum a kick in the pants” towards providing more rural broadband access, and said the dispute could spiral into a yearslong court battle. Charter is the largest cable provider in New York, with more than 2 million subscribers.

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The commission fined Charter $2 million this June for failing to meet milestones for expanding services, after the company improperly claimed more than 12,000 New York City addresses as counting towards the commission’s targets. The Friday vote imposed another $1 million in fines for missed deadlines, bringing the total to $3 million. Charter has in part blamed competitor Verizon for slowing its expansion, claiming Verizon has limited its access to telephone poles.

But the commission hasn’t been convinced by that explanation, and on Friday hinted at broader issues, citing Charter’s “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers”. Charter has been among the U.S. cable providers ranked lowest by its own customers, a situation widely blamed on lack of competition between providers. Though New York’s kick in the pants might motivate Charter to do some things better, that basic condition is unlikely to change until high-speed 5G wireless service becomes a reality.

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