Charter’s credibility and rural upgrade claims challenged by California regulators

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Charter Communications is facing another inquiry into whether or not it’s telling the truth about obligations it accepted when it bought cable systems owned by Time Warner and Bright House Communications in 2016. The California Public Utilities Commission was asked on Friday by its in-house watch dog – the public advocates office (PAO) – to re-open the case.

The PAO says that there’s reason to think that Charter is fiddling the books when it claims to be meeting broadband system upgrade requirements that were attached to the CPUC’s approval of the purchase. Charter is supposed to provide the CPUC with sufficient data to verify compliance, but it hasn’t done so and wants to put restrictions on whatever information it does offer, according to one of the PAO’s filings

On September 12 and 13, 2018, the Public Advocates Office explained to Charter that the Public Advocates Office’s analysis indicated that a much lower percentage of households had access to increased (higher than 300 Mbps) download speeds than the level Charter reported in its December 2017 letter. To more accurately verify the level of progress Charter has made, Charter must provide by census block, how many households Charter passes and the broadband speeds available to those households…

The Public Advocates Office objected to Charter’s condition that any information it provides must be used exclusively to verify progress report, because it inappropriately seeks to restrict how the information provided by Charter would be used by the Public Advocates Office.

Charter has to upgrade all of its Californian broadband systems to 300 Mbps download speeds by the end of next year, and it was supposed to convert all of its TV-only analog systems to full digital capability by last month. Those legacy analog systems were in lower income, rural communities in Modoc and Monterey counties, and the San Joaquin Valley.

California is the second state to confront Charter’s regulatory performance and upgrade claims. This past summer, the State of New York moved to revoke Charter’s permission to operate there, because of its “repeated failures to meet deadlines”, its “attempts to skirt obligations to serve rural communities, and its ”purposeful obfuscation of its performance and compliance obligations".

The PAO’s demand for accountability is necessary. Charter claims to be meeting its commitments, but confirmation is difficult. The CPUC also has obligations: it’s supposed to ensure that its directives are followed. Friday’s move to keep Charter honest is a welcome Christmas present for all Californians.

I assisted the City of Gonzales with its successful effort at the CPUC to force Charter to upgrade. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.