Tag Archives: new york

CPUC should follow New York’s lead, hold Charter to obligations

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The California Public Utilities Commission imposed a long list of obligations on Charter Communications, when it granted permission for the purchase of Californian cable systems belonging to Time Warner and Bright House in 2016. Some of those requirements mirror the conditions that the New York Public Services Commission attached to its approval of the deal.

Unlike the NYPSC, however, the CPUC has not demanded public accountability from Charter. New York regulators nipped at Charter’s heels since the acquisition closed, and then revoked permission and ordered Charter to reverse the sale and give up its New York markets because “the company was not interested in being a good corporate citizen”.

Typically, the CPUC does not take an active role in enforcing conditions attached to telecoms deals. The job of being the cop on the beat is often left up to outside organisations. If you want a particularly vivid example of how that approach does or doesn’t work, take a look at the mess surrounding Frontier Communications’ purchase of Verizon’s wireline phone systems in California in 2016.

Although it’s arguably right to expect outside parties to take responsibility for enforcing their own contracts, there’s little reason to think they’ll take on the additional work of policing the CPUC’s own decisions. For example, when it approved the Time Warner purchase, the CPUC gave Charter two and a half years – until November 2018 – to convert its legacy TV-only analog systems to digital service…

Within 30 months of the closing of the Transaction, New Charter shall convert all households in its California service territory to an all-digital platform with download speeds of not less than 60 Mbps…

On December 31, 2016 and every year thereafter until December 31, 2019 New Charter shall submit a progress report to the Commission and [the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates] identifying progress made.

In theory, the CPUC has some idea already as to whether or not Charter is performing. It’ll be a relatively straight forward process to confirm that all of Charter’s analog systems in the San Joaquin Valley, and in Modoc and Monterey counties, have been upgraded to digital service come November. The CPUC should be as proactive in enforcing its own decisions and pursuing the public interest as its New York colleagues.

New York says Charter is “just lining its pockets”, revokes Time Warner purchase

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The New York state public service commission started the process of unwinding Charter Communications’ purchase of Time Warner Cable systems, in a decision issued on 27 July 2018. The NYPSC says Charter is evading its responsibility to extend its infrastructure and upgrade its service, particularly in rural areas. Those obligations were imposed when the NYPSC gave its blessing to the acquisition.

According to the NYPSC, Charter’s sins include…

  • The company’s repeated failures to meet deadlines;
  • Charter’s attempts to skirt obligations to serve rural communities;
  • Unsafe practices in the field;
  • Its failure to fully commit to its obligations under the 2016 merger agreement; and
  • The company’s purposeful obfuscation of its performance and compliance obligations to the Commission and its customers.

These recurring failures led the Commission to the broader conclusion that the company was not interested in being a good corporate citizen and that the Commission could no longer in good faith and conscience allow it to operate in New York. Today’s actions are meant to address Charter’s failings and to ensure New York has a partner interested in the public good, not just lining its pockets.

Charter’s response was to call the NYPSC’s rhetoric “politically charged” – fake news, in other words. As you might expect, the company is challenging the ruling, and is demanding more details from the NYPSC. According to a story by Alan Breznick in Light Reading

In the company’s second-quarter earnings call…Charter Communications Inc. Chairman & CEO Tom Rutledge made it clear that Charter has no intention of obeying the state Public Service’s Commission order to exit the state because of its allegedly repeated failures to meet its cable buildout and broadband speed commitments. Instead, Rutledge said Charter will try to resolve the conflict with state regulators and, if necessary, will fight the PSC’s actions in court.

“Hopefully we can work it out,” Rutledge said in response to an analyst’s question on the call, noting that it will likely take some time. “But, if necessary, we’ll litigate. We believe we’re in the right.”

It’s just the beginning of the story. The end is months, if not years, away.

Charter’s franchise “should be revoked”, New York state says

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Charter Communications is one step closer to losing its license to operate in New York City, if not New York state as a whole. Earlier this year, the state of New York’s Public Service Commission – its equivalent to the California Public Utilities Commission – slapped a $1 million fine on Charter and said it would “investigate Charter’s compliance with its New York City franchise agreements”.

That investigation seems to have led to legal action. Speaking on behalf of New Governor Andrew Cuomo, a spokesman for the commission said the gloves are off

The New York State Public Service Commission has commenced legal action against Spectrum Media Company for potential violations of its franchise agreement. The State approved Spectrum’s acquisition and its ability to operate in New York based on the fulfillment of certain obligations, including providing broadband access to underserved parts of the State and preserving a qualified workforce.

“The Governor believes it is essential that corporations doing business with the State uphold their commitments, and we will not tolerate abusive corporate practices or a failure to deliver service to the people.

”Large and powerful companies will be held to the same standard as all other businesses in New York. The Spectrum franchise is not a matter of right, but is a license with legal obligations and if those are not fulfilled, that license should be revoked."

It’s not clear if the New York commission is specifically going after Charter’s New York City franchise, or its ability to operate statewide. Either way, it will put a giant hole in Charter’s balance sheet if it’s successful. That’s a strong incentive to negotiate a settlement.

Charter also has obligations in California, that likewise stem from its purchase of Time Warner Cable in 2016. Among other things, by November – thirty months after the deal closed – Charter must “convert all households in its California service territory to an all-digital platform with download speeds of not less than 60 Mbps”. That includes all its analog systems in Kern, Kings, Modoc, Monterey, San Bernardino and Tulare counties.

Charter’s numbers don’t add up, so New York adds a $1 million fine

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Charter Communications is playing numbers games with its build out obligations and the State of New York’s Public Service Commission is blowing the whistle. Not just stopping the game, but also assessing a $1 million penalty.

As in California, conditions were attached to New York’s approval of Charter’s purchase of Time Warner Cable. Those obligations include “the extension of Charter’s network to pass an additional 145,000 homes and businesses across the State”. Charter has four years to complete that build out and must steadily complete 25% of the job each year.

In January, Charter reported mission accomplished for 2017. But the New York PSC went out and ground truthed Charter’s claims of new homes passed, and found the numbers were inflated. Of the 43,000 homes that Charter said it reached with the required “line extensions”, 12,000 were in New York City which, according to the PSC, was already 100% covered…

In addition to the fact that these addresses have pre-existing network already serving their locations, supported by the lack of pole applications associated with any of these passings…the Commission explicitly stated in the Approval Order that Charter’s buildout was required to occur in “less densely populated and/or line extension areas.” New York City is not such an area.

Even in those less densely populated areas, Charter padded its claims, according to the PSC…

Staff advises that many of these claimed newly completed passings actually consisted of cable and equipment upgrades to existing cable plant. In other words, Charter replaced older cabling and equipment on a pole with newer cabling and equipment, but the location had already been passed by the cable network, oftentimes having been originally passed with cable network for years.

So the PSC crossed another 2,000 homes off the list. As a result, Charter was 8,000 homes short of its 37,000 home obligation and got whacked with a $1 million fine. And faces the threat of losing its New York cable franchises completely if it blows it again. As you might expect, Charter begs to differ, calling the PSC’s conclusions “baseless and legally suspect” and promising to fight the order.

State of New York Public Service Commission, Order to Show Cause, Joint Petition of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, 19 March 2018.

Net neutrality is carefully tailored, FCC jurisdiction paramount says Charter

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Master of disguise.

Proving the adage that it’s an ill wind that blows no good, Charter Communications is taking shelter behind the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service. In a request submitted to a federal court in New York (h/t to the Hollywood Reporter), Charter argued that the New York attorney general shouldn’t be allowed to sue it in state court over consumer fraud allegations, because the FCC has preempted such matters when it issued its network neutrality order in 2015. The accusations mostly involve Time Warner Cable’s practices before Charter bought it last year.

It’s a legal question that turns on whether the New York attorney general is pursuing a garden variety consumer fraud case that just happens to involve Internet service or trying to regulate the broadband industry. In its filing, Charter has very kind words for common carrier rules…

Pursuant to the [federal communications act], all common carriers (including [Internet service] providers) “engaged in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio” must employ “just and reasonable” “practices . . . in connection with [their] communication service,” and the FCC is statutorily charged with “prescrib[ing] such rules and regulations as may be necessary” to implement this requirement…

To implement “th[is] carefully tailored regulatory scheme,” the FCC “announce[d] [its] intention to exercise [its] preemption authority to preclude states from imposing obligations on [Internet service] that are inconsistent” with the FCC’s…(“[T]he [FCC’s] jurisdiction is paramount and conflicting state regulations must necessarily yield to the federal regulatory scheme.”).

Like Comcast, Cox and (formerly) Time Warner Cable, Charter isn’t one of the formal plaintiffs that are fighting the FCC’s decision in federal court, but it’s a member of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which is. Vehemently. Among other things, it accused the FCC of having improperly “arrogated to itself breathtaking authority”. Charter opposed the reclassification of broadband as a common carrier service, calling it “unnecessary and harmful”, among other things.

Charter, like other cable companies, frequently uses lobbying fronts, such as the NCTA, to fight its corner in regulatory and legal battles. It agreed to more or less abide by the FCC’s common carrier rules as a condition of its purchase of Time Warner Cable last year, but that shouldn’t be confused with agreeing with the FCC decision or, indeed, accepting its jurisdiction over broadband service at all.

Nor should its bald faced pleading before the federal court.

Verizon threatens to end NYC FiOS service over lawsuit

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New York City is suing Verizon for failing to build out fiber to the home service to all residences as promised and Verizon might retaliate by yanking out television service citywide. And stroppy landlords are making it a three-cornered fight.

Like any legal dispute that’s measured in billions of dollars, it’s a complicated affair. But one of the central issues is Verizon’s problems with getting access to apartment buildings and condos – multi-dwelling units (MDUs).

Landlords have not been particularly cooperative. Whether it’s because they have profitable arrangements with other video service providers or they think they can get something out of Verizon or they’re simply being obstinate, they’re preventing a million households from getting FiOS service. At least as Verizon tells it.

As the city sees it, though, Verizon is playing a game. If one landlord blocks access to his property and there are apartment buildings behind it, none of them get FiOS upgrades (h/t to Ars Techica for the documents)…

Verizon’s current position, as stated in correspondence and meetings with the City, is that fulfilling the “premises passed” obligation does not, with respect to a given premises, necessarily involve running fiber immediately in front of or behind the premises. Rather, Verizon has asserted, it should be deemed to have “passed” an individual building if it has run fiber to a nearby intersection and could access the building with further deployment of fiber. In particular, with respect to MDUs, Verizon has argued that an MDU should count as “passed” as long as Verizon intends eventually to run fiber to it, not directly from the street, but rather through an adjacent MDU or a chain of such MDUs, whether or not Verizon has obtained access to any of the MDUs from the property owners.

Verizon responded by saying, in effect, we were so simpatico with New York City that we didn’t have put all that in writing, and threatening to leave the market

Verizon has the option of opening negotiations for a renewal of the Agreement in July. Unfortunately, the City’s intransigence does not create a favorable environment for such negotiations. We would urge the City not to make it impossible for Verizon to continue to provide New York City residents with a competitive alternative to cable TV.

It’s certainly true that landlords can and do block access to competitive broadband companies. San Francisco has taken a different approach and outlawed the practice. That’s yet to be tested in court, though.

Charter is ripping off Internet subscribers, says NY attorney general

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Time Warner Cable executives deliberately under provisioned and over promised Internet service to its subscribers in the State of New York and Charter Communications is allowing the practice to continue, claims New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman in a lawsuit filed earlier this week. It’s a follow on to an investigation kicked off in 2015.

Charter purchased TWC in May 2016. It took over operation of systems and customer equipment that couldn’t delivered speeds that were advertised or that customers purchased and “even now, [Charter] continues to offer Internet speeds that we found they cannot reliably deliver”, Schneiderman alleges. TWC went so far as to rig speed tests run by the Federal Communications Commission, according to the lawsuit

[Time Warner Cable] leased older-generation modems to over 900,000 subscribers in New York State…However, [Time Warner Cable] knew that, in practice, these older-generation modems were incapable of achieving the Internet speeds its subscribers were led to believe they were paying for…

[Time Warner Cable] managed its cable network in a way that did not deliver the promised Internet speeds over any type of connection. It cut corners by packing too many subscribers in the same service group, which resulted in slower speeds for subscribers, especially during peak hours. It also failed to add more channels for each service group, which similarly resulted in slower speeds for subscribers…
[Time Warner Cable] further deceived the FCC by manipulating the average Internet speed results in the FCC’s speed tests. The company inflated the average speed results by providing increased Internet speeds when service groups were less utilized to offset (and conceal) test results showing slower speeds when the service groups had heavier usage. By gaming the FCC speed tests in this manner, [Time Warner Cable] concealed the fact that it failed to consistently deliver the promised speeds to its subscribers under actual network conditions.

Charter’s response to an enquiry from Ars Technica blamed TWC but stopped short of admitting there was actually a problem or promising that it would actually fix anything.

Unexpected U-turn as FCC lets New York manage broadband subsidy money

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By Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York (IMG_4305_4) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The new federalism.

Who would have thought that the Federal Communications Commission’s first significant decision of the Trump era would be to take money originally designated for its no-incumbent-left-behind broadband subsidy program – Connect America Fund 2 (CAF-2) – and use it to top up reasonably competitive state grants, with the state calling the shots?

But that’s exactly what happened.

In 2015, Verizon turned down the CAF-2 money on offer in its wireline territory, except for the systems that it was selling to Frontier Communications, which did want it. The FCC is working on a competitive bidding process for the census blocks rejected by Verizon and others, but the State of New York asked for an exception to made, so the subsidies could go into the New NY Broadband Program instead.

On Friday, the FCC said yes.

The $170 million that would have gone to Verizon will go to winning applicants for New York’s broadband infrastructure subsidy program. The federal money will be given as a one to one match for state subsidies awarded in CAF-2 eligible census blocks, but only up to the maximum amount that the FCC originally designated for those blocks.

The FCC’s order says New York can get the job done faster than it can…

We find that New York is uniquely situated to quickly and efficiently further our goal of broadband deployment. New York has committed a significant amount of its own support—at least $200 million—to…its broadband program that is designed to be compatible with and achieve the goals of Connect America Phase II. Moreover, New York is poised to quickly implement the next phase of its program in a matter of months so that deployment of broadband of speeds that meet or exceed the Commission’s baseline requirements for Connect America can be achieved while the Commission is in the process of finalizing and implementing the Connect America Phase II auction.

Virtually all the CAF-2 money that the FCC offered in California was accepted (CenturyLink turned down $300,000 to serve 45 homes in Modoc County), so the New York decision can’t be cloned here. But the FCC has shown a new willingness to work with effective state broadband programs, rather than at cross purposes. These are interesting times.

New York orders Charter to upgrade analog to digital

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The New York state public service commission approved Charter Communications’ purchase of Time Warner cable systems, but added a list of conditions that included digital upgrades and speed increases. According to the decision, Charter…

…must convert their existing New York footprint to an all-digital network (including upgrading the Columbia County Charter cable systems to enable broadband communications) capable of delivering faster broadband speeds. The Petitioners will be required to offer all customers broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps by the end of 2018 and 300 Mbps by the end of 2019.

Plus, Charter has four years to built out cable systems to 145,000 homes with nothing at all, at a hefty price…

The Commission expects that New Charter will have to invest approximately $305 million to meet these conditions, made up of (1) $290 million to reach 145,000 premises not currently passed by any cable network and (2) $15 million dedicated to advanced network upgrades to Charter’s Columbia County cable systems. These amounts are based on an estimate of $2,000 per premises passed and costs derived from past build-outs associated with the Connect New York grant program.

Charter actually offered to upgrade the one New York analog-only system it currently owns earlier in the proceeding. That’s contrary to the position it’s taking here where it’s stonewalling requests to upgrade the hundreds of thousands of analog-only Californians who live in Charter’s redlined areas.

There are other conditions attached to the New York approval. Charter has to live up to its promise to roll out a discounted service plan for low income households and participate in New York state’s broadband infrastructure subsidy initiative, which is similar to but not as well endowed as the California Advanced Services Fund program.

The deal still has to be approved, or not, by the FCC and the California Public Utilities Commission.

New York attorney general says ISP speed matters more than disclaimers

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It’s gotta at least be in the ballpark.

The New York attorney general wants Time Warner, Cablevision and Verizon to explain how they manage they manage the Internet connections that they sell to consumers, and how they do business among themselves and with other telecommunications companies. Letters sent to the three companies point to the disconnect between what’s advertised, what’s sold and what’s actually delivered.

The letter sent to Time Warner Cable is typical (links to the others are below)…

This Office is concerned that, for reasons substantially within TWC’s control, consumers may not be experiencing the speeds advertised. We are also concerned that those paying for premium options (“Ultimate 300” and “Extreme”) may not experience proportional increases in experienced speeds.

Our concerns can be placed in two groups. First, that the speeds made available over the last-mile (between the home and cable headend) may deviate far enough from the speeds advertised to render the advertising deceptive. Second, that the impact of technical and business decisions made at the point of interconnection between TWC and other networks may so affect end-to-end throughput that the speeds are not what was promised. In this respect, we are specifically concerned about disruptions to the consumer experience caused by interconnection disputes, and also the possibility that interconnection arrangements may in some instances render irrelevant any benefit of paying for a “premium” option.

The New York AG wants the companies to take responsibility for a subscriber’s end to end connection, in other words middle mile bandwidth, peering agreements and such are under their control too, little different from the initial link from a subscriber’s home to the local office.

But just forcing cable companies to clean up weasel worded ads and terms of service would be a huge step forward. When a subscriber – home or business – buys service advertised at, say, up to 100 Mbps, there should be a reasonable expectation of getting that most of that speed most of the time.

No comments from the companies as yet.

Letter to Cablevision
Letter to Time Warner
Letter to Verizon