Charter CFO paints rosier than real merger schedule for investors

30 September 2015 by Steve Blum
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Sure, dude. How fast do you want it?

You gotta love optimists. Christopher Winfrey, the chief financial officer of Charter Communications, is telling investors that the proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks will be done and dusted by the end of the year. That jet propelled schedule is fuelled by the assumption that the Federal Communications Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission know everything they need to know already, because it’s the same bunch of companies that were involved in the failed Comcast mega-merger, minus Comcast.

According to a story in FierceCable

“Regulators have had the vast majority of the information from Time Warner Cable and Charter for the last year and a half,” Winfrey said at the Deutsche Bank Leveraged Finance Conference, remarking on disclosures that were part of the earlier review of Comcast’s failed attempt to acquire TWC.

“We learned what were some of the key drivers for why Comcast didn’t close,” Winfrey added. “And we were able to come out very quickly and address a bunch of issues that were in the public interest.”

The problem is, he’s wrong. The FCC’s nominal timeline calls for a decision by early March 2016, if there are no delays, which would be unusual. And there’s no guarantee, of course, that the answer will be yes.

Moreover, the FCC clearly doesn’t think it has enough information. It sent a 58-page, tightly typed request for information to Charter, along with 19 additional attachments, and asked for nearly as much from Time Warner and Charter.

The CPUC appears headed down the same path, with the potential for taking even longer to decide whether to approve the deal. At a hearing on Monday, Charter proposed a schedule that would lead to a decision by mid-December. The administrative law judge hearing the case did not seem enthused by the idea. The pack of lawyers representing the three companies eventually suggested a February 2016 deadline, but even that’s ambitious.

I’m assisting the City of Gonzales with its effort to upgrade broadband service via the CPUC’s review of the Charter-Time Warner-Bright House deal. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.