Charter's bid to buy Time Warner faces headwinds but no hurricane in California

3 May 2016 by Steve Blum
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No landfall in Alta California so far.

There’s opposition to Charter Communication’s proposed takeover of Time Warner and Bright House cable systems in California, but it’s nothing like the fierce reaction to last year’s failed deal that would have allowed Comcast to buy Time Warner, effectively do the same with Bright House and swap markets with Charter to gain control of something 80% of California cable homes. Opposition to that plan approached holy war levels, and eventually led to it being scrapped by federal regulators.

Yesterday was the deadline for opposition groups to file objections to a proposed California Public Utilities Commission decision allowing the deal. Most of the comments focused on stronger conditions, although many urged the CPUC to kill it completely if their particular requests weren’t granted.

Opposition groups are not happy with many of the details in the draft decision. The CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates offered a long list of consumer protections, lifeline discounts, service quality standards and broadband deployment requirements it believes necessary in order to make the deal palatable, but didn’t call for it to be scrubbed altogether. Other groups mostly advocated for their particular interests. Many wanted the CPUC to adopt the same, stringent conditions that the FCC and federal justice department have imposed.

Charter also filed comments and, again in contrast to Comcast, largely accepted the draft that’s currently on the table, albeit with tweaks it wants to make to the language.

The CPUC is scheduled to vote on the deal at its meeting a week from Thursday. The decision could be bumped to a later date, but one indication that it’s on track is that it was put on the consent agenda, which is usually reserved for non-controversial issues. Commissioners typically approve dozens of consent items with a single, unanimous vote at the beginning of each meeting. I wouldn’t bet on it staying there – one commissioner with questions is enough to require a specific discussion and vote – but the fact that it’s starting out on the consent agenda means no one has dug in their heels yet.

Comments filed yesterday:

California Emerging Technology Fund
Center for Accessible Technology
Charter Communications
DISH Network
Entertainment Studios Network
Greenlining Institute
Media Alliance
Office of Ratepayer Advocates
Stop the Cap

I’m assisting the City of Gonzales with its efforts at the CPUC and its negotiations with Charter. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.