New York and Charter settle broadband buildout dispute, set 100 Mbps download standard

14 May 2019 by Steve Blum
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Charter Communications has a tentative deal with the State of New York’s Public Service Commission and its public service department to keep its cable franchises there. Last year, the NYPSC began the process of revoking Charter’s authorisation to operate in the state by unwinding its purchase of Time Warner cable systems, because the company wasn’t meeting broadband build out obligations imposed when the deal was approved in 2016. According to the commission, Charter was, among other sins, attempting to “skirt obligations to serve rural communities” and was “just lining its pockets”.

That’s all water under the bridge now. The tentative settlement, which still has to be formally approved by the NYPSC, walks back the invective and sets out clearer rules for how Charter’s build out to 145,000 under and unserved homes will proceed. New broadband customers in New York City won’t count, and there are provisions that would seem to force Charter to build new lines in more remote communities.

The settlement also sets 100 Mbps as the minimum broadband speed that a home should have access to…

A residential housing unit or business is eligible to count as one of the required Total Passings if it is located outside of the boundaries of the City of New York and is not passed, served, or capable of being served (by either a standard or non-standard installation), by pre-existing network from Charter or any other provider capable of delivering broadband speeds of 100 Mbps or higher.

Charter would also give $6,000,000 to the State of New York, to be bundled into an existing subsidy program that pays for broadband upgrades. First dibs on that money will go to Internet service providers that can deliver 100 Mbps or better download speeds.

That’s a sharp contrast to California’s broadband subsidy program – the California Advanced Services Fund – which reckons acceptable broadband service to run at 6 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds. New York gets it right, at least on the download side: the minimum service level that delivers access to modern online services is 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up.

Charter is also under the gun in California. It was obligated to upgrade its analog only systems to digital capabilities by last November, and its facing another deadline this year to upgrade broadband service in its digital systems to 300 Mbps capability. The California Public Utilities Commission’s public advocates office questioned Charter’s compliance late last year, and an administrative law judge ordered the company to turn over its deployment records.

I assisted the City of Gonzales with its successful effort asking the CPUC to force Charter to upgrade, also during the Time Warner review. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.