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What happens to Spectrum cable customers if Charter gets kicked out of New York?

What happens to Spectrum cable customers if Charter gets kicked out of New York?
[Photo: Flickr user Mark Turnauckas]

Virtually no one likes their cable company, so it’s hard to imagine many tears were shed in New York this weekend over the news that Charter Communications might get kicked out of the state.

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In an unusual move, the state’s Public Service Commission voted to revoke approval for Charter’s merger with New York-based Time Warner Cable, meaning Charter is effectively banned from doing business in New York, where it operates under the Spectrum brand. As justification for its decision, the commission said Charter has failed to meet its commitments under the merger, notably its promise to provide better service to underserved areas.

“Charter’s repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments are well documented and are only getting worse,” John B. Rhodes, chair of the commission, said in a statement.

That’s all well and good, but what about the more than 2 million customers who rely on Spectrum for their cable, internet, or phone service? Isn’t throwing out the provider tantamount to throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater?

I reached out to the commission for clarification about what Spectrum customers can expect, and a spokesman refereed me to the order issued on Friday. In a nutshell, the commission has ordered Charter to come up with a plan for its own replacement. Per the order, the company has 60 days to file an action plan, telling the commission how, exactly, it will ensure a smooth transition to a successor provider or providers. In the meantime, Charter is required to to keep providing service and keep carrying its obligations under state law—all while ensuring that its existing customers experience no interruption in service during the transition.

That’s a lot to ask of a company that, according to the commission’s own findings, has already failed so stupendously at doing what it’s supposed to do. In his statement, Rhodes says Charter has shown “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers,” and yet customers are now expected to trust that same company to oversee a smooth and orderly transition to a new provider?

Either way, it feels like customers are losing on this one, but then, welcome to the cable business. Charter, for its part, plans to fight last week’s order, so it’s likely that nothing will change in the short term. In a statement, the company disputed the argument that it hasn’t met its obligations, suggesting instead that the commission’s decision was politically motivated.

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