Charter customers in SLO County could be switched to Comcast next year

kleslie@thetribunenews.comApril 29, 2014 

All of San Luis Obispo County’s Charter Communications customers could be getting their cable TV and high-speed Internet from a new provider by next year if a customer swap with Comcast Corp. is approved.

As part of its pending merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast announced Monday that it would be trading 1.6 million customers with Charter Communications, including nearly 280,000 in Southern California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On Tuesday, Charter spokesperson Alex Dudley said once the merger between Comcast and Time Warner is completed, every customer in San Luis Obispo County who purchases Charter cable TV, Internet, phone or other services would be transferred to Comcast.

Dudley said, “it would be up to Comcast” to decide what changes customers will see once the switch occurs, including changes in rates, channel lineups or equipment. (Currently, a standard cable, Internet and phone bundle for both companies costs approximately $89, according to the Comcast and Charter websites.)

A Comcast spokesperson said the deal is still in its early stages, so the logistics of rate changes and channel lineups have yet to be worked out. The spokesperson said customers who wish to upgrade to Comcast’s new X1 operating system will have to switch cable boxes, however.

John Diodati, who is in charge of franchise administration (including cable providers) for the San Luis Obispo County Public Works Department, described the transfer as “inconsequential.”

“We’re not anticipating it to be a big deal here,” he said Tuesday.

Charter customers will be notified of the switch once the merger deal with Time Warner Cable has been cemented, which is expected to happen by the end of the year.

The $19.5 billion deal would solidify Comcast’s foothold in Southern California and the Northeastern United States, while decreasing its presence in the Midwest and Southeast.

Overall, Comcast would reduce its customer footprint by approximately 3.9 million customers, 600,000 more than the 3.3 million it needs to lose to garner support from the federal government for its merger.

The deal would also help to consolidate both companies’ operations to specific geographic areas, so that they are more efficient, Dudley said.

“In the total cable universe, we were a much smaller player in Southern California, so it makes sense for us to consolidate (out of the area),” Dudley said.

Neither Dudley nor the Comcast spokesperson could provide an estimate for how many customers Charter has in the area.

Comcast can only execute the Charter swap if it obtains federal approval for its $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, which the company announced in February. Once all the deals are completed, Comcast would become the region’s dominant provider of cable TV and high-speed Internet service in Southern California with nearly 2 million customers.

Consumer watchdogs said Monday’s deal underscores their unease with Comcast’s growth plans.

“Cable barons have always been great at dividing up the country and refusing to compete with each other,” Matt Wood, policy director for the advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement. “Transforming three giant companies into two behemoths gives no comfort to content providers or consumers. Lawmakers and antitrust authorities shouldn’t be fooled either.”

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said the agreement “follows through on our willingness to divest subscribers, while also marking an important step in our merger with Time Warner Cable.”

The proposed transactions with Charter and the “realignment of key cable markets,” Roberts said, “will enable Comcast to fill in our footprint and deliver operational efficiencies and technology improvements.”

The deal, approved over the weekend by the boards of Comcast and Charter, must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and others. Charter shareholders also must sign off.

 

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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