Charter Dispute With California City Finally Ends


On June 8, Charter Communications agreed to a new retransmission fee pact with the Brian Brady-led Northwest Broadcasting, ending a nasty four-month “blackout” of its stations in markets including El Centro, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz.

While that battle ended, a court challenge pitting Charter against the city of El Centro lived on. On Friday, a resolution finally arrived — just in time for the nation to turn its attention to Albany, N.Y., where the state Public Service Commission voted 3-0 to rescind its approval of Charter Communications’ merger with Time Warner Cable.

In a 16-page countersuit filed April 4, Charter assailed the city government for its “unlawful interference” in the ongoing dispute between the owner of Spectrum MVPD franchises in the Yuma-El Centro DMA, and Northwest Broadcasting.

To pressure Charter to carry the Northwest channels, the El Centro city government “invoked and moved to enforce against Charter preempted, unlawful and inapplicable local code provisions.” These enforcement actions, Charter claimed, “would impose fines on Charter for the broadcaster’s decision to withhold its programming from Charter and its customers to gain leverage over Charter in the ongoing negotiations.” Furthermore, Charter asserted that the city’s actions “violate and are preempted by California law.”

AS Charter and Northwest reached a new retrans deal some seven weeks ago, the key reason for the court battle fizzled. As such, Charter and the City of El Centro on Friday killed their federal court dispute, with both parties terminating their respective legal filings.

With his signature, U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia signed off one of the ugliest retrans battles to date. It resulted in Northwest’s CBS affiliated KSWT-13; Estrella TV affiliate KSWT-13.2; and NBC affiliate KYMA-11 in Yuma, Ariz. getting yanked from Spectrum systems just prior to Super Bowl LII. This prompted El Centro’s city government to sue Charter.

While that chapter has closed for Charter, a whole new headache has arisen in the Empire State. On Friday (7/27), the New York State Public Service Commission unanimously voted on Friday to take back its OK of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

The Commission charges that Spectrum, which dominates New York City, the Mid-Hudson Valley, the Capital District and most of Western New York, repeatedly failed to honor commitments when it came to properly serving customers.

The merger received PSC approval in 2016 on the grounds that Comcast extend its services to 145,000 homes within four years, with a commitment to new or underserved areas of the state. The PSC now says that Charter has “made clear that it has no intention of providing the public benefits upon which the Commission’s earlier approval was conditioned.”

What does this mean? Charter has been ordered to cease its operations in New York State and also pay a $3 million fine. It has been told to provide uninterrupted service during the transition period, and has 60 days to provide a plan for departing New York.

Charter responded that it will challenge the order, charging that the commission’s actions were “politically motivated.”

The PSC’s Enforcement Action was filed Friday in State Supreme Court in Albany.