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Charter asks FCC to release it from post-merger conditions on broadband caps

(Logo: Charter Communications, Graphic: The Desk)

Charter Communications, one of the largest providers of cable TV, broadband Internet and home phone services in the United States, has asked the Federal Communications Commission to absolve it of certain consumer-friendly limitations that were required as a condition of its mega-merger with once-rival Time Warner Cable.

Many of Charter’s competitors, including Comcast and AT&T, impose fees on users once they use a certain amount of Internet data every month, a move the companies assert is needed for network management and performance.

But Charter — which sells services under the brand name Spectrum — can’t impose those caps on its users under an agreement reached with the FCC and other federal regulators in 2016 as a condition of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable. That stipulation is set to expire in 2023.

The limitation was imposed to prevent Charter from preventing “current and future online video rivals from expanding, becoming more competitive or starting up in the first place,” the FCC said in 2016. In other words, federal regulators didn’t want Charter setting arbitrary limitations on data connections that might ultimately sway an Internet customer toward cable TV — which often doesn’t require an Internet connection — instead of an upstart service like Sling TV, YouTube TV or AT&T TV.

In a petition filed with the FCC this week, Charter pointed to comments made by FCC commissioners who said that the merger limitations might be reconsidered if the streaming video market started to flourish. The company argued that reasonable data caps imposed by its competitors haven’t harmed competition in the streaming space.

“By every metric imaginable, [streaming services] are seeing record-breaking growth and gains across all performance indicators, including in the number of subscribers, the number of [streaming] platforms, streaming hours, revenue and the amount and success of original content on those platforms,” Charter said.

Charter says it and other Internet service providers (ISPs) are partially to thank for the robust streaming market because Charter and others have increased broadband speeds and incorporated streaming services directly into cable boxes.

Charter’s petition asks the FCC to revisit its comments made in 2016 and consider the streaming marketplace today, then affirm a decision to allow the cable giant to impose data caps on customers after May 2021 — two years before the limitation is set to expire.

“The seven-year term for the conditions was a ceiling, including to allow the [streaming market] ‘room to become more mature and better positioned…,'” Charter wrote.

On Monday, the FCC announced it would open the matter up to public comments. Anyone who wants to file a comment is asked to do so before July 22, 2020 using the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System and the docket number 16-197 under  “Proceeding(s).”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).