Charter Communications navigates the waters of US cable services. The cable system operator has about 5 million mostly-residential subscribers in 25 states, making it one of the top national cable companies, behind Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cox Communications. Besides its some 4.3 million video customers (about 80% opting for the digital service), Charter also has about 3.7 million broadband Internet subscribers, and about 2 million computer telephony users. The company also derives revenue from the sale of local advertising on such cable networks as MTV, CNN, and ESPN. Charter Communications, which skirted bankruptcy for years, began and completed a reorganization under Chapter 11 protection in 2009.
As it wrestles with all of its challenges, Charter continues to pursue a strategy popular with its competitors, providing voice, Internet access, and other data services as a complete package. Similar to the results of rival cable companies, it has seen rises in telephone, Internet, and enterprise customers, while video subscribers have dwindled among both residential and business clients. It does, however, continue to see upticks in the move to digital video services. Video revenues dipped 2% for 2011, while every other category saw a bump: Internet ramped up 6%, telephone dialed up 4%, and enterprise clients expanded 18%. Again following suit with the industry, its average monthly revenue per video customer has risen over the past two years and by about the same amount as its industry mates, roughly $20, going from $114 in 2009 to $136 for 2011.
Among the investments eating away at those revenues was the deployment of a network upgrade to the DOCSIS 3.0 high-speed data capability standard to keep up with the competition. Charter put the technology in place for more than 90% of homes it has passed, allowing Internet speeds up to 100 megabits per second. That deployment will help as it continues to pursue enterprise clients. Charter serves mostly small and medium-sized businesses (less than 200 employees), but it also targets large companies and offers its commercial services wholesale to carriers.
As part of Charter's effort to improve efficiency by divesting operations in non-strategic locations, the company sold certain of its cable systems to Cobridge Communications, an affiliate of The Gores Group, in 2010. The cable systems were located in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Texas. (Charter no longer operates in Arkansas and Ohio.) The company went on to acquire broadband cable assets in Alabama and Georgia in 2011 from Windjammer Communications (adding about 17,000 subscribers), and a broadband system serving nearly that number in Missouri from US Cable of Coastal Texas.
AP Charter Holdings owns about 33% of the company, while Oaktree Opportunities Investments holds 17%.
Driven by dreams of creating a "wired world," chairman Paul Allen (a co-founder of Microsoft) reportedly poured more than $12 billion into Charter since 1998, and the billionaire saw most of that investment evaporate. After expanding through the purchase of a slew of small-town cable assets that needed extensive infrastructure upgrades, Charter experienced ongoing subscriber losses, financial losses, and a debt load in excess of $20 billion. Faced with legal opposition from some of its lenders, the company's bankruptcy reorganization plan eliminated about $8 billion of debt, reduced annual interest expenses by about $830 million, and left Allen controlling about one-third of the company, a stake which has fallen to less than 10%. – less