PSC creates opportunity for community-owned broadband

But municipalities must initiate their own complaints and not rely on Charter Communications getting kicked out of New York State.

August 3, 2018

The sanctioning of Charter Communications by the PSC does in fact present an opportunity for Syracuse to deny Charter (Spectrum) a franchise renewal and to take over control of the franchise and create a municipally owned and operated broadband network. Alternatively, the franchise could be assigned to a newly created community owned and controlled non-profit utility company. Either way, a community owned and controlled Broadband network could provide better services and greater benefits to the community while cutting prices by about half.

The City has had just cause to deny a franchise renewal to Time Warner Cable now Spectrum for a long time: poor service; high prices; poor public access facilities; slow upgrades. However, with a traditionally weak PSC captive to corporate interests and not expected to back the City, the City never fought the operator, expecting a long and expensive legal battle (a sign of how profitable the franchise is) that would likely ultimately fail for lack of political support.

But now that the PSC has strongly sanctioned Charter to the degree of rescinding their approval to operate franchises in the state, Syracuse and other municipalities have a huge new PSC-backed complaint to back their own, and so can and should organize to take back control of their respective franchises. This includes taking legal action from their end by filing a claim to deny a franchise renewal.

It's important for municipalities to initiate action against Charter from their end and not wait on the outcome of PSC-Charter legal proceedings. The PSC, in my opinion, has a poor history of protecting/defending the public interest. This rather anomalous and bold action in the public interest may have been spurred by some transient political support that could just as easily slip away again. It may take several years of legal battles to determine whether Charter will stay or leave; and it is quite likely, considering history, that there will be a settlement and Charter won't leave. But that outcome is not important. What's important is the PSC's strong condemnation of Charter, which can be used to backup each municipality's own legal claims and claims to the PSC against Charter. The effective legal position has just shifted strongly in favor of municipalities in their struggle to regain control of their own utility franchises. Dear Mayor, please make the most of this opportunity for our community.