Friday, August 17, 2018
Business

Cross your fingers: The takeover of Bright House Networks is here

TAMPA — Bright House Networks customers in the Tampa Bay area: It's time to cross your fingers. Or do whatever you need to do when there's uncertainty in the air.

Charter Communications' $67 billion acquisition of Bright House and Time Warner Cable is expected to close today, instantly making the Stamford, Conn.-based telecom the Tampa Bay area's largest Internet and cable TV provider.

It's a deal that has received the blessings of regulators and many Wall Street analysts, but likely has a lot of Bright House customers on edge. Why? Two words: Frontier-Verizon.

Frontier Communications' April 1 takeover of Verizon's Internet, cable TV and landline services in the Tampa Bay area has generally been considered a fiasco, with reports of outages, bad customer service and poor technical support.

The din last week reached Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who both called on Frontier to shape up.

A Charter representative insisted the company, which will become the nation's No. 2 home Internet provider and the No. 3 cable company with the deal, will have no such issues.

Alex Dudley, a spokesman in Stamford, declined to specifically address the Frontier-Verizon situation in the Tampa Bay area, but vowed Charter's strategy here would be successful.

"When we acquire Bright House, we acquire the whole company," Dudley said. "The plan ensures that the company that is running today is running tomorrow. There's not a switch that gets flipped. We can leave them right in the Bright House infrastructure while we work behind the scenes."

Billing is the same, customer service numbers are the same, subscription packages are the same, and "the trucks will still have Bright House on the side," Dudley said.

That may sound familiar to Verizon customers who heard similar promises from Frontier. But Dudley said Charter will perform "heavy lifting" behind the scenes to build a platform for universal customer care, service and supply chain management in the next few months. After that the company will go to market with its Spectrum brand packaging and pricing, and the entire integration process will likely take two years.

Many major cable companies have adopted upbeat brand names such as Comcast Xfinity and Cablevision Optimum to combat the negative reputations of the legacy cable providers. Charter adopted the Spectrum brand in 2013 and rolled it out in early 2014.

Independent telecom industry analyst and consultant Jeff Kagan said the deal looks good for Charter, making it bigger and stronger in an era of big-cable consolidation.

"The question is whether it's a good deal for the consumers," Kagan said. "We just don't know. The question is, what is Charter going to do when it comes to products and services and pricing, and we just don't know. We're going to have to wait and see."

Any problems of the Frontier-Verizon nature "could be a nightmare for Charter," Kagan said.

Charter's Dudley brushes away that prospect.

"We are America's fastest-growing TV, Internet and voice company," he said. "We plan to keep doing that, and certainly the way to keep doing that is to provide real value and exceptional customer care, and that's our long-term goal here."

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