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Trigaux: Will Charter Communications now spurn Bright House Networks?

A publicity image from house2house.brighthouse.com, Bright House's customer service blog.
A publicity image from house2house.brighthouse.com, Bright House's customer service blog.
Published Apr. 24, 2015

The dominoes are falling.

Cable TV giant Comcast's decision on Friday to call off its proposed $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable set in motion a series of moves by others in the cable industry with consequences for Tampa Bay cable customers.

Federal regulators balked over the Comcast-Time Warner merger because it would have given the combined company control of nearly half of the nation's broadband market and almost a third of pay television service.

For Tampa Bay residents, the end of that deal in turn may undermine plans by cable TV firm Charter Communications to buy Bright House Networks here.

Charter already is reaching out to Time Warner Cable to renew merger talks now that Comcast has stepped aside.

Earlier, Charter had pursued a merger with Time Warner Cable but was pushed aside by a higher bid by the bigger Comcast.

Still eager to grow, Charter then shifted its financial interest to Bright House, announcing in March a $10.4 billion deal to acquire Bright House Networks and create the nation's second-largest cable operator. Charter is the fourth-largest cable operator in the United States, while Bright House is the sixth biggest.

If Time Warner Cable goes back on the market and warms to Charter's charms, it may be only a matter of time before Bright House Networks finds itself back where it started, without a suitor. At least for the moment.

What started this latest round of chess moves by cable TV companies has little to do with pay TV but a lot to do with control of the Internet.

The U.S. Justice Department grew concerned that approving a deal to combine Comcast and Time Warner would concentrate too much power over the broadband market in the hands of one giant company.

While most cable TV companies are lackluster innovators, companies ranging from Netflix and Amazon to HBO and Hulu are busy unveiling fresh Internet-streaming entertainment services. These services are disrupting old-school cable services.

If Charter steps away from its Bright House Networks acquisition, Tampa Bay's Bright House customers will notice little change in service in the short run. But if consolidation among cable TV companies continues, no one should be surprised to see Bright House encounter another potential buyer in the future.

At the same time, Tampa Bay's other prominent pay TV provider — Verizon FiOS — already has agreed to sell its regional assets here to Frontier Communications. And this month Verizon unveiled plans for its customers to choose from a menu of channel options that cost less than the standard cable package.

Combined, that's a lot of change being thrown at Tampa Bay customers of Bright House or Verizon.

Stick with your current cable package? Try a new provider? Cut the cable cord? Shop the rising entertainment options via the Internet?

Welcome to the digital deluge.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.