Charter Communications' top executive is vowing to fight attempts by New York regulators to force it to sell its communications businesses in the state.
Thomas M. Rutledge, Charter's chairman and chief executive officer, said Tuesday that the company's Spectrum cable television, internet and telephone business in New York is meeting the terms of the 2016 deal it struck with the state Public Service Commission to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable.
"We're hopeful that we can work all this out, but if necessary, we'll litigate and we believe we're in the right," Rutledge said during a conference call with analysts.
While New York gave Charter 60 days to come up with a plan to sell its holdings in the state, Rutledge said the dispute with the PSC could be a long one.
"We have a very strong legal case and ability to defend ourselves," he said in his first comments since the PSC took action to force Charter out of the state on Friday. "And it could play out over a lengthy period of time if required."
Rutledge also said he thinks election-year politics is behind the PSC's crackdown on Charter, and so is an ongoing strike involving 1,800 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union who work at Charter in New York City. The strike began in March 2017, and the union has received support from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"We do have labor issues in New York City, which we believe have politicized the actions of the PSC, and so we're concerned about that," Rutledge said. "We've successfully negotiated other agreements with the same union, IBEW, in other parts of the country during this period."
The PSC has been sparring with Charter over the state's contention that it failed to expand its Spectrum cable network as promised after the Time Warner acquisition two years ago.
The PSC has repeatedly said that Charter failed to meet its promises to greatly expand its services across the state, including an expansion of its network to about 145,000 unserved or underserved homes by May 2020.
Charter, however, has said it is on pace to meet the targets included in the merger agreement and blamed politics for the escalating dispute with the state. The company was required to add more than 58,000 homes to its network by May 2018. The company said it expanded its network to more than 86,000 new homes — a figure the PSC says is inflated.
"Just to put it in perspective, we're operating in 41 states, we have thousands of franchise agreements and generally, we have good relationships with the communities we serve and we live up to our commitments, and we have in New York state," Rutledge said.
"We believe we're in compliance with the plain reading and the build-out requirements that the state imposed on us in merger conditions," Rutledge said. "In fact, we're well ahead of our obligations in terms of speed upgrades and in build-out itself."