Charter CEO Says Company is Optimistic About Rural Expansion

A rural build required as part of the company’s Time Warner Cable purchase was surprisingly profitable, Chris Winfrey said.

Charter CEO Says Company is Optimistic About Rural Expansion
Screenshot of Charter CEO Chris Winfrey.

October 17, 2023 – Rural build outs have gone well for Charter, and the company plans to continue participating in state and federal grant programs, the company’s CEO said on Tuesday.

Charter was required to expand its broadband infrastructure to cover 145,000 unserved and underserved locations in Upstate New York as a condition for approval of its 2016 purchase of Time Warner Cable. The company initially missed deployment obligations, but the state extended the deadline in 2019, allowing the company to stay in New York.

Despite the initial hesitance, Charter was happy with the results, said Chris Winfrey, the company’s CEO since December 2021.

“We thought it would be terrible. Turned out it was really good,” he said at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Cable-Tec Expo. “The penetrations were not only high, but they were quick. The cost to serve was low.”

The situation was so favorable for Charter that it became one of the biggest bidders in the federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in 2020, ultimately winning over $1.2 billion to serve over one million locations in 24 states. That’s just under the largest award under the program.

Several companies defaulted on RDOF winnings in 2021 after scrutiny around suspected exaggeration in deployment plans and complaints of flawed data collection prior to the program’s auction. Charter was not among them, but asked to be released from its obligations in several states, citing the existing presence of adequate broadband.

Winfrey said he is optimistic about undertaking more rural projects with the coming influx of public grant money.

“This is a unique moment. I think we should take advantage,” he said.

The Joe Biden administration’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program is getting underway, with states submitting initial proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration until December 27. One state, Louisiana, has had volume one of that proposal approved and is accepting challenges to broadband map data ahead of awarding grants.

Some states still have unallocated money from the American Rescue Plan Act that can also be put toward broadband programs.

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