Late last week, the State of New York's Public Service Commission kicked Charter Communications, which runs the internet service provider (ISP) Spectrum, out of the state. It's unprecedented, but its reasoning is sound. But if you're a Spectrum subscriber (like me) you're also a little worried.
The commission's reasoning is that Charter didn't meet promises it made about its 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable, which made it the country's second biggest cable company. Charter had agreed to increase speeds and expand its broadband offerings to 145,000 homes and businesses in rural areas of the state. According to the commission, it didn't meet those agreements, and now Spectrum has got to go. (Charter says that it reached 86,000 new homes and businesses, which is nice, but far from the promised goal.)
Charter has 60 days to file a plan with the state to find a new provider for its subscribers and must continue service without disruptions. And with Charter sure to appeal, this will likely go to court for a long time. If you have Spectrum, it's probably not going anywhere immediately.
But...what if it does?
That's the unanswered question. By all rights, New York is doing the appropriate thing here. It is exercising its power against a giant corporation that made promises to better internet access and speeds for citizens but didn't follow through. But for many New Yorkers, Spectrum is the only option. In theory, another provider will step up and buy the network--perhaps Comcast, RCN, or Optimum. Who knows? Maybe Charter will create a shell company and sell Spectrum to itself somehow. And with all of the appeals, this will probably takes years, not months, to resolve in court.
But this highlights a big issue in New York and across the United States: a lack of choice in ISPs. If something goes wrong, and if there is a disruption in service, thousands of people will be left without internet. If customers don't like their new ISP, there really isn't anywhere else to go.
And perhaps I'm one of the rare people in New York to say it, but Spectrum has been working out OK for me. Sure, they raise my rates for no other reason than they can, but the alternative in my building, Verizon Fios, would require me to purchase their proprietary router.
In my last apartment, though, it was Spectrum or bust. My only other option would have been DSL, which, for a person who makes a living on the internet and streams an unhealthy amount of Netflix, is just unusable. Charter and Spectrum didn't deliver, but if you're one of the thousands of subscribers in New York without anywhere else to go, a question is in the back of your mind: what happens to my internet access next?
So yes, let them go. But for New York (and every other state), it's not enough to just get rid of the ISPs that don't meet their goals. You need to get more ISPs in to drive down prices and foster healthy competition. While it may take a few years for this to get through the courts, a lot of us don't know what will happen to our broadband next.