Charter Passes 1M Homes With Docsis 3.0

In its first earnings call since leaving bankruptcy last November, Charter Communications Inc. showed growth in most areas in 2009, despite losing some of its basic video sub base. (See Charter Posts Q4 and Charter Leaves Chapter 11 .)

Even with much attention focused on last year's big reorganization that ended up shaving Charter's debt load by $8 billion, the MSO remained fairly aggressive with the rollout of advanced services such as Docsis 3.0.

Following an initial launch in St. Louis, Charter has made its 60-Mbit/s "Ultra" wideband tier available to about 1 million homes, Mike Lovett, Charter's interim CEO, said on a conference call Tuesday. Lovett rose to that role after Neil Smit left Charter to become president of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s cable unit. (See Charter Takes On U-verse and Smit Leaves Charter for Comcast .)

Charter chief technology officer Marwan Fawaz said Charter expects to have about 50 percent of its plant Docsis 3.0-ready by the end of 2010. Charter has about 5.3 million customers, making it the sixth-largest video service provider in the US.

Fawaz also offered an update on Charter's bandwidth management plan, noting that the MSO expects to have switched digital video (SDV) deployed in more than 60 percent of its footprint this year. He said Charter is also starting to look at an analog reclamation strategy, and has already started to test Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices to help out with that. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Mediacom Communications Corp. are among US MSOs that are using DTAs aggressively. (See Comcast's $1B Bandwidth Plan .)

Charter's still on the fence when it comes to a wireless strategy, but it did reference a possible partner. "We continue to keep a keen eye on our industry peers that are working with some alternatives such as Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR)," said MSO chief marketing officer Ted Schremp. "We maintained the flexibility and the opportunity to join that, if and when we so desire."

Nearer-term, Charter intends to keep its wireless ambitions closely linked to its growing cell backhaul business, which already serves 400 sites. (See Post Chapter 11, Charter Banks on Biz Services and Cellular Backhaul: Is There Gold in Them Thar Towers?)

Financial update
Charter's business appears to be on solid financial footing after the Chapter 11 reorg. Fourth-quarter revenues rose 3.5 percent to $1.7 billion thanks to growth from its high-speed Internet and phone service categories. For all of 2009, revenues reached $6.8 billion, up 4.5 percent.

Total 2009 capex was $1.1 billion. Charter says that will rise to $1.2 billion for 2010.

Despite gains in advanced service areas, Charter, like many of its peers, saw its basic video base continue to erode, losing 57,000 basics in fourth quarter.

Charter intends to start trading its stock on Nasdaq later this year. It presently has 113 million shares of Class A common stock outstanding. For now, Charter's A shares are quoted on the OTC bulletin board under the "CCMM" ticker, closing yesterday at $30.40 each.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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