Charter Communications 10-K 2012
Documents found in this filing:
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
For the Transition Period From to
Commission File Number: 001-33664
Charter Communications, Inc.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
Securities registered pursuant to section 12(b) of the Act:
Securities registered pursuant to section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes o No x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrants have submitted electronically and posted on their corporate website, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrants were required to submit and post such files). Yes x No o
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§ 229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. x
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See definition of “accelerated filer,” “large accelerated filer,” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):
Large accelerated filer x Accelerated filer o Non-accelerated filer o Smaller reporting company o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes o No x
The aggregate market value of the registrant of outstanding Class A common stock held by non-affiliates of the registrant at June 30, 2011 was approximately $2.6 billion, computed based on the closing sale price as quoted on the NASDAQ Global Select Market on that date. For purposes of this calculation only, directors, executive officers and the principal controlling shareholders or entities controlled by such controlling shareholders of the registrant are deemed to be affiliates of the registrant.
APPLICABLE ONLY TO REGISTRANTS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY
PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PRECEDING FIVE YEARS:
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Section 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court. Yes x No o
There were 100,518,414 shares of Class A common stock outstanding as of January 31, 2012. There were no shares of Class B common stock outstanding as of the same date.
Documents Incorporated By Reference
Information required by Part III is incorporated by reference from Registrant’s proxy statement or an amendment to this Annual Report on Form 10-K to be filed by April 29, 2012
CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
FORM 10-K — FOR THE YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2011
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This annual report on Form 10-K is for the year ended December 31, 2011. The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) allows us to “incorporate by reference” information that we file with the SEC, which means that we can disclose important information to you by referring you directly to those documents. Information incorporated by reference is considered to be part of this annual report. In addition, information that we file with the SEC in the future will automatically update and supersede information contained in this annual report. In this annual report, “we,” “us” and “our” refer to Charter Communications, Inc. and its subsidiaries.
CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS:
This annual report includes forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”), and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), regarding, among other things, our plans, strategies and prospects, both business and financial including, without limitation, the forward-looking statements set forth in Part I. Item 1. and in Part II. Item 7. under the heading “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in this annual report. Although we believe that our plans, intentions and expectations reflected in or suggested by these forward-looking statements are reasonable, we cannot assure you that we will achieve or realize these plans, intentions or expectations. Forward-looking statements are inherently subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions, including, without limitation, the factors described in Part I. Item 1A. under “Risk Factors” and in Part II. Item 7. under the heading, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in this annual report. Many of the forward-looking statements contained in this annual report may be identified by the use of forward-looking words such as “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “will,” “may,” “intend,” “estimated,” “aim,” “on track,” “target,” “opportunity,” “tentative,” “positioning” and “potential,” among others. Important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from the forward-looking statements we make in this annual report are set forth in this annual report and in other reports or documents that we file from time to time with the SEC, and include, but are not limited to:
All forward-looking statements attributable to us or any person acting on our behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by this cautionary statement. We are under no duty or obligation to update any of the forward-looking statements after the date of this annual report.
Item 1. Business.
We are among the largest providers of cable services in the United States, offering a variety of entertainment, information and communications solutions to residential and commercial customers. Our infrastructure consists of a hybrid fiber coaxial cable plant passing approximately 12.0 million homes, with 98% of homes passed at 550 megahertz (“MHz”) or greater and 98% of plant miles two-way active. A national Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure interconnects Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”) markets. See "Item 1. Business — Products and Services" for further description of these terms and services, including "customers."
For the year ended December 31, 2011, we generated approximately $7.2 billion in revenue, of which approximately 50% was generated from our residential video service. We also generated revenue from Internet, telephone service and advertising. Internet and telephone service in both residential and commercial markets contributed the majority of the recent growth in our revenue.
As of December 31, 2011, we served approximately 5.2 million residential and commercial customers. We sell our video, Internet and telephone services primarily on a subscription basis, often in a bundle of two or more services, providing savings and convenience to our customers. Bundled services are available to approximately 97% of our homes passed, and approximately 62% of our customers subscribe to a bundle of services.
We served approximately 4.1 million residential video customers as of December 31, 2011, and approximately 79% of our video customers subscribed to digital video service. Digital video enables our customers to access advanced video services such as high definition ("HD") television, Charter OnDemand™ (“OnDemand”) video programming, an interactive program guide and digital video recorder (“DVR”) service.
We also served approximately 3.5 million residential Internet customers as of December 31, 2011. Our Internet service is available in a variety of download speeds up to 100 megabits per second (“Mbps”) and upload speeds of up to 5 Mbps. We also offer home networking service, or in-home Wi-Fi, enabling our customers to connect up to five computers wirelessly in the home.
We provided telephone service to approximately 1.8 million residential customers as of December 31, 2011. Our telephone services typically include unlimited local and long distance calling to the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, plus other features, including voicemail, call waiting and caller ID.
Through Charter Business®, we provide scalable, tailored broadband communications solutions to business and carrier organizations, such as Internet access, data networking, fiber connectivity to cellular towers and office buildings, video entertainment services and business telephone services. As of December 31, 2011, we served approximately 476,200 commercial primary service units, primarily small- and medium-sized commercial customers. Our advertising sales division, Charter Media®, provides local, regional and national businesses with the opportunity to advertise in individual markets on cable television networks.
We have a history of net losses. Our net losses are principally attributable to insufficient revenue to cover the combination of operating expenses, interest expenses that we incur on our debt, depreciation expenses resulting from the capital investments we have made, and continue to make, in our cable properties, amortization expenses resulting from the application of fresh start accounting and non-cash taxes resulting from increases in our deferred tax liabilities.
On March 27, 2009, we and certain affiliates filed voluntary petitions in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (the “Bankruptcy Court”), to reorganize under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code (the “Bankruptcy Code”). The Chapter 11 cases were jointly administered under the caption In re Charter Communications, Inc., et al., Case No. 09-11435. On May 7, 2009, we filed a Joint Plan of Reorganization (the “Plan”) and a related disclosure statement with the Bankruptcy Court. The Plan was confirmed by the Bankruptcy Court on November 17, 2009 (the “Confirmation Order”), and became effective on November 30, 2009 (the “Effective Date”), the date on which we emerged from protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.
The terms “Charter,” “we,” “our” and “us,” when used in this report with respect to the period prior to Charter’s emergence from bankruptcy, are references to the Debtors (“Predecessor”) and, when used with respect to the period commencing after Charter’s emergence, are references to Charter (“Successor”). These references include the subsidiaries of Predecessor or Successor, as the case may be, unless otherwise indicated or the context requires otherwise.
Our principal executive offices are located at 12405 Powerscourt Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63131. Our telephone number is (314) 965-0555, and we have a website accessible at www.charter.com. Since January 1, 2002, our annual reports, quarterly reports and current reports on Form 8-K, and all amendments thereto, have been made available on our website free of charge as soon as reasonably practicable after they have been filed. The information posted on our website is not incorporated into this annual report.
Corporate Entity Structure
The chart below sets forth our entity structure and that of our direct and indirect subsidiaries. This chart does not include all of our affiliates and subsidiaries and, in some cases, we have combined separate entities for presentation purposes. The equity ownership percentages shown below are approximations and do not give effect to any exercise of then outstanding warrants. Indebtedness amounts shown below are principal amounts as of December 31, 2011. See Note 7 to the accompanying consolidated financial statements contained in “Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data,” which also includes the accreted values of the indebtedness described below.
Charter Communications, Inc. Charter owns 100% of Charter Communications Holding Company, LLC (“Charter Holdco”). Charter Holdco, through its subsidiaries, owns cable systems. As sole manager under applicable operating agreements, Charter controls the affairs of Charter Holdco and its limited liability company subsidiaries. In addition, Charter provides management services to Charter Holdco and its subsidiaries under a management services agreement.
Interim Holding Company Debt Issuers. As indicated in the organizational chart above, our interim holding company debt issuers indirectly own the subsidiaries that own or operate all of our cable systems, subject to a CC VIII, LLC (“CC VIII”) 70% preferred interest held by CCH I, LLC (“CCH I”) and 30% preferred interest held by Charter as described below. For a description of the debt issued by these issuers please see “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations — Description of Our Outstanding Debt.”
Preferred Equity in CC VIII. At December 31, 2011, Charter owned 30% of the CC VIII preferred membership interests. CCH I, an indirect subsidiary of Charter, directly owned the remaining 70% of these preferred interests. The common membership interests in CC VIII are indirectly owned by Charter Operating.
Products and Services
Through our hybrid fiber and coaxial cable network, we offer our customers traditional cable video services (basic and digital, which we refer to as “video” services), as well as advanced video services (such as OnDemand, HD television, and DVR service), Internet services and telephone services. Our telephone services are primarily provided using voice over Internet protocol (“VoIP”) technology, to transmit digital voice signals over our systems. Our video, Internet, and telephone services are offered to residential and commercial customers on a subscription basis, with prices and related charges that vary primarily based on the types of service selected, whether the services are sold as a “bundle” or on an individual basis, and the equipment necessary to receive the services, with some variation in prices.
The following table summarizes our customer statistics for basic video, digital video, Internet and telephone as of December 31, 2011 and 2010.
After giving effect to divestitures and acquisitions of cable systems in 2010 and 2011, residential basic video customers, residential Internet customers and residential telephone customers would have been approximately 4,305,800, 3,263,200 and 1,721,800, respectively, as of December 31, 2010. After giving effect to divestitures and acquisitions of cable systems in 2010 and 2011, commercial basic video customers, commercial Internet customers, commercial telephone customers and digital video revenue generating units would have been approximately 241,900, 138,500, 59,900 and 3,371,300, respectively, as of December 31, 2010.
were over 90 days past due in payment, and approximately 1,400 and 1,000 customers, respectively, whose accounts were over 120 days past due in payment.
In 2011, residential video services represented approximately 50% of our total revenues. Our video service offerings include the following:
In 2011, residential Internet services represented approximately 24% of our total revenues. We completed the roll out of DOCSIS 3.0 to 93% of our homes passed in 2011, allowing us to offer several tiers of Internet services with speeds up to 100 megabytes per second download to our residential customers. Our Internet services also include our Internet portal, Charter.net, which provides multiple e-mail addresses, as well as variety of content and media from local, national and international providers including entertainment, games, news and sports. We also offer home networking gateways to our Internet customers permitting our customers to wirelessly connect up to five devices within a home. Charter launched its Cloud Drive product in 2011 which provides for on-line storage and back up of customer files and permits customers to access such files remotely at anytime.
Accelerated growth in the number of IP devices and bandwidth used in homes has created a need for faster speeds and greater reliability. Charter is focused on providing services to fill those needs. In 2011, we focused on promoting and leveraging our structural broadband advantage to create new customer relationships. Charter's Internet service received top rankings from PC Magazine and high marks from the FCC in speed testing in 2011.
In 2011, residential telephone services represented approximately 12% of our total revenues. We provide voice communications services primarily using VoIP technology to transmit digital voice signals over our systems. Charter Telephone includes unlimited nationwide and in-state calling, voicemail, call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding and other features. Charter Telephone® also provides international calling either by the minute or in a package of 250 minutes per month.
In 2011, commercial services represented approximately 8% of our total revenues. Commercial services offered through Charter Business, include scalable broadband communications solutions for businesses and carrier organizations of all sizes such as Internet access, data networking, fiber connectivity to cellular towers and office buildings, video entertainment services and business telephone services.
Sale of Advertising
In 2011, sales of advertising represented approximately 4% of our total revenues. We receive revenues from the sale of local advertising on satellite-delivered networks such as MTV®, CNN® and ESPN®. In any particular market, we generally insert local advertising on up to 40 channels. We also provide cross-channel advertising to some programmers. In addition, we sell advertising on our Internet portal, Charter.net. In most cases, the available advertising time is sold by our sales force, however in some cases, we enter into representation agreements with contiguous cable system operators under which another operator in the area will sell advertising on our behalf for a percentage of the revenue. In some markets, we sell advertising on behalf of other operators.
Charter has deployed Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (“EBIF”) technology to set top boxes in select service areas within the Charter footprint. EBIF is a technology foundation that will allow Charter to deliver enhanced and interactive television applications and enable our video customers to use their remote control to interact with their television programming and its advertisements. EBIF will enable Charter’s customers to request such items as coupons, samples, and brochures from advertisers and also will enable advertisers to reach audiences in new ways.
From time to time, certain of our vendors, including programmers and equipment vendors, have purchased advertising from us. For the years ending December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, we had advertising revenues from vendors of approximately $51 million, $46 million and $41 million, respectively. These revenues resulted from purchases at market rates pursuant to binding agreements.
Pricing of Our Products and Services
Our revenues are derived principally from the monthly fees customers pay for the services we provide. We typically charge a one-time installation fee which is sometimes waived or discounted during certain promotional periods. The prices we charge for our products and services vary based on the level of service the customer chooses and the geographic market. In accordance with FCC rules, the prices we charge for video cable-related equipment, such as set-top boxes and remote control devices, and for installation services, are based on actual costs plus a permitted rate of return in regulated markets.
We offer reduced-price service for promotional periods in order to attract new customers, to promote the bundling of two or more services and to retain existing customers. We often also offer a two-year price guarantee to our customers. There is no assurance that these customers will remain as customers or at the regular price when the promotional pricing period expires. When customers bundle services, generally the prices are lower per service than if they had only purchased a single service. Approximately 62% of our customers subscribe to a bundle of services.
Our Network Technology
Our network includes three components: the national backbone, regional/metro core and the "last-mile." Both our national backbone and regional/metro core components utilize or plan to utilize a redundant Internet Protocol ("IP”) ring architecture with the capability to differentiate quality of service for each residential or commercial product offering. The national backbone provides connectivity from the master headends to nationally centralized content, connectivity and services such as HD programming, voice interexchange points and Internet interexchange points. The regional/metro core components provide connectivity between the master headends and headends within a specific geographic area and enable the delivery of content and services between these network components.
Our last-mile component utilizes the hybrid fiber coaxial cable (“HFC”) architecture, which combines the use of fiber optic cable with coaxial cable. In most systems, we deliver our signals via fiber optic cable from the headend to a group of nodes, and use coaxial cable to deliver the signal from individual nodes to the homes passed served by that node. For our fiber Internet, Ethernet, carrier wholesale, SIP and PRI commercial customers, fiber optic cable is extended from the individual nodes all the way to the customer's site. On average, our system design enables up to 400 homes passed to be served by a single node and provides for six strands of fiber to each node, with two strands activated and four strands reserved for spares and future services. We believe that this hybrid network design provides high capacity and signal quality. The design also provides two-way signal capacity for the addition of further interactive services.
HFC architecture benefits include:
Approximately 98% of our homes passed are served by systems that have bandwidth of 550 megahertz or greater and are two-way activated at December 31, 2011. This bandwidth capacity enables us to offer digital television, Internet services, telephone service and other advanced video services.
As of December 31, 2011, we have deployed DOCSIS 3.0 wideband technology to 93% of our homes passed allowing us to offer faster high-speed Internet service. We have also deployed SDV technology to accommodate the increasing demands for greater capacity in our network. SDV technology expands network capacity by transmitting only those digital and HD video channels that are being watched within a given grouping of homes at any given time which allows us to expand bandwidth for additional services. As of December 31, 2011, 86% of our homes passed received some portion of their video service via SDV technology.
Management, Customer Care and Marketing
Our corporate office is responsible for coordinating and overseeing operations including establishing company-wide policies and procedures. The corporate office performs certain financial and administrative functions on a centralized basis and performs these services on a cost reimbursement basis pursuant to a management services agreement with one of our subsidiaries. Our field operations are managed by geographic areas with shared service centers for our field sales and marketing function, human resources and training function, finance, and certain areas of customer operations.
Charter continues to focus on improving the customer experience through improvements to our customer care processes, product offerings and the quality and reliability of our service. Our customer care centers are managed centrally. We have eight internal customer care locations including our “centers of excellence” which route calls to the appropriate agents, plus several third-party call center locations that through technology and procedures functions as an integrated system. We also utilize our website to enable our customers to view and pay their bills online, obtain information regarding their account or services, and perform various equipment troubleshooting procedures. Our customers may also obtain support through our on-line chat and e-mail functionality. We are also focusing on improving the reliability and technical quality of our plant to avoid repeat trouble calls, which has resulted in reductions in the number of service-related calls to our care centers and in the number of trouble call truck rolls in 2011 versus 2010.
Our marketing strategy emphasizes our bundled services through targeted marketing programs to existing and potential customers and increases awareness and value of the Charter brand. Marketing expenditures increased by $18 million, or 8%, over the year ended December 31, 2010 to $257 million for the year ended December 31, 2011. Our marketing organization creates and executes marketing programs intended to increase customers, retain existing customers and cross-sell additional products to current customers. We monitor the effectiveness of our marketing efforts, customer perception, competition, pricing, and service preferences, among other factors, to increase our responsiveness to our customers.
We believe that offering a wide variety of programming influences a customer’s decision to subscribe to and retain our cable services. We rely on market research, customer demographics and local programming preferences to determine channel offerings
in each of our markets. We obtain basic and premium programming from a number of suppliers, usually pursuant to written contracts. Our programming contracts generally continue for a fixed period of time, usually from three to ten years, and are subject to negotiated renewal. Some programming suppliers offer financial incentives to support the launch of a channel and/or ongoing marketing support. We also negotiate volume discount pricing structures. We have more recently negotiated for more content rights allowing us to provide programming on-line to our authenticated customers. Programming costs are usually payable each month based on calculations performed by us and are generally subject to annual cost escalations and audits by the programmers.
Programming is usually made available to us for a license fee, which is generally paid based on the number of customers to whom we make such programming available. Such license fees may include “volume” discounts available for higher numbers of customers, as well as discounts for channel placement or service penetration. Some channels are available without cost to us for a limited period of time, after which we pay for the programming. For home shopping channels, we receive a percentage of the revenue attributable to our customers’ purchases, as well as, in some instances, incentives for channel placement.
Our programming costs have increased in every year we have operated in excess of customary inflationary and cost-of-living type increases. We expect them to continue to increase due to a variety of factors including amounts paid for retransmission consent, annual increases imposed by programmers with additional selling power as a result of media consolidation and additional programming, including new sports services and non-linear programming for on-line and OnDemand programming. In particular, sports programming costs have increased significantly over the past several years. In addition, contracts to purchase sports programming sometimes provide for optional additional games to be added to the service and made available on a surcharge basis during the term of the contract.
Federal law allows commercial television broadcast stations to make an election between “must-carry” rights and an alternative “retransmission-consent” regime. When a station opts for the retransmission-consent regime, we are not allowed to carry the station’s signal without the station’s permission. Continuing demands by owners of broadcast stations for cash payments at substantial increases over amounts paid in prior years in exchange for retransmission consent will likely increase our programming costs or require us to cease carriage of popular programming, potentially leading to a loss of customers in affected markets.
Over the past several years, increases in our video service rates have not fully offset increasing programming costs, and with the impact of increasing competition and other marketplace factors, we do not expect them to do so in the foreseeable future. Although in 2010, we began passing along a portion of amounts paid for retransmission consent to the majority of our customers, our inability to fully pass these programming cost increases on to our video customers has had and is expected in the future to have an adverse impact on our cash flow and operating margins associated with the video product. In order to mitigate reductions of our operating margins due to rapidly increasing programming costs, we continue to review our pricing and programming packaging strategies, and we plan to continue to migrate certain program services from our basic level of service to our digital tiers and limit the launch of non-essential, new networks. As we migrate our programming to our digital tier packages, certain programming that was previously available to all of our customers via an analog signal may only be part of an elective digital tier package offered to our customers for an additional fee. As a result, we expect that the customer base upon which we pay programming fees will proportionately decrease, and the overall expense for providing that service will also decrease. However, reductions in the size of certain programming customer bases may result in the loss of specific volume discount benefits.
We have programming contracts that have expired and others that will expire at or before the end of 2012. We will seek to renegotiate the terms of these agreements. There can be no assurance that these agreements will be renewed on favorable or comparable terms. To the extent that we are unable to reach agreement with certain programmers on terms that we believe are reasonable, we have been, and may in the future be, forced to remove such programming channels from our line-up, which may result in a loss of customers.
As of December 31, 2011, our systems operated pursuant to a total of approximately 3,100 franchises, permits, and similar authorizations issued by local and state governmental authorities. Such governmental authorities often must approve a transfer to another party. Most franchises are subject to termination proceedings in the event of a material breach. In addition, most franchises require us to pay the granting authority a franchise fee of up to 5.0% of revenues as defined in the various agreements, which is the maximum amount that may be charged under the applicable federal law. We are entitled to and generally do pass this fee through to the customer.
Prior to the scheduled expiration of most franchises, we generally initiate renewal proceedings with the granting authorities. This process usually takes three years but can take a longer period of time. The Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the “Communications Act”), which is the primary federal statute regulating interstate communications, provides for an orderly franchise renewal process in which granting authorities may not unreasonably withhold renewals. In connection with the franchise renewal process, many governmental authorities require the cable operator to make certain commitments, such as building out certain of the franchise areas, customer service requirements, and supporting and carrying public access channels. Historically we have been able to renew our franchises without incurring significant costs, although any particular franchise may not be renewed on commercially favorable terms or otherwise. Our failure to obtain renewals of our franchises, especially those in the major metropolitan areas where we have the most customers, could have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial condition, results of operations, or our liquidity, including our ability to comply with our debt covenants. See “— Regulation and Legislation — Video Services — Franchise Matters.”
We face competition for both residential and commercial customers in the areas of price, service offerings, and service reliability. We compete with other providers of video, high-speed Internet access, telephone services, and other sources of home entertainment. We operate in a very competitive business environment, which can adversely affect the results of our business and operations. We cannot predict the impact on us of broadband services offered by our competitors.
In terms of competition for customers, we view ourselves as a member of the broadband communications industry, which encompasses multi-channel video for television and related broadband services, such as high-speed Internet, telephone, and other interactive video services. In the broadband communications industry, our principal competitors for video services is direct broadcast satellite (“DBS”) and telephone companies. Our principal competitor for high-speed Internet services is DSL service and high-speed Internet provided by telephone companies. Our principal competitors for telephone services are established telephone companies, other telephone service providers, and other carriers, including VoIP providers. At this time, we do not consider other cable operators to be significant competitors in our overall market, as overbuilds are infrequent and geographically spotty (although in any particular market, a cable operator overbuilder would likely be a significant competitor at the local level). We could, however, face additional competition from multi-channel video providers if they began distributing video over the Internet to customers residing outside their current territories.
Our key competitors include:
Direct broadcast satellite is a significant competitor to cable systems. The two largest DBS providers now serve more than 33 million subscribers nationwide. DBS service allows the subscriber to receive video services directly via satellite using a dish antenna.
Video compression technology and high powered satellites allow DBS providers to offer more than 285 digital channels from a single satellite, thereby surpassing the traditional analog cable system. In 2011, major DBS competitors offered a greater variety of channel packages, and were especially competitive with promotional pricing for more basic services. While we continue to believe that the initial investment by a DBS customer exceeds that of a cable customer, the initial equipment cost for DBS has decreased substantially, as the DBS providers have aggressively marketed offers to new customers of incentives for discounted or free equipment, installation, and multiple units. DBS providers are able to offer service nationwide and are able to establish a national image and branding with standardized offerings, which together with their ability to avoid franchise fees of up to 5% of revenues and property tax, leads to greater efficiencies and lower costs in the lower tiers of service. Also, DBS providers are currently offering more HD programming, including local HD programming. However, we believe that cable-delivered OnDemand and Subscription OnDemand services, which include HD programming, are superior to DBS service, because cable headends can provide two-way communication to deliver many titles which customers can access and control independently, whereas DBS technology can only make available a much smaller number of titles with DVR-like customer control. DBS providers have also made attempts at deployment of Internet access services via satellite, but those services have been technically constrained and of limited appeal.
Telephone Companies and Utilities
Telephone companies, including AT&T Inc. (“AT&T”) and Verizon Communications, Inc. ("Verizon"), offer video and other services in competition with us, and we expect they will increasingly do so in the future. Upgraded portions of these networks carry two-way video, data services and provide digital voice services similar to ours. In the case of Verizon, high-speed data
services (fiber optic service (“FiOS”)) offer speeds as high as or higher than ours. In addition, these companies continue to offer their traditional telephone services, as well as service bundles that include wireless voice services provided by affiliated companies. Based on internal estimates, we believe that AT&T and Verizon are offering video services in areas serving approximately 31% to 34% and 3% to 4%, respectively, of our estimated homes passed as of December 31, 2011 and we have experienced customer losses in these areas. AT&T and Verizon have also launched campaigns to capture more of the multiple dwelling unit (“MDU”) market. Additional upgrades and product launches are expected in markets in which we operate.
In addition to telephone companies obtaining franchises or alternative authorizations in some areas, and seeking them in others, they have been successful through various means in reducing or streamlining the franchising requirements applicable to them. They have had significant success at the federal and state level in securing FCC rulings and numerous statewide franchise laws that facilitate telephone company entry into the video marketplace. Because telephone companies have been successful in avoiding or reducing franchise and other regulatory requirements that remain applicable to cable operators like us, their competitive posture has often been enhanced. The large scale entry of major telephone companies as direct competitors in the video marketplace has adversely affected the profitability and valuation of our cable systems.
Most telephone companies, which already have plant, an existing customer base, and other operational functions in place (such as billing and service personnel), offer DSL service. DSL service allows Internet access to subscribers at data transmission speeds greater than those formerly available over conventional telephone lines. We believe DSL service is competitive with high-speed Internet service and is often offered at prices lower than our Internet services, although typically at speeds lower than the speeds we offer. However one DSL provider, Century Link, offers DSL services in approximately 12% of our homes passed with speeds comparable to our lower speed tiers. DSL providers may currently be in a better position to offer telephone and data services to businesses since their networks tend to be more complete in commercial areas. We expect DSL to remain a significant competitor to our high-speed Internet services. In addition, the continuing deployment of fiber optics into telephone companies’ networks (primarily by Verizon) will enable them to provide even higher bandwidth Internet services.
Our telephone service competes directly with established telephone companies and other carriers, including Internet-based VoIP providers, for both residential and commercial voice service customers. Because we offer voice services, we are subject to considerable competition from telephone companies and other telecommunications providers, including wireless providers with an increasing number of consumers choosing wireless over wired telephone services. The telecommunications and voice services industry is highly competitive and includes competitors with greater financial and personnel resources, strong brand name recognition, and long-standing relationships with regulatory authorities and customers. Moreover, mergers, joint ventures and alliances among our competitors have resulted in providers capable of offering cable television, Internet, and telephone services in direct competition with us.
Additionally, we are subject to limited competition from utilities that possess fiber optic transmission lines capable of transmitting signals with minimal signal distortion. Certain utilities are also developing broadband over power line technology, which may allow the provision of Internet and other broadband services to homes and offices.
Cable systems are operated under non-exclusive franchises historically granted by state and local authorities. More than one cable system may legally be built in the same area. It is possible that a franchising authority might grant a second franchise to another cable operator and that such franchise might contain terms and conditions more favorable than those afforded us. Well-financed businesses from outside the cable industry, such as public utilities that already possess fiber optic and other transmission lines in the areas they serve, may over time become competitors. There are a number of cities that have constructed their own cable systems, in a manner similar to city-provided utility services. There also has been interest in traditional cable overbuilds by private companies not affiliated with established local exchange carriers. Constructing a competing cable system is a capital intensive process which involves a high degree of risk. We believe that in order to be successful, a competitor’s overbuild would need to be able to serve the homes and businesses in the overbuilt area with equal or better service quality, on a more cost-effective basis than we can. Any such overbuild operation would require access to capital or access to facilities already in place that are capable of delivering cable television programming.
As of December 31, 2011, excluding telephone companies, we are aware of traditional overbuild situations impacting approximately 8% to 9% of our total homes passed and potential traditional overbuild situations in areas servicing approximately an additional 2% of our total homes passed. Additional overbuild situations may occur.
Cable television has long competed with broadcast television, which consists of television signals that the viewer is able to receive without charge using an “off-air” antenna. The extent of such competition is dependent upon the quality and quantity of broadcast signals available through “off-air” reception, compared to the services provided by the local cable system. Traditionally, cable television has provided higher picture quality and more channel offerings than broadcast television. However, the recent licensing of digital spectrum by the FCC now provides traditional broadcasters with the ability to deliver HD television pictures and multiple digital-quality program streams, as well as advanced digital services such as subscription video and data transmission.
Internet Delivered Video
Internet access facilitates the streaming of video, including movies and television shows, into homes and businesses. Increasingly, content owners are using Internet-based delivery of content directly to consumers, some without charging a fee to access the content. Further, due to consumer electronic innovations, consumers are able to watch such Internet-delivered content on televisions, personal computers, tablets, gaming boxes connected to televisions and mobile devices. We believe some customers have chosen to receive video over the Internet rather than through our VOD and premium video services, thereby reducing our video revenues. We can not predict the impact that Internet delivered video will have on our revenues and adjusted EBITDA as technologies continue to evolve.
Additional competition is posed by satellite master antenna television systems, or SMATV systems, serving MDUs, such as condominiums, apartment complexes, and private residential communities. Private cable systems can offer improved reception of local television stations, and many of the same satellite-delivered program services that are offered by cable systems. Although disadvantaged from a programming cost perspective, SMATV systems currently benefit from operating advantages not available to franchised cable systems, including fewer regulatory burdens and no requirement to service low density or economically depressed communities. The FCC previously adopted regulations that favor SMATV and private cable operators serving MDU complexes, allowing them to continue to secure exclusive contracts with MDU owners. This regulatory disparity provides a competitive advantage to certain of our current and potential competitors.
Local wireless Internet services operate in some markets using available unlicensed radio spectrum. Various wireless phone companies are now offering third and fourth generation (3G and 4G) wireless high-speed Internet services. In addition, a growing number of commercial areas, such as retail malls, restaurants and airports, offer Wi-Fi Internet service. Numerous local governments are also considering or actively pursuing publicly subsidized Wi-Fi and WiMAX Internet access networks. Operators are also marketing PC cards and “personal hotspots” offering wireless broadband access to their cellular networks. These service options offer another alternative to cable-based Internet access.
Regulation and Legislation
The following summary addresses the key regulatory and legislative developments affecting the cable industry and our three primary services for both residential and commercial customers: video service, Internet service, and telephone service. Cable system operations are extensively regulated by the federal government (primarily the FCC), certain state governments, and many local governments. A failure to comply with these regulations could subject us to substantial penalties. Our business can be dramatically impacted by changes to the existing regulatory framework, whether triggered by legislative, administrative, or judicial rulings. Congress and the FCC have frequently revisited the subject of communications regulation and they are likely to do so again in the future. We could be materially disadvantaged in the future if we are subject to new regulations that do not equally impact our key competitors. We cannot provide assurance that the already extensive regulation of our business will not be expanded in the future.
Cable Rate Regulation. The cable industry has operated under a federal rate regulation regime for approximately two decades. The regulations currently restrict the prices that cable systems charge for the minimum level of video programming service, referred to as “basic service,” and associated equipment. All other video service offerings are now universally exempt from rate regulation. Although basic service rate regulation operates pursuant to a federal formula, local governments, commonly referred to as local franchising authorities, are primarily responsible for administering this regulation. The majority of our local franchising authorities
have never been certified to regulate basic service cable rates (and order rate reductions and refunds), but they generally retain the right to do so (subject to potential regulatory limitations under state franchising laws), except in those specific communities facing “effective competition,” as defined under federal law. We have secured FCC recognition of effective competition, and become rate deregulated in many of our communities.
There have been frequent calls to impose expanded rate regulation on the cable industry. Confronted with rapidly increasing cable programming costs, it is possible that Congress may adopt new constraints on the retail pricing or packaging of cable programming. For example, there has been legislative and regulatory interest in requiring cable operators to offer historically combined programming services on an à la carte basis. Any such mandate could adversely affect our operations.
Federal rate regulations include certain marketing restrictions that could affect our pricing and packaging of service tiers and equipment. As we attempt to respond to a changing marketplace with competitive pricing practices, we may face regulations that impede our ability to compete.
Must Carry/Retransmission Consent. There are two alternative legal methods for carriage of local broadcast television stations on cable systems. Federal “must carry” regulations require cable systems to carry local broadcast television stations upon the request of the local broadcaster. Alternatively, federal law includes “retransmission consent” regulations, by which popular commercial television stations can prohibit cable carriage unless the cable operator first negotiates for “retransmission consent,” which may be conditioned on significant payments or other concessions. Broadcast stations must elect “must carry” or “retransmission consent” every three years, with the election date of October 1, 2009, for the current period of 2012 through 2014. Either option has a potentially adverse effect on our business by utilizing bandwidth capacity. In addition, popular stations invoking “retransmission consent” have been demanding substantial compensation increases in their negotiations with cable operators.
In September 2007, the FCC adopted an order increasing the cable industry’s must-carry obligations by requiring most cable operators to offer “must carry” broadcast signals in both analog and digital format (dual carriage). This requirement, which does not currently include any obligation to carry multiple program streams included within a single digital broadcast transmission (multicast carriage), is scheduled to expire in June 2012, but may be extended by the FCC. Additional government-mandated broadcast carriage obligations could disrupt existing programming commitments, interfere with our preferred use of limited channel capacity, and limit our ability to offer services that appeal to our customers and generate revenues.
Access Channels. Local franchise agreements often require cable operators to set aside certain channels for public, educational, and governmental access programming. Federal law also requires cable systems to designate a portion of their channel capacity for commercial leased access by unaffiliated third parties, who may offer programming that our customers do not particularly desire. The FCC adopted new rules in 2007 mandating a significant reduction in the rates that operators can charge commercial leased access users and imposing additional administrative requirements that would be burdensome on the cable industry. The effect of the FCC's new rules was stayed by a federal court, pending a cable industry appeal and an adverse finding by the Office of Management and Budget. Under federal statute, commercial leased access programmers are entitled to use up to 15% of a cable system's capacity. Although commercial leased access activity historically has been relatively limited, increased activity in this area could further burden the channel capacity of our cable systems, and potentially limit the amount of services we are able to offer and may necessitate further investments to expand our network capacity.
Access to Programming. The Communications Act and the FCC's “program access” rules generally prevent satellite cable programming networks in which a cable operator has an attributable interest from favoring cable operators over competing multichannel video distributors, such as DBS, and limit the ability of such vendors to offer exclusive programming arrangements to cable operators. This exclusivity prohibition is scheduled to expire in October 2012, but the FCC has extended it in the past and may do so again. Given the heightened competition and media consolidation that we face, it is possible that we will find it increasingly difficult to gain access to popular programming at favorable terms. Such difficulty could adversely impact our business.
Ownership Restrictions. Federal regulation of the communications field traditionally included a host of ownership restrictions, which limited the size of certain media entities and restricted their ability to enter into competing enterprises. Through a series of legislative, regulatory, and judicial actions, most of these restrictions have been either eliminated or substantially relaxed. Changes in this regulatory area could alter the business environment in which we operate.
Pole Attachments. The Communications Act requires most utilities owning utility poles to provide cable systems with access to poles and conduits and simultaneously subjects the rates charged for this access to either federal or state regulation. On April 7, 2011, the FCC amended its existing pole attachment rules to promote broadband deployment. The new order maintains the basic rate formula applicable to “cable” attachments, but reduces the rate formula previously applicable to “telecommunications”
attachments to make it roughly equivalent to the more favorable “cable” attachment rate. Although the new order maintains the status quo treatment of cable-provided VoIP service as an unclassified service eligible for the favorable cable rate, there is still some uncertainty in this area. The new order allows for new penalties in certain cases involving unauthorized attachments, but it generally strengthens the cable industry's ability to access investor-owned utility poles on reasonable rates, terms, and conditions. Several electric utilities have, however, sought review of the new order at the FCC and in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and another May 2011 FCC order restricting pole attachment rates has also been appealed to the same court. The outcome of these cases could impact the pole attachment rates we pay utility companies.
Cable Equipment. In 1996, Congress enacted a statute requiring the FCC to adopt regulations designed to assure the development of an independent retail market for “navigation devices,” such as cable set-top boxes. As a result, the FCC generally requires cable operators to make a separate offering of security modules (i.e., a “CableCARD”) that can be used with retail navigation devices, and to use these separate security modules even in their own set-top boxes. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan acknowledges that the existing CableCARD rules have not resulted in a competitive retail market for navigation devices. In response to this finding, the FCC commenced a proceeding in April 2010 to adopt standards for a successor technology to CableCARD that would involve the development of smart video devices that are compatible with any multichannel video programming distributor service in the United States. In October 2010, the FCC adopted new interim CableCARD rules applicable until a successor solution emerges. The new rules require cable operators to allow customers to self-install CableCARDs. They also require cable operators to provide and advertise a reasonable discount if subscribers use their own equipment, rather than using the operator-provided equipment otherwise included in a bundled package. The FCC’s actions in this area could impose additional costs on us and affect our ability to innovate.
MDUs / Inside Wiring. The FCC has adopted a series of regulations designed to spur competition to established cable operators in MDU complexes. These regulations allow our competitors to access certain existing cable wiring inside MDUs. The FCC also adopted regulations limiting the ability of established cable operators, like us, to enter into exclusive service contracts for MDU complexes. In their current form, the FCC’s regulations in this area favor our competitors.
Privacy and Information Security Regulation. The Communications Act limits our ability to collect and disclose subscribers’ personally identifiable information for our video, telephone, and high-speed Internet services, as well as provides requirements to safeguard such information. We are subject to additional federal, state, and local laws and regulations that impose additional subscriber and employee privacy restrictions. Further, the FCC, FTC, and many states regulate and restrict the marketing practices of cable operators, including telemarketing and online marketing efforts. Various federal agencies, including the FTC, are now considering new restrictions affecting the use of personal and profiling data for online advertising.
Our operations are also subject to federal and state laws governing information security, including rules requiring customer notification in the event of an information security breach. Congress is considering the adoption of new data security and cybersecurity legislation that could result in additional network and information security requirements for our business.
Other FCC Regulatory Matters. FCC regulations cover a variety of additional areas, including, among other things: (1) equal employment opportunity obligations; (2) customer service standards; (3) technical service standards; (4) mandatory blackouts of certain network, syndicated and sports programming; (5) restrictions on political advertising; (6) restrictions on advertising in children's programming; (7) restrictions on origination cablecasting; (8) restrictions on carriage of lottery programming; (9) sponsorship identification obligations; (10) closed captioning of video programming; (11) licensing of systems and facilities; (12) maintenance of public files; (13) emergency alert systems; and (14) disability access, including new requirements governing video-description and closed-captioning. Each of these regulations restricts our business practices to varying degrees.
It is possible that Congress or the FCC will expand or modify its regulation of cable systems in the future, and we cannot predict at this time how that might impact our business.
Copyright. Cable systems are subject to a federal copyright compulsory license covering carriage of television and radio broadcast signals. The possible modification or elimination of this compulsory copyright license is the subject of continuing legislative and administrative review and could adversely affect our ability to obtain desired broadcast programming. Pursuant to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010, the Copyright Office, the Government Accountability Office and the FCC all issued reports to Congress in 2011 that generally support an eventual phase-out of the compulsory licenses, although they also acknowledge the potential adverse impact on cable subscribers and the absence of any clear marketplace alternative to the compulsory license. If adopted, a phase-out plan could adversely affect our ability to obtain certain programming and substantially increase our programming costs.
Copyright clearances for non-broadcast programming services are arranged through private negotiations. Cable operators also
must obtain music rights for locally originated programming and advertising from the major music performing rights organizations. These licensing fees have been the source of litigation in the past, and we cannot predict with certainty whether license fee disputes may arise in the future.
Franchise Matters. Cable systems generally are operated pursuant to nonexclusive franchises granted by a municipality or other state or local government entity in order to utilize and cross public rights-of-way. Although some state franchising laws grant indefinite franchises, cable franchises generally are granted for fixed terms and in many cases include monetary penalties for noncompliance and may be terminable if the franchisee fails to comply with material provisions. The specific terms and conditions of cable franchises vary significantly between jurisdictions. Cable franchises generally contain provisions governing cable operations, franchise fees, system construction, maintenance, technical performance, customer service standards, and changes in the ownership of the franchisee. A number of states subject cable systems to the jurisdiction of centralized state government agencies, such as public utility commissions. Although local franchising authorities have considerable discretion in establishing franchise terms, certain federal protections benefit cable operators. For example, federal law caps local franchise fees and includes renewal procedures designed to protect incumbent franchisees from arbitrary denials of renewal. Even if a franchise is renewed, however, the local franchising authority may seek to impose new and more onerous requirements as a condition of renewal. Similarly, if a local franchising authority's consent is required for the purchase or sale of a cable system, the local franchising authority may attempt to impose more burdensome requirements as a condition for providing its consent.
The traditional cable franchising regime is undergoing significant change as a result of various federal and state actions. In a series of rulemakings, the FCC has adopted rules that streamlined entry for new competitors (particularly those affiliated with telephone companies) and reduced certain franchising burdens for these new entrants. The FCC adopted more modest relief for existing cable operators.
At the same time, a substantial number of states have adopted new franchising laws. Again, these laws were principally designed to streamline entry for new competitors, and they often provide advantages for these new entrants that are not immediately available to existing cable operators. In many instances, these franchising regimes do not apply to established cable operators until the existing franchise expires or a competitor directly enters the franchise territory. The exact nature of these state franchising laws, and their varying application to new and existing video providers, will impact our franchising obligations and our competitive position.
On December 21, 2010, the FCC adopted new “net neutrality” rules that it deemed necessary to ensure continuation of an “open” Internet that is not unduly restricted by network “gatekeepers,” which went into effect on November 20, 2011. The new rules are based on three core principles of: (1) transparency, (2) no blocking, and (3) no unreasonable discrimination. The rules permit broadband service providers to exercise “reasonable network management” for legitimate management purposes, such as management of congestion, harmful traffic, and network security. The rules also permit usage-based billing, and permit broadband service providers to offer additional specialized services such as facilities-based IP voice services, without being subject to restrictions on discrimination. Although the rules encompass both wireline providers (like us) and wireless providers, the rules are less stringent with regard to wireless providers. Verizon and other parties have filed for additional FCC review, as well as filing an appeal challenging the FCC's authority to issue such rules, which will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. For now, the FCC will enforce these rules based on case-by-case complaints. Because many of the requirements are vague and because the FCC has not provided clear guidance on implementation, it is unclear how the FCC will enforce its rules and adjudicate any related complaints. The FCC's new rules, if they withstand challenges, as well as any additional legislation or regulation, could impose new obligations and restraints on high-speed Internet providers. Any such rules or statutes could limit our ability to manage our cable systems to obtain value for use of our cable systems and respond to operational and competitive challenges.
As the Internet has matured, it has become the subject of increasing regulatory interest. Congress and federal regulators have adopted a wide range of measures directly or potentially affecting Internet use, including, for example, consumer privacy, copyright protections, defamation liability, taxation, obscenity, and unsolicited commercial e-mail. Content owners are now seeking additional legal mechanisms to combat copyright infringement over the Internet. Pending and future legislation in this area could adversely affect our operations as an Internet service provider and our relationship with our Internet customers. Additionally, the FCC and Congress are considering subjecting Internet access services to the Universal Service funding requirements. These funding requirements could impose significant new costs on our high-speed Internet service. State and local governmental organizations have also adopted Internet-related regulations. These various governmental jurisdictions are also considering additional regulations in these and other areas, such as privacy, pricing, service and product quality, and taxation. The adoption of new Internet regulations or the adaptation of existing laws to the Internet could adversely affect our business.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 created a more favorable regulatory environment for us to provide telecommunications and/or competitive voice services than had previously existed. In particular, it established requirements ensuring that competitive telephone companies could interconnect their networks with those providers of traditional telecommunications services to open the market to competition. The FCC has subsequently ruled that competitive telephone companies that support VoIP services, such as those we offer our customers, are entitled to interconnection with incumbent providers of traditional telecommunications services, which ensures that our VoIP services can compete in the market. On November 18, 2011, the FCC released an order significantly changing the rules governing intercarrier compensation payments for the origination and termination of telephone traffic between carriers. The new rules will result in a substantial decrease in intercarrier compensation payments over a multi-year period. We had intercarrier compensation of approximately $23 million in 2011. The decreases over the multi-year transition will affect both the amounts that Charter pays to other carriers and the amounts that Charter receives from other carriers. The schedule and magnitude of these decreases, however, will vary depending on the nature of the carriers and the telephone traffic at issue, and the FCC's new ruling initiates further implementation rulemakings. We cannot yet predict with certainty the balance of the impact on Charter's revenues and expenses for voice services at particular times over this multi-year period.
Further regulatory changes are being considered that could impact our telephone business and that of our primary telecommunications competitors. The FCC and state regulatory authorities are considering, for example, whether certain common carrier regulations traditionally applied to incumbent local exchange carriers should be modified or reduced, and the extent to which common carrier requirements should be extended to VoIP providers. The FCC has already determined that certain providers of telephone services using Internet Protocol technology must comply with requirements relating to 911 emergency services (“E911”), the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act ("CALEA") regarding law enforcement surveillance of communications, Universal Service Fund contribution, customer privacy and Customer Proprietary Network Information issues, number portability, disability access, regulatory fees, and discontinuance of service. In March 2007, a federal appeals court affirmed the FCC’s decision concerning federal regulation of certain VoIP services, but declined to specifically find that VoIP service provided by cable companies, such as we provide, should be regulated only at the federal level. As a result, some states have begun proceedings to subject cable VoIP services to state level regulation. Although we have registered with, or obtained certificates or authorizations from, the FCC and the state regulatory authorities in those states in which we offer competitive voice services in order to ensure the continuity of our services and to maintain needed network interconnection arrangements, it is unclear whether and how these and other ongoing regulatory matters ultimately will be resolved.
As of December 31, 2011, we had approximately 16,800 full-time equivalent employees. At December 31, 2011, approximately 60 of our employees were represented by collective bargaining agreements. We have never experienced a work stoppage.
Item 1A. Risk Factors.
Risks Related to Our Indebtedness
We have a significant amount of debt and may incur significant additional debt, including secured debt, in the future, which could adversely affect our financial health and our ability to react to changes in our business.
We have a significant amount of debt and may (subject to applicable restrictions in our debt instruments) incur additional debt in the future. As of December 31, 2011, our total principal amount of debt was approximately $12.8 billion.
Because of our significant indebtedness, we may not be able to raise additional capital at reasonable rates, or at all.
Our significant amount of debt could have other important consequences, such as:
and the economy at large;
If current debt amounts increase, the related risks that we now face will intensify.
The agreements and instruments governing our debt contain restrictions and limitations that could significantly affect our ability to operate our business, as well as significantly affect our liquidity.
Our credit facilities and the indentures governing our debt contain a number of significant covenants that could adversely affect our ability to operate our business, our liquidity, and our results of operations. These covenants restrict, among other things, our and our subsidiaries’ ability to:
Additionally, the Charter Operating credit facilities require Charter Operating to comply with a maximum total leverage covenant and a maximum first lien leverage covenant. The breach of any covenants or obligations in our indentures or credit facilities, not otherwise waived or amended, could result in a default under the applicable debt obligations and could trigger acceleration of those obligations, which in turn could trigger cross defaults under other agreements governing our long-term indebtedness. In addition, the secured lenders under the Charter Operating credit facilities, the holders of the Charter Operating senior second-lien notes, and the secured lenders under the CCO Holdings credit facility could foreclose on their collateral, which includes equity interests in our subsidiaries, and exercise other rights of secured creditors.
We depend on generating (and having available to the applicable obligor) sufficient cash flow to fund our debt obligations, capital expenditures, and ongoing operations.
We are dependent on our cash on hand and free cash flow to fund our debt obligations, capital expenditures and ongoing operations.
Our ability to service our debt and to fund our planned capital expenditures and ongoing operations will depend on our ability to continue to generate cash flow and our access (by dividend or otherwise) to additional liquidity sources at the applicable obligor. Our ability to continue to generate cash flow is dependent on many factors, including:
Some of these factors are beyond our control. If we are unable to generate sufficient cash flow or we are unable to access additional liquidity sources, we may not be able to service and repay our debt, operate our business, respond to competitive challenges, or fund our other liquidity and capital needs.
Restrictions in our subsidiaries' debt instruments and under applicable law limit their ability to provide funds to us and our subsidiaries that are debt issuers.
Our primary assets are our equity interests in our subsidiaries. Our operating subsidiaries are separate and distinct legal entities and are not obligated to make funds available to their debt issuer holding companies for payments on our notes or other obligations in the form of loans, distributions, or otherwise. Charter Operating’s and CCO Holdings’ ability to make distributions to us or the applicable debt issuers to service debt obligations is subject to their compliance with the terms of their credit facilities and indentures, and restrictions under applicable law. See “Part II. Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations — Liquidity and Capital Resources — Limitations on Distributions” and “— Summary of Restrictive Covenants of Our Notes – Restrictions on Distributions.” Under the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act (the “Act”), our subsidiaries may only make distributions if the relevant entity has “surplus” as defined in the Act. Under fraudulent transfer laws, our subsidiaries may not pay dividends if the relevant entity is insolvent or is rendered insolvent thereby. The measures of insolvency for purposes of these fraudulent transfer laws vary depending upon the law applied in any proceeding to determine whether a fraudulent transfer has occurred. Generally, however, an entity would be considered insolvent if:
While we believe that our relevant subsidiaries currently have surplus and are not insolvent, these subsidiaries may become insolvent in the future. Our direct or indirect subsidiaries include the borrowers under the CCO Holdings credit facility and the borrowers and guarantors under the Charter Operating credit facilities. Charter Operating is also an obligor, and its subsidiaries are guarantors under senior second-lien notes, and CCO Holdings is an obligor under its senior notes. As of December 31, 2011, our total principal amount of debt was approximately $12.8 billion.
In the event of bankruptcy, liquidation, or dissolution of one or more of our subsidiaries, that subsidiary's assets would first be applied to satisfy its own obligations, and following such payments, such subsidiary may not have sufficient assets remaining to make payments to its parent company as an equity holder or otherwise. In that event:
All of our outstanding debt is subject to change of control provisions. We may not have the ability to raise the funds necessary to fulfill our obligations under our indebtedness following a change of control, which would place us in default under the applicable debt instruments.
We may not have the ability to raise the funds necessary to fulfill our obligations under our notes and our credit facilities following a change of control. Under the indentures governing our notes, upon the occurrence of specified change of control events, the applicable note issuer is required to offer to repurchase all of its outstanding notes. However, we may not have sufficient access to funds at the time of the change of control event to make the required repurchase of the applicable notes, and all of the notes issuers are limited in their ability to make distributions or other payments to their respective parent company to fund any required repurchase. In addition, a change of control under the Charter Operating credit facilities would result in a default under those credit facilities. Because such credit facilities and our subsidiaries’ notes are obligations of our subsidiaries, the credit facilities and our subsidiaries’ notes would have to be repaid by our subsidiaries before their assets could be available to their parent companies to repurchase their notes. Any failure to make or complete a change of control offer would place the applicable note issuer or borrower in default under its notes. The failure of our subsidiaries to make a change of control offer or repay the amounts accelerated under their notes and credit facilities would place them in default.
Risks Related to Our Business
We operate in a very competitive business environment, which affects our ability to attract and retain customers and can adversely affect our business and operations.
The industry in which we operate is highly competitive and has become more so in recent years. In some instances, we compete against companies with fewer regulatory burdens, better access to financing, greater personnel resources, greater resources for marketing, greater and more favorable brand name recognition, and long-established relationships with regulatory authorities and customers. Increasing consolidation in the cable industry and the repeal of certain ownership rules have provided additional benefits to certain of our competitors, either through access to financing, resources, or efficiencies of scale. We could also face additional competition from multi-channel video providers if they began distributing video over the Internet to customers residing outside their current territories.
Our principal competitors for video services throughout our territory are DBS providers. The two largest DBS providers are DirecTV and DISH Network. Competition from DBS, including intensive marketing efforts with aggressive pricing, exclusive programming and increased HD broadcasting has had an adverse impact on our ability to retain customers. DBS companies have also expanded their activities in the MDU market. The cable industry, including us, has lost a significant number of video customers to DBS competition, and we face serious challenges in this area in the future.
Telephone companies, including two major telephone companies, AT&T and Verizon, offer video and other services in competition with us, and we expect they will increasingly do so in the future. Upgraded portions of these networks carry two-way video, data service offerings and provide digital voice services similar to ours. In the case of Verizon, high-speed data services offer speeds as high as or higher than ours. In addition, these companies continue to offer their traditional telephone services, as well as service bundles that include wireless voice services provided by affiliated companies. Based on our internal estimates, we believe that AT&T and Verizon are offering video services in areas serving approximately 31% to 34% and 3% to 4%, respectively, of our estimated homes passed as of December 31, 2011, and we have experienced customer losses in these areas. AT&T and Verizon have also launched campaigns to capture more of the MDU market. Additional upgrades and product launches are expected in markets in which we operate. With respect to our Internet access services, we face competition, including intensive marketing efforts and aggressive pricing, from telephone companies and other providers of DSL. DSL service competes with our Internet service and is often offered at prices lower than our Internet services, although often at speeds lower than the speeds we offer. However one DSL provider, Century Link, offers DSL services in approximately 12% of our homes passed with speeds comparable to our lower speed tiers. In addition, in many of our markets, DSL providers have entered into co-marketing arrangements with DBS providers to offer service bundles combining video services provided by a DBS provider with DSL and traditional telephone and wireless services offered by the telephone companies and their affiliates. These service bundles offer customers similar pricing and convenience advantages as our bundles. Continued growth in our residential telephone business faces risks. The competitive landscape for residential and commercial telephone services is intense; we face competition from providers of Internet telephone services, as well as incumbent telephone companies. Further, we face increasing competition for residential telephone services as more consumers in the United States are replacing traditional telephone service with wireless service.
The existence of more than one cable system operating in the same territory is referred to as an overbuild. Overbuilds could adversely affect our growth, financial condition, and results of operations, by creating or increasing competition. Based on internal estimates and excluding telephone companies, as of December 31, 2011, we are aware of traditional overbuild situations impacting approximately 8% to 9% of our estimated homes passed, and potential traditional overbuild situations in areas servicing approximately an additional 2% of our estimated homes passed. Additional overbuild situations may occur in other systems.
In order to attract new customers, from time to time we make promotional offers, including offers of temporarily reduced price or free service. These promotional programs result in significant advertising, programming and operating expenses, and also may require us to make capital expenditures to acquire and install customer premise equipment. Customers who subscribe to our services as a result of these offerings may not remain customers following the end of the promotional period. A failure to retain customers could have a material adverse effect on our business.
Mergers, joint ventures, and alliances among franchised, wireless, or private cable operators, DBS providers, local exchange carriers, and others, may provide additional benefits to some of our competitors, either through access to financing, resources, or efficiencies of scale, or the ability to provide multiple services in direct competition with us.
In addition to the various competitive factors discussed above, our business is subject to risks relating to increasing competition for the leisure and entertainment time of consumers. Our business competes with all other sources of entertainment and information delivery, including broadcast television, movies, live events, radio broadcasts, home video products, console games, print media,
and the Internet. Further, due to consumer electronic innovations, content owners are allowing consumers to watch Internet-delivered content on televisions, personal computers, tablets, gaming boxes connected to televisions and mobile devices, some without charging a fee to access the content. Technological advancements, such as video-on-demand, new video formats, and Internet streaming and downloading, have increased the number of entertainment and information delivery choices available to consumers, and intensified the challenges posed by audience fragmentation. The increasing number of choices available to audiences could also negatively impact advertisers’ willingness to purchase advertising from us, as well as the price they are willing to pay for advertising. If we do not respond appropriately to further increases in the leisure and entertainment choices available to consumers, our competitive position could deteriorate, and our financial results could suffer.
Our services may not allow us to compete effectively. Additionally, as we expand our offerings to introduce new and enhanced services, we will be subject to competition from other providers of the services we offer. Competition may reduce our expected growth of future cash flows which may contribute to future impairments of our franchises and goodwill.
Economic conditions in the United States may adversely impact the growth of our business.
We believe that continued competition and the weakened economic conditions in the United States, including the housing market and relatively high unemployment levels, have adversely affected consumer demand for our services, particularly basic video. These conditions combined with our disciplined customer acquisition strategy contributed to video revenues declining 2% for the year ended December 31, 2011 compared to the corresponding period in 2010, while we continued to grow our commercial, Internet and telephone businesses. We believe competition from wireless and economic factors have contributed to an increase in the number of homes that replace their traditional telephone service with wireless service thereby impacting the growth of our telephone business. If these conditions do not improve, we believe the growth of our business and results of operations will be further adversely affected which may contribute to future impairments of our franchises and goodwill.
We face risks inherent in our commercial business.
We may encounter unforeseen difficulties as we increase the scale of our service offerings to businesses. We sell Internet access, data networking and fiber connectivity to cellular towers and office buildings, video and business telephone services to businesses and have increased our focus on growing this business. In order to grow our commercial business, we expect to increase expenditures on technology, equipment and personnel focused on the commercial business. Commercial business customers often require service level agreements and generally have heightened customer expectations for reliability of services. If our efforts to build the infrastructure to scale the commercial business are not successful, the growth of our commercial services business would be limited. We depend on interconnection and related services provided by certain third parties for the growth of our commercial business. As a result, our ability to implement changes as the services grow may be limited. If we are unable to meet these service level requirements or expectations, our commercial business could be adversely affected. Finally, we expect advances in communications technology, as well as changes in the marketplace and the regulatory and legislative environment. Consequently, we are unable to predict the effect that ongoing or future developments in these areas might have on our telephone and commercial businesses and operations.
Our exposure to the credit risks of our customers, vendors and third parties could adversely affect our cash flow, results of operations and financial condition.
We are exposed to risks associated with the potential financial instability of our customers, many of whom have been adversely affected by the general economic downturn. Dramatic declines in the housing market, including falling home prices and increasing foreclosures, together with significant increases in unemployment, have severely affected consumer confidence and caused increased delinquencies or cancellations by our customers or lead to unfavorable changes in the mix of products purchased. These events have adversely affected, and may continue to adversely affect our cash flow, results of operations and financial condition.
In addition, we are susceptible to risks associated with the potential financial instability of the vendors and third parties on which we rely to provide products and services or to which we outsource certain functions. The same economic conditions that may affect our customers, as well as volatility and disruption in the capital and credit markets, also could adversely affect vendors and third parties and lead to significant increases in prices, reduction in output or the bankruptcy of our vendors or third parties upon which we rely. Any interruption in the services provided by our vendors or by third parties could adversely affect our cash flow, results of operation and financial condition.
We may not have the ability to reduce the high growth rates of, or pass on to our customers, our increasing programming costs, which would adversely affect our cash flow and operating margins.
Programming has been, and is expected to continue to be, our largest operating expense item. In recent years, the cable industry has experienced a rapid escalation in the cost of programming. We expect programming costs to continue to increase because of a variety of factors including amounts paid for retransmission consent, annual increases imposed by programmers with additional selling power as a result of media consolidation, additional programming, including new sports services and non-linear programming for on-line and OnDemand platforms. The inability to fully pass these programming cost increases on to our customers has had an adverse impact on our cash flow and operating margins associated with the video product. We have programming contracts that have expired and others that will expire at or before the end of 2012. There can be no assurance that these agreements will be renewed on favorable or comparable terms. To the extent that we are unable to reach agreement with certain programmers on terms that we believe are reasonable we may be forced to remove such programming channels from our line-up, which could result in a further loss of customers.
Increased demands by owners of some broadcast stations for carriage of other services or payments to those broadcasters for retransmission consent are likely to further increase our programming costs. Federal law allows commercial television broadcast stations to make an election between “must-carry” rights and an alternative “retransmission-consent” regime. When a station opts for the latter, cable operators are not allowed to carry the station’s signal without the station’s permission. In some cases, we carry stations under short-term arrangements while we attempt to negotiate new long-term retransmission agreements. If negotiations with these programmers prove unsuccessful, they could require us to cease carrying their signals, possibly for an indefinite period. Any loss of stations could make our video service less attractive to customers, which could result in less subscription and advertising revenue. In retransmission-consent negotiations, broadcasters often condition consent with respect to one station on carriage of one or more other stations or programming services in which they or their affiliates have an interest. Carriage of these other services, as well as increased fees for retransmission rights, may increase our programming expenses and diminish the amount of capacity we have available to introduce new services, which could have an adverse effect on our business and financial results.
Our inability to respond to technological developments and meet customer demand for new products and services could limit our ability to compete effectively.
Our business is characterized by rapid technological change and the introduction of new products and services, some of which are bandwidth-intensive. We may not be able to fund the capital expenditures necessary to keep pace with technological developments, or anticipate the demand of our customers for products and services requiring new technology or bandwidth. Our inability to maintain and expand our upgraded systems and provide advanced services in a timely manner, or to anticipate the demands of the marketplace, could materially adversely affect our ability to attract and retain customers. Consequently, our growth, financial condition and results of operations could suffer materially.
We depend on third party service providers, suppliers and licensors; thus, if we are unable to procure the necessary services, equipment, software or licenses on reasonable terms and on a timely basis, our ability to offer services could be impaired, and our growth, operations, business, financial results and financial condition could be materially adversely affected.
We depend on third party service providers, suppliers and licensors to supply some of the services, hardware, software and operational support necessary to provide some of our services. We obtain these materials from a limited number of vendors, some of which do not have a long operating history or which may not be able to continue to supply the equipment and services we desire. Some of our hardware, software and operational support vendors, and service providers represent our sole source of supply or have, either through contract or as a result of intellectual property rights, a position of some exclusivity. If demand exceeds these vendors’ capacity or if these vendors experience operating or financial difficulties, or are otherwise unable to provide the equipment or services we need in a timely manner, at our specifications and at reasonable prices, our ability to provide some services might be materially adversely affected, or the need to procure or develop alternative sources of the affected materials or services might delay our ability to serve our customers. These events could materially and adversely affect our ability to retain and attract customers, and have a material negative impact on our operations, business, financial results and financial condition. A limited number of vendors of key technologies can lead to less product innovation and higher costs. For these reasons, we generally endeavor to establish alternative vendors for materials we consider critical, but may not be able to establish these relationships or be able to obtain required materials on favorable terms.
In that regard, we currently purchase set-top boxes from a limited number of vendors, because each of our cable systems use one or two proprietary conditional access security schemes, which allows us to regulate subscriber access to some services, such as premium channels. We believe that the proprietary nature of these conditional access schemes makes other manufacturers reluctant to produce set-top boxes. Future innovation in set-top boxes may be restricted until these issues are resolved. In addition, we
believe that the general lack of compatibility among set-top box operating systems has slowed the industry’s development and deployment of digital set-top box applications.
We depend on patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret laws and licenses to establish and maintain our intellectual property rights in technology and the products and services used in our operating activities. Any of our intellectual property rights could be challenged or invalidated, or such intellectual property rights may not be sufficient to permit us to continue to use certain intellectual property, which could result in discontinuance of certain product or service offerings or other competitive harm, our incurring substantial monetary liability or being enjoined preliminarily or permanently from further use of the intellectual property in question.
Malicious and abusive activities could disrupt our networks, information systems or properties and could impair our operating activities.
Network and information systems technologies are critical to our operating activities, as well as our customers' access to our services. Malicious and abusive activities, such as the dissemination of computer viruses, worms, and other destructive or disruptive software, computer hackings, social engineering, process breakdowns, denial of service attacks, malicious social engineering and other malicious activities have become more common in industry overall. If directed at us or technologies upon which we depend, these activities could have adverse consequences on our network and our customers, including degradation of service, excessive call volume to call centers, and damage to our or our customers' equipment and data. Further, these activities could result in security breaches, such as misappropriation, misuse, leakage, falsification or accidental release or loss of information maintained in our information technology systems and networks, including customer, personnel and vendor data. If a significant incident were to occur, it could damage our reputation and credibility, lead to customer dissatisfaction and, ultimately, loss of customers or revenue, in addition to increased costs to service our customers and protect our network. These events also could result in large expenditures to repair or replace the damaged properties, networks or information systems or to protect them from similar events in the future. Any significant loss of Internet customers or revenue, or significant increase in costs of serving those customers, could adversely affect our growth, financial condition and results of operations.
For tax purposes, we experienced a deemed ownership change upon emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, resulting in an annual limitation on our ability to use our existing tax loss carryforwards. We could experience another deemed ownership change in the future that could further limit our ability to use our tax loss carryforwards.
As of December 31, 2011, we had approximately $7.4 billion of federal tax net operating and capital loss carryforwards resulting in a gross deferred tax asset of approximately $2.6 billion, expiring in the years 2014 through 2031. These losses resulted from the operations of Charter Holdco and its subsidiaries. In addition, as of December 31, 2011, we had state tax net operating and capital loss carryforwards, resulting in a gross deferred tax asset (net of federal tax benefit) of approximately $252 million, generally expiring in years 2012 through 2031. Due to uncertainties in projected future taxable income, valuation allowances have been established against the gross deferred tax assets for book accounting purposes, except for future taxable income that will result from the reversal of existing temporary differences for which deferred tax liabilities are recognized. Such tax loss carryforwards can accumulate and be used to offset our future taxable income.
The consummation of the Plan generated an “ownership change” as defined in Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”). In general, an “ownership change” occurs whenever the percentage of the stock of a corporation owned, directly or indirectly, by “5-percent stockholders” (within the meaning of Section 382 of the Code) increases by more than 50 percentage points over the lowest percentage of the stock of such corporation owned, directly or indirectly, by such “5-percent stockholders” at any time over the preceding three years. As a result, Charter is subject to an annual limitation on the use of our loss carryforwards which existed at November 30, 2009. Further, our loss carryforwards have been reduced by the amount of the cancellation of debt income resulting from the Plan that was allocable to Charter. The limitation on our ability to use our loss carryforwards, in conjunction with the loss carryforward expiration provisions, could reduce our ability to use a portion of our loss carryforwards to offset future taxable income which could result in us being required to make material cash tax payments. Our ability to make such income tax payments, if any, will depend at such time on our liquidity or our ability to raise additional capital, and/or on receipt of payments or distributions from Charter Holdco and its subsidiaries.
If Charter were to experience a second ownership change in the future (as a result of purchases and sales of stock by Charter’s 5-percent stockholders, new issuances or redemptions of Charter’s stock, certain acquisitions of Charter’s stock and issuances, redemptions, sales or other dispositions or acquisitions of interests in Charter’s 5-percent stockholders), Charter’s ability to use our loss carryforwards could become subject to further limitations. Our common stock is subject to certain transfer restrictions contained in our amended and restated certificate of incorporation. These restrictions, which are designed to minimize the likelihood of an ownership change occurring and thereby preserve our ability to utilize our loss carryforwards, are not currently operative
but could become operative in the future if certain events occur and the restrictions are imposed by Charter’s board of directors. However, there can be no assurance that Charter’s board of directors would choose to impose these restrictions or that such restrictions, if imposed, would prevent an ownership change from occurring.
If we are unable to retain key employees, our ability to manage our business could be adversely affected.
Our operational results have depended, and our future results will depend, upon the retention and continued performance of our management team. On October 11, 2011, we announced that Michael J. Lovett, our President and Chief Executive Officer, would be resigning from his positions at Charter following a transition period. On February 13, 2012, Thomas M. Rutledge became President and Chief Executive Officer of Charter. Over the last twelve months, we have experienced other significant changes in our management team and may experience additional changes in the future. Our ability to hire new key employees for management positions could be impacted adversely by the competitive environment for management talent in the telecommunications industry. The loss of the services of key members of management and the inability or delay in hiring new key employees could adversely affect our ability to manage our business and our future operational and financial results.
Risks Related to Ownership Positions of Charter’s Principal Shareholders
Charter’s principal stockholders own a significant amount of Charter’s common stock, giving them influence over corporate transactions and other matters.
Members of Charter’s board of directors include directors who are also employed by our principal stockholders, Mr. Darren Glatt is an employee of Apollo Management, L.P.; Mr. Bruce Karsh is the president of Oaktree Capital Management, L.P.; Mr. Stan Parker is a senior partner of Apollo Global Management LLC; and Mr. Edgar Lee is a Senior Vice President of Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. As of December 31, 2011, funds affiliated with AP Charter Holdings, L.P. beneficially held approximately 33% of the Class A common stock of Charter. Oaktree Opportunities Investments, L.P. and certain affiliated funds beneficially held approximately 17% of the Class A common stock of Charter. The board of directors of Charter has nominated Jeffrey Marcus as a candidate for election to the board. Mr. Marcus is a partner of Crestview Partners, L.P. Crestview beneficially held approximately 11% of Charter's outstanding Class A common stock as of December 31, 2011. Charter’s principal stockholders may be able to exercise substantial influence over all matters requiring stockholder approval, including the election of directors and approval of significant corporate action, such as mergers and other business combination transactions should these stockholders retain a significant ownership interest in us. Charter’s principal stockholders are not restricted from investing in, and have invested in, and engaged in, other businesses involving or related to the operation of cable television systems, video programming, Internet service, telephone or business and financial transactions conducted through broadband interactivity and Internet services. The principal stockholders may also engage in other businesses that compete or may in the future compete with us.
The principal stockholders’ substantial influence over our management and affairs could create conflicts of interest if any of them were faced with decisions that could have different implications for them and us.
Risks Related to Regulatory and Legislative Matters
Our business is subject to extensive governmental legislation and regulation, which could adversely affect our business.
Regulation of the cable industry has increased cable operators' operational and administrative expenses and limited their revenues. Cable operators are subject to, among other things:
Additionally, many aspects of these regulations are currently the subject of judicial proceedings and administrative or legislative proposals. In March 2010, the FCC submitted its National Broadband Plan to Congress and announced its intention to initiate approximately 40 rulemakings addressing a host of issues related to the delivery of broadband services, including video, data, VoIP and other services. The broad reach of these rulemakings could ultimately impact the environment in which we operate. There are also ongoing efforts to amend or expand the federal, state, and local regulation of some of our cable systems, which may compound the regulatory risks we already face, and proposals that might make it easier for our employees to unionize. For example, Congress and various federal agencies are now considering adoption of significant new privacy restrictions, including new restrictions on the use of personal and profiling information for behavioral advertising. In response to recent global data breaches, malicious activity and cyber threats, as well as the general increasing concerns regarding the protection of consumers’ personal information, Congress is considering the adoption of new data security and cybersecurity legislation that could result in additional network and information security requirements for our business. In the event of a data breach or cyber attack, these new laws, as well as existing legal and regulatory obligations, could require significant expenditures to remedy any such breach or attack. In addition, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 includes various provisions intended to ensure communications services are accessible to people with disabilities.
Our cable system franchises are subject to non-renewal or termination. The failure to renew a franchise in one or more key markets could adversely affect our business.
Our cable systems generally operate pursuant to franchises, permits, and similar authorizations issued by a state or local governmental authority controlling the public rights-of-way. Many franchises establish comprehensive facilities and service requirements, as well as specific customer service standards and monetary penalties for non-compliance. In many cases, franchises are terminable if the franchisee fails to comply with significant provisions set forth in the franchise agreement governing system operations. Franchises are generally granted for fixed terms and must be periodically renewed. Franchising authorities may resist granting a renewal if either past performance or the prospective operating proposal is considered inadequate. Franchise authorities often demand concessions or other commitments as a condition to renewal. In some instances, local franchises have not been renewed at expiration, and we have operated and are operating under either temporary operating agreements or without a franchise while negotiating renewal terms with the local franchising authorities.
The traditional cable franchising regime is currently undergoing significant change as a result of various federal and state actions. Some of the new state franchising laws do not allow us to immediately opt into favorable statewide franchising. In many cases, state franchising laws will result in fewer franchise imposed requirements for our competitors who are new entrants than for us, until we are able to opt into the applicable state franchise.
We cannot assure you that we will be able to comply with all significant provisions of our franchise agreements and certain of our franchisors have from time to time alleged that we have not complied with these agreements. Additionally, although historically we have renewed our franchises without incurring significant costs, we cannot assure you that we will be able to renew, or to renew as favorably, our franchises in the future. A termination of or a sustained failure to renew a franchise in one or more key markets could adversely affect our business in the affected geographic area.
Our cable system franchises are non-exclusive. Accordingly, local and state franchising authorities can grant additional franchises and create competition in market areas where none existed previously, resulting in overbuilds, which could adversely affect results of operations.
Our cable system franchises are non-exclusive. Consequently, local and state franchising authorities can grant additional franchises to competitors in the same geographic area or operate their own cable systems. In some cases, local government entities and municipal utilities may legally compete with us without obtaining a franchise from the local franchising authority. In addition, certain telephone companies are seeking authority to operate in communities without first obtaining a local franchise. As a result, competing operators may build systems in areas in which we hold franchises.
In a series of rulemakings, the FCC adopted new rules that streamline entry for new competitors (particularly those affiliated with telephone companies) and reduce franchising burdens for these new entrants. At the same time, a substantial number of states have adopted new franchising laws. principally designed to streamline entry for new competitors, and often provide advantages for these new entrants that are not immediately available to existing operators.
Local franchise authorities have the ability to impose additional regulatory constraints on our business, which could further increase our expenses.
In addition to the franchise agreement, cable authorities in some jurisdictions have adopted cable regulatory ordinances that further regulate the operation of cable systems. This additional regulation increases the cost of operating our business. Local franchising authorities may impose new and more restrictive requirements. Local franchising authorities who are certified to regulate rates in the communities where they operate generally have the power to reduce rates and order refunds on the rates charged for basic service and equipment.
Tax legislation and administrative initiatives or challenges to our tax positions could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We operate cable systems in locations throughout the United States and, as a result, we are subject to the tax laws and regulations of federal, state and local governments. From time to time, various legislative and/or administrative initiatives may be proposed that could adversely affect our tax positions. There can be no assurance that our effective tax rate or tax payments will not be adversely affected by these initiatives. As a result of state and local budget shortfalls due primarily to the recession as well as other considerations, certain states and localities have imposed or are considering imposing new or additional taxes or fees on our services or changing the methodologies or base on which certain fees and taxes are computed. Such potential changes include additional taxes or fees on our services which could impact our customers, combined reporting and other changes to general business taxes, central/unit-level assessment of property taxes and other matters that could increase our income, franchise, sales, use and/or property tax liabilities. In addition, federal, state and local tax laws and regulations are extremely complex and subject to varying interpretations. There can be no assurance that our tax positions will not be challenged by relevant tax authorities or that we would be successful in any such challenge.
Further regulation of the cable industry could cause us to delay or cancel service or programming enhancements, or impair our ability to raise rates to cover our increasing costs, resulting in increased losses.
Currently, rate regulation is strictly limited to the basic service tier and associated equipment and installation activities. However, the FCC and Congress continue to be concerned that cable rate increases are exceeding inflation. It is possible that either the FCC or Congress will further restrict the ability of cable system operators to implement rate increases. Should this occur, it would impede our ability to raise our rates. If we are unable to raise our rates in response to increasing costs, our losses would increase.
There has been legislative and regulatory interest in requiring cable operators to offer historically combined programming services on an á la carte basis. It is possible that new marketing restrictions could be adopted in the future. Such restrictions could adversely affect our operations.
Actions by pole owners might subject us to significantly increased pole attachment costs.
Pole attachments are cable wires that are attached to utility poles. Cable system attachments to investor-owned public utility poles historically have been regulated at the federal or state level, generally resulting in favorable pole attachment rates for attachments used to provide cable service. In contrast, utility poles owned by municipalities or cooperatives are not subject to federal regulation and are generally exempt from state regulation. On April 7, 2011, the FCC amended its pole attachment rules to promote broadband deployment. The new order (the "Order") maintains the basic rate formula applicable to "cable" attachments in the 30 states directly subject to FCC regulation, but reduces the rate formula previously applicable to "telecommunications" attachments to make it roughly equivalent to the cable attachment rate. Although the Order maintains the status quo treatment of cable-provided VoIP service as an unclassified service eligible for the favorable cable rate, there is still some uncertainty in this area. The Order also allows for new penalties in certain cases involving unauthorized attachments that could result in additional costs for cable operators. The new Order overall strengthens the cable industry's ability to access investor-owned utility poles on reasonable rates, terms and conditions. Electric utilities filed Petitions for Reconsideration at the FCC and Petitions for Review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to modify or overturn the FCC’s Order. Charter and other cable operators have intervened in the court proceeding in support of the FCC.
Increasing regulation of our Internet service product could adversely affect our ability to provide new products and services.
On December 21, 2010, the FCC adopted new “net neutrality” rules it deemed necessary to ensure continuation of an “open” Internet that is not unduly restricted by network “gatekeepers,” which went into effect on November 20, 2011. The new rules are based on three core principles of: (1) transparency, (2) no blocking, and (3) no unreasonable discrimination. The rules permit broadband service providers to exercise “reasonable network management” for legitimate management purposes, such as
management of congestion, harmful traffic, and network security. The rules also permit usage-based billing, and permit broadband service providers to offer additional specialized services such as facilities-based IP voice services, without being subject to restrictions on discrimination. Although the rules encompass both wireline providers (like us) and wireless providers, the rules are less stringent with regard to wireless providers. Verizon and other parties have filed for additional FCC review, as well as filing an appeal challenging the FCC’s authority to issue such rules, which will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. For now, the FCC will enforce these rules based on case-by-case complaints. Because many of the requirements are vague and because the FCC has not provided clear guidance on implementation, it is unclear how the FCC will enforce its rules and adjudicate any related complaints. A legislative review is also possible. The FCC’s new rules, if they withstand challenges, as well as any additional legislation or regulation, could impose new obligations and restraints on high-speed Internet providers. Any such rules or statutes could limit our ability to manage our cable systems to obtain value for use of our cable systems and respond to operational and competitive challenges.
Changes in channel carriage regulations could impose significant additional costs on us.
Cable operators also face significant regulation of their channel carriage. We can be required to devote substantial capacity to the carriage of programming that we might not carry voluntarily, including certain local broadcast signals; local public, educational and government access (“PEG”) programming; and unaffiliated, commercial leased access programming (required channel capacity for use by persons unaffiliated with the cable operator who desire to distribute programming over a cable system). Under FCC regulations, most cable systems are currently required to offer both an analog and digital version of local broadcast signals. This burden could increase further if we are required to carry multiple programming streams included within a single digital broadcast transmission (multicast carriage) or if our broadcast carriage obligations are otherwise expanded. Pursuant to copyright legislation adopted in 2010, the Copyright Office recently issued a report recommending that Congress gradually phase-out the compulsory copyright license through which cable systems have historically retransmitted broadcast programming, but the Copyright Office report failed to identify specific mechanisms for accomplishing that phase-out. At the same time, the cost that cable operators face to secure retransmission consent (separate from copyright authority) for the carriage of popular broadcast stations is increasing significantly. The FCC also adopted new commercial leased access rules (currently stayed while under appeal) which dramatically reduce the rate we can charge for leasing this capacity and dramatically increase our associated administrative burdens. The FCC recently adopted amendments, and is currently considering additional amendments, to its program carriage rules that provide additional rights to programmers dissatisfied with their carriage arrangements with cable and satellite companies to pursue complaints against these companies at the FCC. These regulatory changes could disrupt existing programming commitments, interfere with our preferred use of limited channel capacity, increase our programming costs, and limit our ability to offer services that would maximize our revenue potential. It is possible that other legal restraints will be adopted limiting our discretion over programming decisions.
Offering voice communications service may subject us to additional regulatory burdens, causing us to incur additional costs.
We offer voice communications services over our broadband network and continue to develop and deploy VoIP services. The FCC has ruled that competitive telephone companies that support VoIP services, such as those we offer our customers, are entitled to interconnect with incumbent providers of traditional telecommunications services, which ensure that our VoIP services can compete in the market. The FCC has also declared that certain VoIP services are not subject to traditional state public utility regulation. The full extent of the FCC preemption of state and local regulation of VoIP services is not yet clear. Expanding our offering of these services may require us to obtain certain additional authorizations. We may not be able to obtain such authorizations in a timely manner, or conditions could be imposed upon such licenses or authorizations that may not be favorable to us. Telecommunications companies generally are subject to other significant regulation which could also be extended to VoIP providers. If additional telecommunications regulations are applied to our VoIP service, it could cause us to incur additional costs. The FCC has already extended certain traditional telecommunications carrier requirements, such as E911, Universal Service fund collection, Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act ("CALEA"), privacy, Customer Proprietary Network Information, number porting, disability and discontinuance of service requirements to many VoIP providers such as us. On November 18, 2011, the FCC released an order significantly changing the rules governing intercarrier compensation payments for the origination and termination of telephone traffic between carriers. The new rules will result in a substantial decrease in intercarrier compensation payments over a multi-year period. We had intercarrier compensation of approximately $23 million in 2011. The decreases over the multi-year transition will affect both the amounts that Charter pays to other carriers and the amounts that Charter receives from other carriers. The schedule and magnitude of these decreases, however, will vary depending on the nature of the carriers and the telephone traffic at issue, and the FCC's new ruling initiates further implementation rulemakings. We cannot yet predict with certainty the balance of the impact on Charter's revenues and expenses for voice services at particular times over this multi-year period.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments.
Item 2. Properties.
Our principal physical assets consist of cable distribution plant and equipment, including signal receiving, encoding and decoding devices, headend reception facilities, distribution systems, and customer premise equipment for each of our cable systems.
Our cable plant and related equipment are generally attached to utility poles under pole rental agreements with local public utilities and telephone companies, and in certain locations are buried in underground ducts or trenches. We own or lease real property for signal reception sites, and own our service vehicles.
Our subsidiaries generally lease space for business offices. Our headend and tower locations are located on owned or leased parcels of land, and we generally own the towers on which our equipment is located. Charter Holdco owns the land and building for our principal executive office.
The physical components of our cable systems require maintenance as well as periodic upgrades to support the new services and products we introduce. See “Item 1. Business – Our Network Technology.” We believe that our properties are generally in good operating condition and are suitable for our business operations.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings.
Ronald A. Katz Technology Licensing, L.P. v. Charter Communications, Inc. et. al. In 2006, Ronald A. Katz Technology Licensing, L.P. filed a lawsuit against Charter and other parties in the U. S. District Court for the District of Delaware alleging that Charter and the other defendants infringed its interactive call processing patents. Charter denied the allegations raised in the complaint. In 2007, the lawsuit was combined with other cases filed by Katz in a multi-district litigation proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for coordinated and consolidated pretrial proceedings. In 2010, the court denied Katz's motion for summary judgment, struck two affirmative defenses that Charter had raised, invalidated one of the nine remaining claims Katz had asserted and entered a ruling limiting Katz's damages claims. In subsequent rulings related to other defendants, the court invalidated certain patent claims that are currently asserted against Charter. A consolidated appeal involving other co-defendants has since concluded, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit confirming invalidity of certain claims and remanding certain rulings back to the district court for further consideration. Based on the Federal Circuit's opinion, the district court has ordered additional summary judgment briefing and some limited pre-trial briefing. When all of these pre-trial proceedings are completed, any matters remaining for trial will be transferred back to the District Court in Delaware. No trial date has been set. Charter has also initiated a reexamination with the U.S. Patent Office challenging the validity of one of the patent claims asserted against it. Charter continues to vigorously contest this matter.
Rembrandt Patent Litigation. In 2006, Rembrandt Technologies, LP filed two lawsuits against Charter and other parties in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging that each defendant's high-speed data service and systems for receipt and retransmission of Advanced Television Systems Committee digital terrestrial broadcast signals infringe nine patents owned by Rembrandt. In 2009, Rembrandt executed a covenant not to sue agreeing to not sue Charter and the other defendants on eight of the contested patents that were then stipulated for dismissal from the case. On September 7, 2011, the court entered final judgment of non-infringement in favor of Charter and the other defendants on the eight patents stipulated for dismissal and on the remaining patent. On September 28, 2011, Rembrandt appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for review of the judgment on that remaining patent. Charter continues to vigorously defend this appeal.
We are also defendants or co-defendants in several other unrelated lawsuits claiming infringement of various patents relating to various aspects of our businesses. Other industry participants are also defendants in certain of these cases.
In the event that a court ultimately determines that we infringe on any intellectual property rights, we may be subject to substantial damages and/or an injunction that could require us or our vendors to modify certain products and services we offer to our subscribers, as well as negotiate royalty or license agreements with respect to the patents at issue. While we believe the lawsuits are without merit and intend to defend the actions vigorously, no assurance can be given that any adverse outcome would not be material to our consolidated financial condition, results of operations, or liquidity.
On March 27, 2009, Charter filed a Chapter 11 petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. On November 17, 2009, the Bankruptcy Court issued its Order and Opinion confirming the Plan over the objections of various objectors. Charter consummated the Plan on November 30, 2009 and reinstated the Charter Operating Credit Agreement and certain other debt of its subsidiaries.
Two appeals are pending relating to confirmation of the Plan, the appeals by (i) Law Debenture Trust Company of New York (“Law Debenture Trust”) (as the Trustee with respect to the $479 million in aggregate principal amount of 6.50% convertible senior notes due 2027 issued by Charter which are no longer outstanding following consummation of the Plan); and (ii) R2 Investments, LDC (“R2 Investments”) (a former equity interest holder in Charter). The appeals by Law Debenture Trust and R2 Investments were denied by the District Court for the Southern District of New York in March 2011. A Notice of Appeal of that denial has been filed by both Law Debenture Trust and R2 Investments. We cannot predict the ultimate outcome of the appeals nor can we estimate a reasonable range of loss.
We have had communications with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“the EPA”) in connection with a self reporting audit which may result in a proceeding. Pursuant to the audit, we discovered certain compliance issues concerning our reports to the EPA for backup batteries used at our facilities. We do not view these matters as material.
We also are party to other lawsuits and claims that arise in the ordinary course of conducting our business, including lawsuits claiming violation of anti-trust laws and violation of wage and hour laws. The ultimate outcome of these other legal matters pending against us or our subsidiaries cannot be predicted, and although such lawsuits and claims are not expected individually to have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial condition, results of operations, or liquidity, such lawsuits could have in the aggregate a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial condition, results of operations, or liquidity. Whether or not we ultimately prevail in any particular lawsuit or claim, litigation can be time consuming and costly and injure our reputation.
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures.
Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.
Charter’s Class A common stock is listed on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “CHTR.”
The following table sets forth, for the periods indicated, the range of high and low last reported sale price per share of Charter’s Class A common stock after its emergence from bankruptcy from January 1, 2010 to September 13, 2010 on the OTC Bulletin Board or in the “Pink Sheets,” and from September 14, 2010 to December 31, 2011 on the NASDAQ Global Select Market. There was no established trading market for Charter’s Class B common stock prior to its conversion to Class A common stock on January 18, 2011.
Class A Common Stock
As of January 31, 2012, there were approximately 1,170 holders of record of Charter’s Class A common stock.
Charter has not paid stock or cash dividends on any of its common stock.
Charter would be dependent on distributions from its subsidiaries if Charter were to make any dividends. Covenants in the indentures and credit agreements governing the debt obligations of our subsidiary, CCH II, LLC (“CCH II”), and its subsidiaries restrict their ability to make distributions to us, and accordingly, limit our ability to declare or pay cash dividends. See “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.” Future cash dividends, if any, will be at the discretion of Charter’s board of directors and will depend upon, among other things, our future operations and earnings, capital requirements, general financial condition, contractual restrictions and such other factors as Charter’s board of directors may deem relevant.
(D) Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans
The following information is provided as of December 31, 2011 with respect to equity compensation plans:
For information regarding securities issued under our equity compensation plans, see Note 17 to our accompanying consolidated financial statements contained in “Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.”
(E) Performance Graph
The graph below shows the cumulative total return on Charter’s Class A common stock for the period from December 2, 2009 through December 31, 2011, in comparison to the cumulative total return on Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and a peer group consisting of the national cable operators that are most comparable to us in terms of size and nature of operations. The Company’s peer group consists of Cablevision Systems Corporation, Comcast Corporation, and Time Warner Cable, Inc. The results shown assume that $100 was invested on December 2, 2009 in Charter and peer group stock or on November 30, 2009 for the S&P 500 index and that all dividends were reinvested. These indices are included for comparative purposes only and do not reflect whether it is management’s opinion that such indices are an appropriate measure of the relative performance of the stock involved, nor are they intended to forecast or be indicative of future performance of Charter’s Class A common stock.
(F) Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities
During 2011, there were no unregistered sales of securities of the registrant other than those previously reported on a Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q or Current Report on Form 8-K.
(G) Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer
The following table presents Charter's purchases of equity securities completed during the fourth quarter of 2011.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data.
The following table presents selected consolidated financial data for the periods indicated (dollars in millions, except share data):
Comparability of the above information from year to year is affected by acquisitions and dispositions completed by us. In addition, upon our emergence from bankruptcy, we adopted fresh start accounting. This resulted in us becoming a new entity on December 1, 2009, with a new capital structure, a new accounting basis in the identifiable assets and liabilities assumed and no retained earnings or accumulated losses. Accordingly, the consolidated financial statements on or after December 1, 2009 are not comparable to the consolidated financial statements prior to that date. The financial statements for the periods ended prior to November 30, 2009 do not include the effect of any changes in our capital structure or changes in the fair value of assets and liabilities as a result of fresh start accounting.
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.
Reference is made to “Part I. Item 1A. Risk Factors” and “Cautionary Statement Regarding Forward-Looking Statements,” which describe important factors that could cause actual results to differ from expectations and non-historical information contained herein. In addition, the following discussion should be read in conjunction with the audited consolidated financial statements and accompanying notes thereto of Charter Communications, Inc. and subsidiaries included in “Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.”
Upon our emergence from bankruptcy on November 30, 2009, we adopted fresh start accounting. In accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States (“GAAP”), the accompanying consolidated statements of operations and cash flows contained in “Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data” present the results of operations and the sources and uses of cash for (i) the eleven months ended November 30, 2009 of the Predecessor and (ii) the one month ended December 31, 2009 of the Successor. However, for purposes of management’s discussion and analysis of the results of operations and the sources and uses of cash in this Form 10-K, we have combined the results of operations for the Predecessor and the Successor for 2009. The results of operations of the Predecessor and Successor are not comparable due to the change in basis resulting from the emergence from bankruptcy. This combined presentation is being made solely to explain the changes in results of operations for the periods presented in the financial statements. We also compare the combined results of operations and the sources and uses of cash for the twelve months ended December 31, 2009 with the corresponding periods in 2011 and 2010.
We believe the combined results of operations for the twelve months ended December 31, 2009 provide management and investors with a more meaningful perspective on our ongoing financial and operational performance and trends than if we did not combine the results of operations of the Predecessor and the Successor in this manner.
We are a cable operator providing services in the United States with approximately 5.2 million residential and commercial customers at December 31, 2011. We offer our customers traditional cable video programming (basic and digital video), Internet services, and telephone services, as well as advanced video services such as OnDemandTM (“OnDemand”), HD television and digital video recorder (“DVR”) service. We also sell local advertising on cable networks and provide fiber connectivity to cellular towers. See “Part I. Item 1. Business — Products and Services” for further description of these services, including “customers.”
Our most significant competitors are DBS providers and certain telephone companies that offer services that provide features and functions similar to our video, high-speed Internet, and telephone services, including in some cases wireless services, and they also offer these services in bundles similar to ours. See “Business — Competition.” In the recent past, we have grown revenues by offsetting basic video customer losses with price increases and sales of incremental services such as high-speed Internet, OnDemand, DVR, HD television, and telephone. We expect to continue to grow revenues in this manner and in addition, we expect to increase revenues by expanding the sales of services to our commercial customers and non-video customers. However, we cannot assure you that we will be able to grow revenues or maintain our margins at recent historical rates.
After giving effect to divestitures and acquisitions of cable systems in 2010 and 2011, during the years ended December 31, 2011 and 2010, we had a decrease in total customers of approximately 12,400 and 116,500, respectively, and lost approximately 215,500 and 214,800 residential basic video customers, respectively. We believe that continued competition and the weakened economic
conditions in the United States, including the housing market and relatively high unemployment levels, have adversely affected consumer demand for our services, particularly basic video. These conditions combined with our disciplined customer acquisition strategy contributed to video revenues declining 2% for the year ended December 31, 2011 compared to the corresponding period in 2010 and remaining flat for the year ended December 31, 2010 compared to the corresponding period in 2009. Total revenue growth was 2% for the year ended December 31, 2011 compared to the corresponding period in 2010 and 5% for the year ended December 31, 2010 compared to the corresponding period in 2009 as we continued to grow our commercial, Internet and telephone businesses. However, we believe competition from wireless and economic factors have contributed to an increase in the number of homes that replace their traditional telephone service with wireless service thereby impacting the growth of our telephone business. Our business plans include goals for increasing the number of customers which contribute to recurring revenue and the opportunity to sell additional services to existing customers. In 2012, we may continue to experience challenges in increasing, or we may continue to lose, customers. If these conditions do not improve, we believe the growth of our business and results of operations will be further adversely affected which may contribute to future impairments of our franchises and goodwill.
Approximately 85% of our revenues for both of the years ended December 31, 2011 and 2010 are attributable to monthly subscription fees charged to customers for our video, Internet, telephone, and commercial services provided by our cable systems. Generally, these customer subscriptions may be discontinued by the customer at any time subject to a fee for early termination of a price guarantee product. The remaining 15% of revenue for fiscal years 2011 and 2010 is derived primarily from advertising revenues, franchise and other regulatory fee revenues (which are collected by us but then paid to local authorities), pay-per-view and OnDemand programming, installation, processing fees or reconnection fees charged to customers to commence or reinstate service, and commissions related to the sale of merchandise by home shopping services.
Our expenses primarily consist of operating costs, selling, general and administrative expenses, depreciation and amortization expense, impairment of franchise intangibles and interest expense. Operating costs primarily include programming costs, the cost of our workforce, cable service related expenses, advertising sales costs and franchise fees. Selling, general and administrative expenses primarily include salaries and benefits, rent expense, billing costs, call center costs, internal network costs, bad debt expense, and property taxes. We control our costs of operations by maintaining strict controls on expenditures. More specifically, we are focused on managing our cost structure by improving workforce productivity, increasing the effectiveness of our purchasing activities and maintaining discipline in customer acquisition.
For the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, adjusted earnings (loss) before interest expense, income taxes, depreciation and amortization (“Adjusted EBITDA”) was $2.7 billion, $2.6 billion and $2.5 billion, respectively. See “—Use of Adjusted EBITDA and Free Cash Flow” for further information on Adjusted EBITDA and free cash flow. Adjusted EBITDA increased as a result of continued growth in high margin Internet, commercial and telephone customers, continued disciplined customer acquisition and improving customer service levels. For each of the years ended December 31, 2011 and 2010, our income from operations was $1.0 billion, and for the year ended 2009, our loss from operations was $979 million. Our income from operations for the years ended December 31, 2011 and 2010 compared to the loss from operations for the year ended December 31, 2009 is primarily due to impairment of franchises incurred during 2009 that did not recur in 2011 and 2010.
We have a history of net losses. Our net losses are principally attributable to insufficient revenue to cover the combination of operating expenses, interest expenses that we incur because of our debt, depreciation expenses resulting from the capital investments we have made and continue to make in our cable properties, amortization expenses resulting from the application of fresh start accounting in 2010 and non-cash taxes resulting from increases in our deferred tax liabilities. The Plan resulted in the reduction of the principal amount of our debt by approximately $8 billion, reducing our interest expense by approximately $830 million annually.
Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates
Certain of our accounting policies require our management to make difficult, subjective or complex judgments. Management has discussed these policies with the Audit Committee of Charter’s board of directors, and the Audit Committee has reviewed the following disclosure. We consider the following policies to be the most critical in understanding the estimates, assumptions and judgments that are involved in preparing our financial statements, and the uncertainties that could affect our results of operations, financial condition and cash flows:
In addition, there are other items within our financial statements that require estimates or judgment that are not deemed critical, such as the allowance for doubtful accounts and valuations of our derivative instruments, if any, but changes in estimates or judgment in these other items could also have a material impact on our financial statements.
Property, plant and equipment
The cable industry is capital intensive, and a large portion of our resources are spent on capital activities associated with extending, rebuilding, and upgrading our cable network. As of December 31, 2011 and 2010, the net carrying amount of our property, plant and equipment (consisting primarily of cable network assets) was approximately $6.9 billion (representing 44% of total assets) and $6.8 billion (representing 43% of total assets), respectively. Total capital expenditures for the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009 were approximately $1.3 billion, $1.2 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively.
Effective December 1, 2009, we applied fresh start accounting resulting in an approximately $2.0 billion increase to total property, plant and equipment. The cost approach was the primary method used to establish fair value for our property, plant and equipment in connection with the application of fresh start accounting. The cost approach considers the amount required to replace an asset by constructing or purchasing a new asset with similar utility, then adjusts the value in consideration of all forms of depreciation as of the appraisal date.
Capitalization of labor and overhead costs. Costs associated with network construction, initial customer installations (including initial installations of new or additional advanced video services), installation refurbishments, and the addition of network equipment necessary to provide new or advanced video services, are capitalized. While our capitalization is based on specific activities, once capitalized, we track these costs by fixed asset category at the cable system level, and not on a specific asset basis. For assets that are sold or retired, we remove the estimated applicable cost and accumulated depreciation. Costs capitalized as part of initial customer installations include materials, direct labor, and certain indirect costs. These indirect costs are associated with the activities of personnel who assist in connecting and activating the new service, and consist of compensation and overhead costs associated with these support functions. The costs of disconnecting service at a customer’s dwelling or reconnecting service to a previously installed dwelling are charged to operating expense in the period incurred. As our service offerings mature and our reconnect activity increases, our capitalizable installations will continue to decrease and therefore our operating expenses will increase. Costs for repairs and maintenance are charged to operating expense as incurred, while equipment replacement, including replacement of certain components, and betterments, including replacement of cable drops from the pole to the dwelling, are capitalized.
We make judgments regarding the installation and construction activities to be capitalized. We capitalize direct labor and overhead using standards developed from actual costs and applicable operational data. We calculate standards annually (or more frequently if circumstances dictate) for items such as the labor rates, overhead rates, and the actual amount of time required to perform a capitalizable activity. For example, the standard amounts of time required to perform capitalizable activities are based on studies of the time required to perform such activities. Overhead rates are established based on an analysis of the nature of costs incurred
in support of capitalizable activities, and a determination of the portion of costs that is directly attributable to capitalizable activities. The impact of changes that resulted from these studies were not material in the periods presented.
Labor costs directly associated with capital projects are capitalized. Capitalizable activities performed in connection with customer installations include such activities as:
Judgment is required to determine the extent to which overhead costs incurred result from specific capital activities, and therefore should be capitalized. The primary costs that are included in the determination of the overhead rate are (i) employee benefits and payroll taxes associated with capitalized direct labor, (ii) direct variable costs associated with capitalizable activities, consisting primarily of installation and construction vehicle costs, (iii) the cost of support personnel, such as dispatchers, who directly assist with capitalizable installation activities, and (iv) indirect costs directly attributable to capitalizable activities.
While we believe our existing capitalization policies are appropriate, a significant change in the nature or extent of our system activities could affect management’s judgment about the extent to which we should capitalize direct labor or overhead in the future. We monitor the appropriateness of our capitalization policies, and perform updates to our internal studies on an ongoing basis to determine whether facts or circumstances warrant a change to our capitalization policies. We capitalized internal direct labor and overhead of $199 million, $205 million and $199 million, respectively, for the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009.
Impairment. We evaluate the recoverability of our property, plant and equipment upon the occurrence of events or changes in circumstances indicating that the carrying amount of an asset may not be recoverable. Such events or changes in circumstances could include such factors as the impairment of our indefinite life franchises, changes in technological advances, fluctuations in the fair value of such assets, adverse changes in relationships with local franchise authorities, adverse changes in market conditions, or a deterioration of current or expected future operating results. A long-lived asset is deemed impaired when the carrying amount of the asset exceeds the projected undiscounted future cash flows associated with the asset. No impairments of long-lived assets to be held and used were recorded in the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009.
Useful lives of property, plant and equipment. We evaluate the appropriateness of estimated useful lives assigned to our property, plant and equipment, based on annual analyses of such useful lives, and revise such lives to the extent warranted by changing facts and circumstances. Any changes in estimated useful lives as a result of these analyses are reflected prospectively beginning in the period in which the study is completed. Our analysis of useful lives in 2011 did not indicate a change in useful lives. The effect of a one-year decrease in the weighted average remaining useful life of our property, plant and equipment as of December 31, 2011 would be an increase in annual depreciation expense of approximately $210 million. The effect of a one-year increase in the weighted average remaining useful life of our property, plant and equipment as of December 31, 2011 would be a decrease in annual depreciation expense of approximately $165 million.
Depreciation expense related to property, plant and equipment totaled $1.3 billion, $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion for the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively, representing approximately 21%, 20% and 17% of costs and expenses, respectively. Depreciation is recorded using the straight-line composite method over management’s estimate of the useful lives of the related assets as listed below:
In connection with the application of fresh start accounting, franchises and customer relationships were valued using an income approach and were valued at $5.3 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively, as of December 1, 2009. The relief from royalty method was used to value trademarks at $158 million as of December 1, 2009. The fresh start adjustments also resulted in the recording of goodwill of $951 million. See discussion below for a description of the methods used to value intangible assets.
Impairment of franchises. The net carrying value of franchises as of December 31, 2011 and 2010 was approximately $5.3 billion (representing 34% of total assets) and $5.3 billion (representing 33% of total assets), respectively. Franchise rights represent the value attributed to agreements or authorizations with local and state authorities that allow access to homes in cable service areas. For valuation purposes, they are defined as the future economic benefits of the right to solicit and service potential customers (customer marketing rights), and the right to deploy and market new services, such as Internet and telephone, to potential customers (service marketing rights).
Franchise intangible assets that meet specified indefinite life criteria must be tested for impairment annually, or more frequently as warranted by events or changes in circumstances. In determining whether our franchises have an indefinite life, we considered the likelihood of franchise renewals, the expected costs of franchise renewals, and the technological state of the associated cable systems, with a view to whether or not we are in compliance with any technology upgrading requirements specified in a franchise agreement. We have concluded that as of December 31, 2011 and 2010 all of our franchises qualify for indefinite life treatment.
The fair value of franchises for impairment testing is determined based on estimated discrete discounted future cash flows using assumptions consistent with internal forecasts. The franchise after-tax cash flow is calculated as the after-tax cash flow generated by the potential customers obtained (less the anticipated customer churn), and the new services added to those customers in future periods. The sum of the present value of the franchises' after-tax cash flow in years 1 through 10 and the continuing value of the after-tax cash flow beyond year 10 yields the fair value of the franchises. Franchises are expected to generate cash flows indefinitely and are tested for impairment annually, or more frequently as warranted by events or changes in circumstances. Franchises are aggregated into essentially inseparable units of accounting to conduct the valuations. The units of accounting generally represent geographical clustering of our cable systems into groups by which such systems are managed. Management believes such grouping represents the highest and best use of those assets.
We determined the estimated fair value of each unit of accounting utilizing an income approach model based on the present value of the estimated discrete future cash flows attributable to each of the intangible assets identified for each unit assuming a discount rate. This approach makes use of unobservable factors such as projected revenues, expenses, capital expenditures, and a discount rate applied to the estimated cash flows. The determination of the discount rate was based on a weighted average cost of capital approach, which uses a market participant’s cost of equity and after-tax cost of debt and reflects the risks inherent in the cash flows.
We estimated discounted future cash flows using reasonable and appropriate assumptions including among others, penetration rates for basic and digital video, high-speed Internet, and telephone; revenue growth rates; operating margins; and capital expenditures. The assumptions are derived based on Charter’s and its peers’ historical operating performance adjusted for current and expected competitive and economic factors surrounding the cable industry. The estimates and assumptions made in our valuations are inherently subject to significant uncertainties, many of which are beyond our control, and there is no assurance that these results can be achieved. The primary assumptions for which there is a reasonable possibility of the occurrence of a variation that would significantly affect the measurement value include the assumptions regarding revenue growth, programming expense growth rates, the amount and timing of capital expenditures and the discount rate utilized.
The franchise valuation completed for each of the years ended December 31, 2011 and 2010 showed franchise values in excess of book values and thus resulted in no impairment. We recorded non-cash franchise impairment charges of $2.2 billion for the year ended December 31, 2009. The impairment charges recorded in 2009 was primarily the result of the impact of the economic downturn along with increased competition. The valuations used in our impairment assessments involve numerous assumptions as noted above. While economic conditions applicable at the time of the valuations indicate the combination of assumptions utilized in the valuations are reasonable, as market conditions change so will the assumptions, with a resulting impact on the valuations and consequently the potential impairment charge. At December 31, 2011, a 20% decline in the estimated fair value of our franchise assets in each of our units of accounting would have resulted in an impairment charge of approximately $3 million in one of our units of accounting. Management has no reason to believe that any one unit of accounting is more likely than any other to incur impairments of its intangible assets.
Impairment and amortization of customer relationships. The net carrying value of customer relationships as of December 31, 2011 and 2010 was approximately $1.7 billion (representing 11% of total assets) and $2.0 billion (representing 13% of total assets), respectively. Customer relationships, for valuation purposes, represent the value of the business relationship with existing customers (less the anticipated customer churn), and are calculated by projecting the discrete future after-tax cash flows from these customers, including the right to deploy and market additional services to these customers. The present value of these after-tax cash flows yields the fair value of the customer relationships. The use of different valuation assumptions or definitions of franchises or customer relationships, such as our inclusion of the value of selling additional services to our current customers within customer relationships versus franchises, could significantly impact our valuations and any resulting impairment.
We evaluate the recoverability of customer relationships upon the occurrence of events or changes in circumstances indicating that the carrying amount of an asset may not be recoverable. Customer relationships are deemed impaired when the carrying value exceeds the projected undiscounted future cash flows associated with the customer relationships. No impairment of customer relationships was recorded in the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 or 2009.
Customer relationships are amortized on an accelerated method over useful lives of 11-15 years based on the period over which current customers are expected to generate cash flows. Amortization expense related to customer relationships for the years ended December 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009 was approximately $306 million, $331 million and $29 million, respectively.
Impairment of goodwill. The net carrying value of goodwill as of December 31, 2011 and 2010 was approximately $954 million (representing 6% of total assets) and $951 million (representing 6% of total assets), respectively. Goodwill is tested for impairment as of November 30 of each year, or more frequently as warranted by events or changes in circumstances. The first step involves a comparison of the estimated fair value of each of our reporting units to its carrying amount. If the estimated fair value of a reporting unit exceeds its carrying amount, goodwill of the reporting unit is not considered impaired and the second step of the goodwill impairment is not necessary. If the carrying amount of a reporting unit exceeds its estimated fair value, then the second step of the goodwill impairment test must be performed, and a comparison of the implied fair value of the reporting unit’s goodwill is compared to its carrying amount to determine the amount of impairment, if any. Reporting units are consistent with the units of accounting used for franchise impairment testing. Likewise the fair values of the reporting units are determined using a consistent income approach model as that used for franchise impairment testing. Our 2011, 2010 and 2009 impairment analyses did not result in any goodwill impairment charges. At December 31, 2011 a 20% decline in the fair values of each of our reporting units would not result in an impairment charge.
Impairment of trademarks. The net carrying value of trademarks as of December 31, 2011 and 2010 was approximately $158 million (representing 1% of total assets). Trademarks are tested annually for impairment, or more frequently as warranted by events or changes in circumstances. The fair value of trademarks is determined using the relief-from-royalty method which applies a fair royalty rate to estimated revenue. Royalty rates are estimated based on a review of market royalty rates in the communications and entertainment industries. As we expect to continue to use each trade name indefinitely, trademarks have been assigned an indefinite life and are tested annually for impairment. The valuation in 2011 showed trademark values in excess of book value, and thus resulted in no impairment.
All of Charter’s operations are held through Charter Holdco and its direct and indirect subsidiaries. Charter Holdco and the majority of its subsidiaries are generally limited liability companies that are not subject to income tax. However, certain of these limited liability companies are subject to state income tax. In addition, the indirect subsidiaries that are corporations are subject to federal and state income tax. All of the remaining taxable income, gains, losses, deductions and credits of Charter Holdco pass through to Charter.
As of December 31, 2011, Charter and its indirect corporate subsidiaries had approximately $7.4 billion of federal tax net operating and capital loss carryforwards, resulting in a gross deferred tax asset of approximately $2.6 billion, expiring in the years 2014 through 2031. These losses arose from the operations of Charter Holdco and its subsidiaries. In addition, as of December 31, 2011, Charter and its indirect corporate subsidiaries had state tax net operating and capital loss carryforwards, resulting in a gross deferred tax asset (net of federal tax benefit) of approximately $252 million, generally expiring in years 2012 through 2031. Due to uncertainties in projected future taxable income, valuation allowances have been established against the gross deferred tax assets for book accounting purposes, except for future taxable income that will result from the reversal of existing temporary differences for which deferred tax liabilities are recognized. Such tax loss carryforwards can accumulate and be used to offset Charter’s future taxable income.
The consummation of the Plan generated an “ownership change” as defined in Section 382 of the Code. As a result, Charter is subject to limitation on the use of approximately 65% of its tax loss carryforwards. Further, Charter’s net operating loss carryforwards have been reduced by the amount of the cancellation of debt income resulting from the Plan that was allocable to Charter. The limitation on Charter’s ability to use its tax loss carryforwards, in conjunction with the loss expiration provisions, could reduce its ability to use a portion of Charter’s tax loss carryforwards to offset future taxable income.
As of December 31, 2011, $2.6 billion of federal tax loss carryforwards are unrestricted and available for Charter’s immediate use, while approximately $4.8 billion of federal tax loss carryforwards are still subject to Section 382 and other restrictions. Pursuant to these restrictions, an aggregate of $1.5 billion, in varying amounts from 2012 to 2014, and an additional $176 million annually over each of the next 17 years of federal tax loss carryforwards, should become unrestricted and available for Charter’s use. Both Charter’s indirect corporate subsidiary and state tax loss carryforwards are subject to similar but varying restrictions.
In addition to its tax loss carry forwards, Charter also has tax basis of $4.3 billion in intangible assets and $5.0 billion in property, plant, and equipment as of December 31, 2011. The tax basis in these assets is not subject to Section 382 limitations and therefore the related amortization and depreciation is currently deductible. For illustrative purposes, Charter expects to reflect tax-deductible amortization and depreciation on assets owned as of December 31, 2011, beginning at approximately $1.9 billion in 2012 and decelerating over the following 4 years, totaling an estimated $6.6 billion over the five year period. The foregoing projected deductions do not include any amortization or depreciation related to future capital spend or potential acquisitions. In addition, the deductions assume Charter does not utilize accelerated or “ bonus” depreciation methods, dispose of a material portion of its business, or make modifications to the underlying partnerships it owns, all of which may materially affect the timing or amount of its existing amortization and depreciation deductions. Any one of these factors or future legislation or adjustments by the IRS upon examination could also affect the projected deductions.
As of December 31, 2011 and 2010, we have recorded net deferred income tax liabilities of $824 million and $538 million, respectively. Net deferred tax liabilities included approximately $221 million and $225 million at December 31, 2011 and 2010, respectively, relating to certain indirect subsidiaries of Charter Holdco that file separate federal or state income tax returns. The remainder of our net deferred tax liability arose from Charter's investment in Charter Holdco, and was largely attributable to the characterization of franchises for financial reporting purposes as indefinite-lived. As part of our net liability, on December 31, 2011 and 2010, we had gross deferred tax assets of $3.8 billion and $3.7 billion, respectively, which primarily relate to tax losses allocated to Charter from Charter Holdco. In assessing the realizability of deferred tax assets, management considers whether it is more likely than not that some portion or all of the deferred tax assets will be realized. Due to our history of losses, we were unable to assume future taxable income in our analysis and accordingly valuation allowances have been established except for deferred benefits available to offset certain deferred tax liabilities that will reverse over time. Accordingly, our gross deferred tax assets have been offset with a corresponding valuation allowance of $2.6 billion and $2.3 billion at December 31, 2011 and 2010, respectively. The amount of the deferred tax assets considered realizable and, therefore, reflected in the consolidated balance sheet, would be increased at such time that it is more-likely-than-not future taxable income will be realized during the carryforward period. At the time this consideration is met, an adjustment to reverse some portion of the existing valuation allowance would result.
In determining our tax provision for financial reporting purposes, Charter establishes a reserve for uncertain tax positions unless such positions are determined to be “more likely than not” of being sustained upon examination, based on their technical merits. In evaluating whether a tax position has met the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold, we presume the position will be examined by the appropriate taxing authority that has full knowledge of all relevant information. A tax position that meets the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold is measured to determine the amount of benefit to be recognized in our financial statements. The tax position is measured at the largest amount of benefit that has a greater than 50% likelihood of being realized when the position is ultimately resolved. There is considerable judgment involved in determining whether positions taken on the tax return are “more likely than not” of being sustained. As of December 31, 2011 and 2010, we have recorded $228 million and $224 million, respectively, of liabilities for uncertain tax positions.
Charter adjusts its uncertain tax reserve estimates periodically because of ongoing examinations by, and settlements with, the various taxing authorities, as well as changes in tax laws, regulations and interpretations.
No tax years for Charter or Charter Holdco are currently under examination by the Internal Revenue Service. Tax years ending 2008 through 2011 remain subject to examination and assessment. Years prior to 2008 remain open solely for purposes of examination of Charter’s net operating loss and credit carryforwards.
Legal contingencies have a high degree of uncertainty. When a loss from a contingency becomes estimable and probable, a reserve is established. The reserve reflects management's best estimate of the probable cost of ultimate resolution of the matter and is revised as facts and circumstances change. A reserve is released when a matter is ultimately brought to closure or the statute of limitations lapses. We have established reserves for certain matters. Although certain matters are not expected individually to have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial condition, results of operations or liquidity, such matters could have, in the aggregate, a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial condition, results of operations or liquidity.
We exercise significant judgment in estimating programming expense associated with certain video programming contracts. Our policy is to record video programming costs based on our contractual agreements with our programming vendors, which are generally multi-year agreements that provide for us to make payments to the programming vendors at agreed upon market rates based on the number of customers to which we provide the programming service. If a programming contract expires prior to the parties' entry into a new agreement and we continue to distribute the service, we estimate the programming costs during the period there is no contract in place. In doing so, we consider the previous contractual rates, inflation and the status of the negotiations in determining our estimates. When the programming contract terms are finalized, an adjustment to programming expense is recorded, if necessary, to reflect the terms of the new contract. We also make estimates in the recognition of programming expense related to other items, such as the accounting for free periods, timing of rate increases and credits from service interruptions, as well as the allocation of consideration exchanged between the parties in multiple-element transactions.
Significant judgment is also involved when we enter into agreements that result in us receiving cash consideration from the programming vendor, usually in the form of advertising sales, channel positioning fees, launch support or marketing support. In these situations, we must determine based upon facts and circumstances if such cash consideration should be recorded as revenue, a reduction in programming expense or a reduction in another expense category (e.g., marketing).
Results of Operations
The following table sets forth the percentages of revenues that items in the accompanying consolidated statements of operations constituted for the periods presented (dollars in millions, except per share data):
Revenues. Average monthly revenue per basic video customer, measured on an annual basis, has increased from $114 in 2009 to $126 in 2010 and $136 in 2011. Average monthly revenue per video customer represents total annual revenue, divided by twelve, divided by the average number of basic video customers during the respective period. Revenue growth primarily reflects increases in the number of residential Internet and telephone and commercial business customers, price increases, and incremental video revenues from DVR and HD television services, offset by a decrease in basic video customers. Asset sales and acquisitions reduced the increase in revenues in 2011 as compared to 2010 by approximately $45 million and 2010 as compared to 2009 by approximately $19 million.
Revenues by service offering were as follows (dollars in millions):
Certain prior year amounts have been reclassified to conform with the 2011 presentation, including the reflection of franchise fees, equipment rental and video customer installation revenue as video revenue, and telephone regulatory fees as telephone revenue, rather than other revenue.
Video revenues consist primarily of revenues from basic and digital video services provided to our non-commercial customers, as well as franchise fees, equipment rental and video installation revenue. Residential basic video customers decreased by 188,100 and 284,500 customers in 2011 and 2010, respectively, or 215,500 and 214,800 customers after giving effect to asset sales and acquisitions, respectively. Digital video customers increased by 47,200 and 145,100 customers in 2011 and 2010, respectively, or 39,100 and 188,200 customers after giving effect to asset sales and acquisitions, respectively. The changes in video revenues are attributable to the following (dollars in millions):
Residential Internet customers grew by 245,700 and 183,800 customers in 2011 and 2010, respectively, or 228,600 and 209,800 customers after giving effect to asset sales and acquisitions, respectively. The increases in Internet revenues from our residential customers are attributable to the following (dollars in millions):