Continuing its pattern of dismantling Obama-era policies, the Federal Communications Commission has reversed one of the conditions placed on Charter when it merged with Time Warner and Bright House.
The original condition required Charter to extend broadband service to two million new homes, including one million that already had Internet service from another company. On Friday, the FCC quietly voted to remove the mandate that Charter extend service to areas with already had one provider.
The company must still extend broadband to two million new homes, but can be the sole provider for those homes.
Small cable providers had lobbied for the change, arguing that the government shouldn't require Charter to compete with companies that already offered Web access. In a filing last June, the American Cable Association argued that the original condition was "a government mandate for inefficient investment that harms the public interest."
Last month, 38 small and medium-sized broadband providers said in a letter to the FCC that the merger condition was undermining their plans. "For small providers like ourselves, the mere threat of government-mandated, uneconomic entry undermines our ability to make investments that would benefit existing subscribers... or expand our networks to reach unserved households," the carriers wrote.
Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai objected last year to the conditions attached to Charter's merger, including the requirement to build out broadband service, arguing that the condition could harm smaller competitors.
Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressed his disapproval of his successor's move. "Nobody likes competition...except consumers!" he tweeted, along with a link to a report about the decision.
Gigi Sohn, former counselor to Wheeler, added: "Once again, the Trump @FCC puts incumbents first & consumers last by revising Charter merger requirement 2 compete."
For his part, Pai defended the agency's new decision. "Charter Communications is still obligated to build out to two million new locations," he said today in a statement. "The difference now is that the beneficiaries will be consumers currently on the wrong side of the digital divide."
With this latest move, the FCC continues the path of reversing key broadband policy decisions instituted by the agency when it was controlled by Democrats. Earlier this year, the FCC blocked rules that would have required carriers to use reasonable security measures to protect consumers' information. The agency also recently voted to exempt broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 customers from the obligation to disclose practices regarding data caps, traffic management, promotional rates and surcharges.
And in February, Pai officially endorsed decisions by AT&T and Verizon to exempt their own material from customers' data caps -- even though the prior FCC said those exclusions violated net neutrality rules by encouraging consumers to stream video from their broadband providers, at the expense of Netflix, Amazon and other outside companies.