What happened to Charter Communications?

The name Charter Communications has largely disappeared, after years of being one of the largest cable companies in the country. So what happened to Charter Communications? When did Spectrum buy Charter? The answer probably isn’t what you think.

Charter Communications still exists as a legal entity. It just transitioned to using the Spectrum brand name starting in 2014.

What happened to Charter Cable?

What happened to Charter Communications
What happened to Charter Communications? Spectrum didn’t buy Charter. Charter rebranded as Spectrum starting in 2014 in an effort to shore up its poor name recognition and reputation.

Charter didn’t have the best reputation, and the company is well aware of this. On top of that, it lacked the brand recognition that Comcast and Cox have. While Comcast and Cox don’t have great reputations either, people at least knew what they were.

DirecTV ran a successful ad campaign in Charter’s markets portraying Charter as a low-budget operator with poor consumer satisfaction. Then in 2009 when Charter filed bankruptcy, DirecTV ran ads that said “Charter Cable filed for bankruptcy. DirecTV will save the day.” Charter sued, but the ad campaign was very successful.

So to try to address the two problems, Charter tried rebranding. Charter first used the Spectrum name in 1999, but started rebranding in earnest in 2014. When they moved into new markets through acquisitions, they generally introduced themselves as Spectrum, rather than as Charter Communications.

That’s what happened to Charter Communications.

When did Spectrum buy Charter?

Spectrum didn’t buy Charter. Charter just wants you to think it did. They play this up in its sales pitches. As a former Charter customer, I get phone calls from them occasionally. I have most of their phone numbers blocked, but about once a year they call me from a number that resembles one from someone I do business with. Here’s how the conversation always goes.

“Hi, this is [name] calling from Spectrum. Can I interest you in saving a lot of money?”

“I had Charter for a couple of years and it wasn’t reliable. I called your customer service and asked what your plan was to fix the outages I was getting every week and they never had an answer, so I switched to AT&T and haven’t had an outage since.”

“Oh, we’re not Charter anymore. Charter merged with Time Warner and Bright House and now we’re Spectrum. It’s much better than what you remember.”

It’s not. I was a “Spectrum” customer from 2016 to 2018, which was after the mergers that supposedly changed everything. Even though I paid extra for Spectrum Business, my Internet would drop for at least two hours every week, usually during normal business hours. Since I work from home, that’s a problem. Ironically, “Spectrum” was one of my customers, so sometimes they would call me wanting to do something and I couldn’t use their service to do work for them. My workaround was to keep the lowest tier of AT&T service active and set up failover.

I’m an IT professional by trade, so I can do things like that. But that’s not something the average consumer can set up. Nor should they have to.

Is Spectrum reliable?

When I was a “Spectrum” customer, any time my Internet acted funny I would see their trucks in my neighborhood within 30 minutes. My neighbors all know what I do for a living, so they’d ask me about their Internet any time they saw me outside. After I switched to AT&T, they all followed. The magic words were me saying I didn’t have problems with it. My Internet has been rock solid for 3 years.

I don’t see Charter’s trucks in my neighborhood nearly as often anymore. But that may have more to do with the number of AT&T customers in my neighborhood than with Charter’s reliability. I see AT&T’s installers in my neighborhood almost every day.

So that’s what happened to Charter Communications in my neighborhood. AT&T started offering AT&T Fiber and almost everyone switched.

Did the rebranding work?

Charter still exists as a legal entity, even though they’ve painted “Spectrum” on all their trucks and vans and replaced all the Charter signs on their buildings with Spectrum signs. Their ticker symbol on NASDAQ is still CHTR.

I’ve always said that it’s better to improve your service than it is to change your name to try to escape a bad reputation. Because if you change your name and don’t improve your service, eventually the bad reputation finds you again.

I’d say the rebranding has been a net positive for Charter. Charter was profitable in 2020 and 2019, which is a big improvement for a company that was in bankruptcy in 2009. But AT&T has the better product, partly because its upstream and downstream speeds are the same, where Spectrum’s upstream speed is much slower than its downstream speed. If you have a choice between Spectrum and a fiber offering from AT&T, Verizon, or whoever your local phone company happens to be, the fiber offering will be better.

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