Earlier this week, the FCC approved the three-way merger of Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks in a deal worth approximately $66 billion dollars. As part of the documentation associated with the deal, the FCC provided the market with some insight into the plans that the new Charter business may have, including the potential for enhancing their existing public Wi-Fi networks and possibly even launching their own MVNO business or Mobile Virtual Network Operator. Charter, Time Warner Cable and Bright House have not promised as such but the FCC's report notes that the combined three companies: "contend that the transaction would enable New Charter to be a new entrant in the mobile wireless market by offering mobile products through increased WiFi deployment, the deployment of licensed spectrum or a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) arrangement – and likely through some combination of these." This merger could create America's second largest cable operator, with approximately 24 million customers, but of course, the combined business could use its size and customer base to create a potential headache for the existing carriers.
In the acquisition proposal Charter filed last year, the company promised to deploy 300,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots within four years of closing a deal. For Wi-Fi hotspots, the FCC explained that all three businesses run existing Wi-Fi network and are planning on expanding this with or without any deal being approved. Bright House has over 50,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots and is a member of the Cable Wi-Fi Alliance (a group formed by several cable operator companies designed to share Wi-Fi networks via a roaming deal). Neither Time Warner Cable nor Charter disclosed the number of Wi-Fi hotspots currently managed, and whilst Time Warner Cable is also a member of the Cable Wi-Fi Alliance, Charter is pursuing membership.
Charter has already disclosed its interest in the North American wireless market. The business has explained that an acquisition of Times Warner Cable and Bright House would make it a potentially more competitive entrant into the congested American cell 'phone market, where there are currently over a hundred MVNOs trying to capture the attention of the customer. These three companies and the stock market are waiting for the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to vote on the deal this week. The industry believes that all three individual companies are currently working on their own MVNO plans, and are probably at different stages, but given that any deal once approved could conceivably only take two days to close, it might not be too long before we see a "New Charter" MVNO launched, supported by a large and rapidly growing network of public Wi-Fi hotspots.