Charter Cable – An Overview of Services Offered

Charter operates the third-largest cable company in the United States.  Only Comcast and Time Warnerhave more subscribers that Charter when comparing cable TV companies, while both DIRECTV and DISH Network are also bigger in terms of subscribers-they deliver the signal by satellite.  Overall, Charter cable serves more than 5 million customers across 29 different states. Charter cable is based out of St. Louis Missouri, and is traded on the NASDAQ exchange.  Often the subject of much speculation, Charter’s largest shareholder is Paul Allen, one of the co-founders of Microsoft.

Compared to Charter cable, both DIRECTV and Dish Networkhave much larger subscriber bases.  Currently there are more than 30 million subscribers compared to about 5.7 million for Charter.

Like most other cable TV companies, Charter communications has expanded its offerings beyond just video services.  Today Charter can offer high-speed internet, local and long distance telephone service, as well as cable TV service.  Charter cable now offers the so-called triple play bundle of voice, video, and internet, and if you buy all three, you will get a discount versus buying the services individually.  Current promotions offer the triple play offer for $99.97 for one year, a cable TV/Internet package for $74.98 for six months, or an internet only promotion for $24.99 for the first six months.

Charter’s cable service includes a wide selection of television programming. Charter cable offers both basic cable service and Charter Digital Cable offerings. High-definition or HDTV channels are also available, though Charter falls far behind the number of HD channels available through both satellite television providers.  Charter cable is also in the digital video recorder game offering DVR service for an additional monthly fee, along with the on-demand programming that customers demand in today’s market.

The high speed internet service available via cable modem through Charter is available in speeds from 5 to16 megabits per second.  Here’s a faster way to explore the Web. Charter communications offers these different high-speed options for different customer needs. The different options from Charter include the Charter High-Speed package, with speeds up to 5Mbps, the Charter High-Speed Plus which downloads at speeds up to 10Mbps, and finally the Charter High Speed Max which rates at speeds up to 16Mbps.  Obviously the more speed you want, the more you will pay monthly.

Combine with high speed, Charter customers also receive security features to protect against intrusions and viruses. Charter cable high speed internet can also be combined with wireless home networking in order to connect several computers to the same internet connection.

Charter telephone is the residential voice component of the Charter Bundle. It basically includes unlimited local and long distance calling to locations through the Charter cable network.  Additional calling locations include Canada and Puerto Rico for no additional charge. Quite a few calling features are included, similar to what you would find with your local phone company.  These include calling features such as Call Waiting and Caller ID as well as VoiceMail.

Charter cable as mentioned earlier offers these services in bundles. The Charter Bundle is name the company uses for customers who subscribe to either two or three Charter services, like the Charter internet service.  This gives the customer a discounted rate, and the convenience of one bill for whatever services they receive.  Charter currently has about 2.5 million customers, who bundle services.  This of course is great for Charter as they can collect more revenue per subscriber when customers have additional services.

Charter cable has suffered over the past few years though due to an extremely poor customer service record.  While having the option to provide triple play bundles to your customer base is great, that means nothing if your customers are dissatisfied with your company.

Part of this is due to the expansive territory covered by Charter.  Devoid of any high density markets, Charter covers territories in South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Georgia.  Charter is at a disadvantage to both DIRECTV and DISH Network in that the satellite companies have “purchasing power,” higher subscriber counts that can help them negotiate better deals with programmers.   Also because Charter’s network covers such an expansive area, it is difficult to continually upgrade and maintain.

Charter of course also offers high definition or HD programming.  As of the end of 2007, Charter had about 25 HD channels across its network.  By the end of 2008 Charter has publicly stated they expect to have in the area of 40 to 45  HD channels for their customers in most parts of the country.  Charter cable is using switched digital technology in order to deliver more HD using the same amount of bandwidth.  These numbers pale in comparison to satellite TV.  DISH Network and DIRECTV now offer more than 100 channels each in HD.  DISH Network packages now offer more than 100 HD channels, while new Direct TV deals offer free HD for life with a qualifying package.

As far as video packages go, Charter cable offers a full range of programming packages.  These start with the Charter Basic and Expanded Basic TV services.  These include all of the popular basic TV channels like ESPN, CNN and the USA Network.  Charter of course also offers premium movie networks like HBO, Showtime and Starz for an additional programming fee each month.

If you are a sports fan, however, Charter is not the best pay TV provider.  Charter does not carry the NFL Network, though they did at one time when the network was first launched.  As far as other premium sports packages go, Charter Cable comes up short.  They only offer a couple  of the major league sports packages, those being the MLB Extra Innings package and the NHL Center Ice deal.  Missing from the Charter lineup are the NBA League pass as well as the NFL Sunday Ticket and the NASCAR Hotpass, the latter two packages being Direct TV exclusives.  If you want more sports programming, satellite TV providers DISH Network and DIRECTV beat Charter cable.

Charter cable also offers their own digital video recorder service, called the Charter DVR.  Similar to the DIRECTV DVR and the dishDVR from DISH Network, the Charter DVR give you plenty of flexibility in how your watch TV.  With the Charter DVR, you can pause live TV,  recording one channel while you watch another, and its all controlled from the comfort of your couch via remote control. The Charter DVR is great for controlling interruptions, as you can simply pause whatever you are watching, or press record to finish watching the show later. Charter DVR service does incur an additional fee currently around $15 a month.

With a Charter DVR, you don’t incur an upfront equipment cost that would normally be several hundreds of dollars for something like a TiVO box.  Charter cable leases the unit to the customer, thus if you have any issues you can contact them for repair or replacement.

A final consideration that was touched on earlier is Charters poor customer service record.  Earlier this year the American Customer Satisfaction Index rated satellite TV  providers DIRECTV and DISH Network highest with scores of of 68 and 65. The ASCI report though painted a bad picture for Charter cable.  They came in dead last, tying with the largest cable company Comcast with a score of 54.

Late in 2007 Charter also was rated worst by research firm Forrester Research.  In a survey of national providers in customer service Charter cable rated a “very poor” with a score of 41 out of 100 in the rankings. That was 8 points lower than the next worst of the eight major TV providers which was Cablevision at 49.

Charter cable’s stock price has plummeted in recent months, and currently is below $1 a share.  While Charter has the advantage of the triple play bundle, they also face competition in this area as Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse are now offered in many of the same areas that Charter serves. So while the convenience of a triple play might sound appealing, the poor service record of Charter cable may encourage you to consider DISH Network or DIRECTV.

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