Charter Cable service area map

The worst company in America

Comcast and Time Warner claim a merger won’t create a monopoly because they don’t currently compete anyway. In fact, no one in the cable industry competes — which is why most people only have one choice for cable.

The cable industry’s spirit of cooperation is underscored in the "divestiture" section of the proposed merger, in which Comcast, Time Warner, and Charter Communications propose trading customers the way kids might trade baseball cards.

The transaction involves some contortions. Time Warner will transfer 3 million customers to Charter, and Charter will transfer 1.6 million customers to Time Warner. Then, Comcast will transfer 2.5 million customers to a new, yet-to-be named, publicly traded company, referred to as "SpinCo" in filings. SpinCo will be 67 percent owned by Comcast shareholders, 33 percent owned by a Charter-owned holding company, and managed by Charter.

Map of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Charter coverage areas before and after the merger. Under the proposed deal, 3 million Time Warner subscribers would go to Charter, 1.6 million Charter customers would go to Time Warner, and 2.5 million customers would go to a new company, referred to as SpinCo in filings, which would be owned 67 percent by Comcast shareholders and 33 percent by a Charter-owned holding company. In the end, a combined Comcast-Time Warner would have 30 million subscribers, while Charter would be the next-largest cable company with 8.2 million subscribers, including the ones it will manage through SpinCo. Data on the divested subscribers is sourced from public filings. Coverage areas are based on broadband coverage areas from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, cross-referenced with public filings, and are accurate to the nearest zip code. Comcast has not released the exact breakdown of subscribers included in the divestiture transaction. As a result, dots indicate which designated market area subscribers belong to, but do not indicate the number of subscribers included in the transaction. Map by Ryan Mark.

The deal would double Charter’s subscriber base, while keeping Comcast’s market share under 30 percent in order to appeal to regulators. Everybody wins — except, maybe, the customer.

While they don’t compete with each other, cable companies do face competition from satellite, DSL, and 3G and 4G wireless providers. Unfortunately for customers, those technologies are far inferior. Satellite television is unreliable in bad weather, and unavailable in areas blocked by trees or buildings. Meanwhile, existing DSL and wireless services are frustratingly slow for modern internet uses like streaming video, transferring files, and loading web applications for professionals.

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