Altice Group’s proposed $17.7 billion acquisition of Cablevision Systems Corp. has cleared its final hurdle.
With a heaping side-dish of conditions, the New York State Public Service Commission served up its unanimous approval Wednesday – provided the Dutch conglomerate offers low-cost broadband services to lower-income regions and guarantees job protections, among other requirements.
The PSC’s blessing basically finalizes a deal announced in September, following approvals by the Federal Communications Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, both in May.
The U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense all signed off on the proposed merger in April.
The PSC repeatedly extended its own deadline to rule on Altice’s proposed takeover of the Bethpage-based cable, phone and Internet provider, which includes $10 billion in cash and Altice’s assumption of existing Cablevision debt.
According to the terms of the deal, Altice will assume control of Cablevision’s Wi-Fi, phone and cable-television services, as well as Newsday, the News 12 operation and their corresponding websites.
The multinational telecoms provider, headed by French entrepreneur Patrick Drahi, also gets the free New York City daily newspaper amNewYork and Star Community Publishing, which produces weekly shoppers and community newspapers across Long Island.
The Dolan family, current keepers of the publicly-traded Cablevision kingdom, retain all assets associated with AMC Networks and the Madison Square Garden Co., owners of the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers and the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks.
The PSC’s final judgment represents roughly $243 million in benefits to New Yorkers, according to the commission, which is requiring upgrades to Cablevision’s existing broadband infrastructure, a new low-income broadband program and mandatory participation in a new federal broadband-affordability program.
Altice has already promised to triple the speed of its broadband network by the end of 2017 and to increase high-speed broadband access in underserved rural and urban communities – including free access at 40 “anchor institutions” in underserved areas.
The company has also agreed to initiate a storm-resiliency initiative for Long Island and other at-risk service areas – “a win,” according to Jaci Clement, CEO and executive director of the Bethpage-based Fair Media Council, who has repeatedly questioned the Netherlands-based multinational telecom’s ability to provide emergency communications when needed most.
Altice has also pledged to embargo layoffs of “customer-facing employees” for a period of four years, though that doesn’t cover internal employees, such as engineers or administrators – another concern voiced by Clement and other opponents of the proposed merger, who cite Altice’s long history of acquiring media outlets and then slashing staff and services.
In a Sept. 17 conference call with Altice investors, company principals discussed their intentions to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in Cablevision expenses within months of taking ownership, primarily through reductions in Cablevision’s 14,000-strong workforce. The Dutch master has already suggested employee and operations consolidations between Cablevision and Missouri-based Suddenlink Communications, which Altice acquired for $9.1 billion – with FCC approval – in December.
With the addition of Cablevision’s 3.1 million customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Altice now has about 4.6 million U.S. customers. When the Cablevision merger is completed – by the end of June, Altice said Wednesday – the Netherlands company will own the fourth-largest U.S. cable provider.