Rich Heldenfels

Time Warner Cable subscribers in Northeast Ohio have been bracing for service from a different company. But it may not be the company they have expected.

When Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. complete their merger, Comcast will sell about 1.3 million of its subscribers to Charter Communications for about $7.3 billion. That includes all the Northeast Ohio subscribers to Time Warner Cable, as Charter takes the Time Warner Cable/Comcast homes in Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and Alabama markets.

The Time Warner Cable division serving Northeast Ohio is the company’s third-largest business unit, with close to 600 employees in Summit County, including the headquarters of Time Warner Cable Midwest North, based in Akron. It has also announced plans to add 30 people to its North Canton operations.

The Charter deal will not take place until after Comcast has completed its acquisition of Time Warner Cable, which is still awaiting federal regulatory approval.

Connecticut-based Charter, which had unsuccessfully bid for Time Warner Cable, is the nation’s fourth-largest cable company, with 4.4 million subscribers, behind Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox. After the Time Warner Cable/Comcast merger and the sale of subscribers, Charter will rank second, jumping ahead of Cox while Time Warner Cable will no longer exist.

After Comcast announced plans to buy Time Warner Cable in February for a reported $45.2 billion, it ran into opposition from some public-interest groups and politicians because the combining of the two largest cable companies could give one company tremendous control over programming, and more freedom to increase already skyrocketing prices for subscribers. Those objections put federal approval at risk.

The deal with Charter removes about 3.9 million customers from the merged Comcast/Time Warner Cable, including those switching to Charter and another 2.5 million moved into a spin-off company managed by Charter. Comcast’s move to get rid of those subscribers will keep its national market share total under 30 percent of all subscribers and possibly ease federal approval. Comcast had been expected to turn some subscribers over to Charter for months but firming up the deal “facilitates the regulatory review by bringing certainty to our divestitures early in the process,” said the Charter/Comcast announcement.

The implications for local subscribers were not clear on Monday. Like Time Warner Cable, Charter offers cable, Internet and phone services. Charter spokesman Alex Dudley said the company will likely rely on existing equipment — “It’s not like we have a fleet of trucks [in Northeast Ohio],” he said — and service personnel may not do more than change uniforms.

But anything beyond that will likely have to wait until the process has moved further along.

A statement from the regional Time Warner Cable office said, “This morning’s announcement is a win-win-win and moves us one step closer to completing our merger with Comcast. We’re pleased that the parties have reached agreement and look forward to working with Comcast and Charter to make all of the transactions as seamless as possible for our employees and our customers.”

The arrangement nonetheless has echoes for local media watchers in the sale and resale of the Beacon Journal in 2006. At the time, McClatchy Co. bought the Beacon Journal’s parent company, Knight Ridder. It then disposed of some Knight Ridder properties, including the company’s flagship, the Beacon Journal. The newspaper was bought by a subsidiary of Canadian-based Black Press, which still owns it.

Rich Heldenfels is a reporter for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com. He can be contacted at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.