ALBANY – Things were looking up for Charter Spectrum, the cable and Internet giant locked in an ongoing, high-stakes battle with the state of New York.
The company that New York regulators are trying to kick out of the state had a minor breakthrough late last month, agreeing with the state Department of Public Service on three key issues that would have to be addressed in any settlement deal.
And a pre-election detente with a labor union representing 1,800 striking utility workers in New York City temporarily quieted Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top union officials who had been outspokenly critical of the company, which allowed some key political debates to go on as scheduled on Spectrum's news networks.
Then Charter's positive momentum came to an abrupt halt.
The IBEW Local 3 union relaunched its picket line outside the company's Manhattan headquarters on Monday, claiming the company broke off talks and ending a month of relative peace that began just before Election Day.
By Wednesday, Cuomo, a Democrat who appoints the state's utility regulators, joined the striking workers and union leaders at an anti-Charter rally in the city, angrily denouncing the company and nodding along proudly as union members chanted "Kick them out!"
Cuomo's comments left little doubt the company's ongoing labor dispute has become intertwined with its battle with the state Public Service Commission, which is trying to fine Charter Spectrum and force it from New York because of its slow rollout of high-speed Internet in rural areas of the state.
"They promised to keep the customer-friendly workforce that was trained and they turned around and they kicked you to the street," Cuomo said at the rally. "They promised to serve underserved households and the state of New York has fined them and we want to fine them $20 million for violating that agreement."
Latest in an ongoing feud
A spokesman for Charter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Charter is the state's largest cable provider with more than 2 million customers across the state.
The Public Service Commission initially approved the company's acquisition of Time Warner Cable in New York in January 2016 as part of a wide-ranging deal that saw the company agree to extend its high-speed Internet offerings to 145,000 homes in largely rural areas of the state.
Since then, the company and the commission have battled over whether Charter has lived up to its end of the bargain and which homes should be counted.
The state sued the company in an attempt to levy a major fine, arguing the company hasn't come through on the deal.
The battle heated up with the commission's dramatic July 2018 vote to rescind its approval, giving the company 60 days to come up with a plan to sell off its New York holdings in six months.
Since then, the deadline has been repeatedly extended as the state and Charter negotiated a settlement that could allow the company to remain.
By late November, it looked as if the two sides were making progress.
In a Nov. 21 filing with the state Public Service Commission, attorneys for Charter and the state said they were able to agree on what they were negotiating toward.
The two sides agreed their goal was a settlement agreement that resolved three issues: Which homes count toward Charter's pledge to expand high-speed Internet; any penalties the company has to pay; and a schedule for moving ahead.
"Charter and the Department have not yet been able to reach a settlement," the attorneys wrote. "However, the parties have established a framework for the structure of what a settlement agreement might look like and discussions remain ongoing."
As such, Public Service Commission Chair John Rhodes allowed the company to have an 18-day extension on its deadline for a plan to exit the state, pushing it to January and giving the company and the state more time to negotiate.
Rhodes has maintained Charter's labor dispute with IBEW Local 3 has not had anything to do with the commission's efforts to force the company from the state.
Cuomo, however, has repeatedly referenced the issue as he's spoken about the ongoing strike, which has kept the utility workers in New York City off the job since 2017.
The Democratic governor had bolstered his support from organized labor — a potent force in New York political campaigns — during his second term in office, which culminated with a convincing re-election win on Nov. 6.
On Monday, IBEW Local 3 business manager Chris Erikson called for a boycott of Spectrum News outlets -- which includes NY1 in New York City and local news channels across the state -- and urged state residents to drop their service with the company.
Cuomo said he would honor the boycott.
“I proudly join my brothers and sisters in the labor movement and will honor the boycott of Spectrum until there is a resolution to this situation that gives Local 3 members and their families a deal they deserve, and I urge all elected officials to do the same," the governor said in a statement.
Jon Campbell is a correspondent with the USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau.