Allen touts transformation at Charter


NEW YORK -- Charter Communications Inc. chairman and controlling shareholder Paul Allen reaffirmed his commitment to the cable operator in a rare presentation at the firm's annual shareholder meeting Tuesday and lauded its management team for strengthening its operating momentum.

"They have succeeded in transforming Charter into a more nimble and efficient organization," Allen said in Seattle during remarks that were available via webcast. "We are in a far better position today from an operational and capital structure perspective than we have been in many years. And I am very excited about this company's future."

Allen said he was "extremely pleased" with the company's "strong performance" in 2006 and the fact that its stock has nearly tripled since last year's meeting. He added that thanks to asset sales, swaps and refinancing moves, Charter's financial flexibility is now bigger than in some time.

President and CEO Neil Smit thanked Allen for his "kind words" and his "unwavering commitment."

He then went on to reiterate his satisfaction with the momentum Charter built in 2006 and continued in the first quarter. "I remain optimistic about Charter's future and about the prospects of the cable industry overall," he said. "While we still have work ahead of us, we are confident that we have the people, the products, the platform and the financial flexibility to succeed."

Smit cited continued improvements of the customer experience, debt reduction and a focus on high-return investment as key priorities. For example, he said Charter's capital expenditures amounted to $1.1 billion in 2006, with 75% going into revenue-generating investments like money spent on signing up new customers, with the rest spent on technology and equipment maintenance and upgrades.

For the current year, Smit projected $1.2 billion in capital expenditures with 75% again being success-based investments.

Tuesday's meeting was relatively brief at about 30-35 minutes, and shareholders seemed content, with only one quick investor question during a Q&A session.