Category Archives: Business

Say hello to Oceanic-Charter Communications

Oceanic-Time Warner Communications is going, although the company website still boasts the TWC name.

Say “Hello” to Oceanic-Charter Communications, which apparently will soon carry Charter’s Spectrum brand.

I’ve been wondering about how little local news coverage there’s been the takeover of Oceanic Cable’s parent company, Time Warner Cable, by Charter Communications. The deal closed last month, but it barely made a ripple here.

The Star-Advertiser ran an Associated Press national story when the deal closed, but I don’t recall anything local.

Since Oceanic has had such a large presence statewide for so long, the silence is noticeable.

The newspaper came around to the issue through the back door on Sunday in a column about control of broadcast rights of Hawaii high school athletics (“Hawaiian Telcom hopes to gain access to high school sports programming“).

The article reports on questions raised about Oceanic’s current lock on high school and UH sports.

It references comments Hawaiian Telcom filed with the FCC as part of the Charter-Time Warner docket.

I found two, the first dated August 25, 2014 and the second dated October 13, 2015.

The Star-Advertiser reported:

Oceanic, the dominant provider in the state with a reported 76 percent video market share and 69 percent of consumer broadband sales, has exclusive contracts with the University of Hawaii, the public high school Oahu Interscholastic Association and the Hawaii High School Athletics Association, which represents all schools, public and private, for state championships.

And then this caught my eye:

The OIA reportedly receives approximately $100,000 from their contracts with Oceanic, with additional monies paid to the HHSAA, but parties declined to discuss terms.

Wait. Is it possible that the broadcast contract covering Oahu’s public school teams is exempt from disclosure by routing it through the nonprofit OIA? Does the Department of Education know what the terms of the deal are? Is the contract a public record?

Interesting questions.

I hope we see some clarification of this point in light of the state’s public records law.

Reporting catches up with The Donald

Reporting is finally catching up with Donald Trump.

It’s taken a while to do the digging into his long paper trail, but the results are most interesting.

The New York Times dropped a blockbuster today (“How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions“).

It details how Trump loaded up his Atlantic City casinos with mountains of debt that doomed them to financial collapse, while in the process shoveling millions to himself. Lots of those involved–Trump’s investors, bondholders, vendors, contractors, employees–they lost money, while Trumped brags about how well he did there.

Patch.com summarized with “10 Takeaways From NYT’s Blockbuster Report On Donald Trump’s Atlantic City Casinos.”

The Washington Post presented their own reporting on the same bit of wheeling and dealing (“As its stock collapsed, Trump’s firm gave him huge bonuses and paid for his jet“).

USA Today also weighed in with a slightly different set of facts (“Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills“).

Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will “protect your job.” But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans…who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.

The Atlantic chimed in with their own road map to a laundry list of past controversies (“The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet“).

As you can see, it’s a great week for reading!

Big changes at Civil Beat

In a column published early today, Civil Beat editor Patti Epler announced that the online news site is adopting a “free and nonprofit” model beginning immediately.

Epler writes:

Along with that, we have transitioned to a nonprofit organization. Our application is pending with the IRS. And in the meantime, we have joined the Institute for Nonprofit News, a coalition of more than 100 nonprofit newsrooms across the U.S., including the Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego, the Center for Public Integrity and many, many others.

We’re also switching to a membership model, very similar to that used by other public media outlets. INN is acting as our fiscal sponsor so that, effective immediately, all contributions to Civil Beat are tax deductible.

And if you haven’t been a Civil Beat subscriber previously, this means good news for you.

As of today, the CB pay wall has been taken down, and its news resources–past and present–are available to all for free.

This means that you can read Epler’s column for yourself.

And you can also read my column today about two proposals being considered by the Honolulu Charter Commission, one of which would dismantle the city’s system of neighborhood boards. I’m quite critical of the recommendation, especially given the manner in which it was developed.

So enjoy having access to Civil Beat’s news and commentary.

Implicit in this changeover seems to be an admission that the subscription model, which aimed at allowing CB to become a self-sustaining business, didn’t get the desired results. I hope that this reset will bear fruit.

Blame the private equity firm buyout for long Safeway checkout lines

What does the quality of service at your local supermarket have to do with wall street?

Everything, it seems.

A friend of mine has been complaining about long checkout lines and slow service at his neighborhood Safeway in Hawaii for a while.

This morning he called me after having a conversation with the store manager. According to this manager, individual stores are hamstrung by orders from up the corporate chain of command.

Here’s the background.

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management bought Safeway in a 2014 deal valued at more than $9 billion. At the time, there were mixed predictions about what would happen to the supermarket chain. Some thought it would bring new investment in stores and improved customer service, while others feared the chain would be sold off in pieces rather than operated as a supermarket chain.

Well, the next thing that happened was a merger with Albertson’s, another chain that had been taken over by Cerberus, and in the process dozens of stores were sold or closed.

And then came plans to take the new Albertson’s/Safeway combo public with an initial public offering of stock, presumably with Cerberus walking away with a hefty profit.

But stock market conditions took their toll, and the company put its IPO on hold, where it remains, for now.

And, according to my friend’s local Safeway manager, the reason for such poor service is that individual Safeway stores have been told to cut back the amount spent on checkout and floor services. Total spending has been capped, and managers have to figure out how to live within those caps.

The lines aren’t long, and the number of open registers small, because somebody didn’t show up for work, or some other short-term excuse, my friend now explains. It’s because of the private equity owners trying to squeeze a bit more profit out, probably so that the company can boast that tiny additional profit when its stock is finally sold off to investors.

As my friend said in his quaint way, “apparently it’s f*** the customers!”

I guess it’s an example of one of the little insults we experience, where people are expected to yield to the machinery of Wall Street profits. Just the kind of thing that has spawned the anger we’re seeing expressed in this year’s presidential campaign.

Light rail to the rescue?

KHON’s Gina Mangieri had an under appreciated story a couple of weeks ago that explored whether Honolulu’s planned rail could be morphed into a system that includes a light rail component (“Could light rail help train reach Ala Moana and beyond?“).

Given the shaky finances of the planned system, which could result in a stunted system that ends before even getting close to downtown Honolulu, or worse could eliminate a significant number of stops in order to slash costs, Mangieri suggests that it is time to revisit the potential of light rail.

An extensive study paid for by Kamehameha Schools and supported by Hawaii’s professional organization for architects – AIA Honolulu — advised the city to go with light rail that was mostly at-grade and went up above where it had to.

“We had a nationally recognized transportation expert — a lover of trains — develop that study,” said local architect Peter Vincent. “Rail is great. We need a fixed guideway to help the traffic congestion, but it should have been light rail from the get-go.”

That study said light rail would be nearly $2 billion cheaper than a heavy-rail, all-elevated train. It also would have been just 12 minutes slower end-to-end. That means light rail was $150,000,000 cheaper per minute, and that’s was before the cost of the overhead rail system doubled in the years since.

“It was a very valid study and it was just dismissed by the authorities as being not workable,” Vincent recalled.

Light rail has been the choice of virtually every jurisdiction that has launched a rail project in recent decades, both in the U.S. and around the world.

The various arguments against implementing light rail have been relatively weak, and with the current plan now on the verge of collapsing under its own weight, this may be the lifesaver that keeps the hope for a functioning rail system alive.

Check it out.