Polite Greeting for Charter’s Smit

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Neil Smit’s first annual meeting as president and CEO of Charter Communications Inc. was pretty uneventful, with shareholders limiting their questions mainly to operations issues and keeping any dissent under their hats.

Smit, who began as Charter CEO Aug. 22, said he took the job due to his belief in the enormous potential of the industry. He said his first priority would be to go out into the field seeking feedback from employees, customers and shareholders on Charter’s customer-service initiatives and its new products.

“I believe the way to succeed in a consumer-facing industry like ours is to ensure that we offer the best customer experience, in combination with a compelling value proposition,” Smit said. “In my previous roles at AOL [America Online Inc.] and other companies, I have successfully overseen initiatives in retention marketing, customer service, new revenue and renewal and payment marketing. The teams I led leveraged the company’s products and services to extend the lifetime value of our customers. By implementing similar initiatives here at Charter, I am confident that we can improve the fundamentals and achieve top-line growth.”

Charter chairman Paul Allen pointed to the success of the MSO’s rollout of digital simulcast in Long Beach, Calif.; St. Louis; and Madison, Wis., saying additional markets will be added. He declined to identify them.

Allen was also high on Charter’s voice-telephony rollout -- in St. Louis, Madison, Massachusetts and South Carolina -- adding that the service is currently available to 2.2 million customers. The MSO plans to make the service available to 6 million-8 million homes by the end of 2006.

Charter currently has about 68,000 voice customers, including some circuit-switched telephone customers the MSO inherited when it acquired the St. Louis system from AT&T Broadband.

Analysts and investors have said repeatedly over the past few years that Charter’s debt problems could be solved by an equity infusion by Allen, the company’ largest shareholder. While Allen gave no indication that he would do that, when asked by a shareholder whether he was in Charter for the long haul, Allen responded: “My commitment to the company has not changed.”