Commitments and Contingencies
|12 Months Ended|
Dec. 31, 2022
|Commitments and Contingencies|
|Commitments and Contingencies||
(14) Commitments and Contingencies
Guaranteed Service Levels
Certain customers have guaranteed levels of service with varying terms. In the event the Company is unable to provide the minimum service levels, it may incur penalties or issue credits to customers.
Charter and Liberty Broadband - Delaware Litigation
In August 2015, a purported stockholder of Charter, Matthew Sciabacucchi, filed a lawsuit in the Delaware Court of Chancery, on behalf of a putative class of Charter stockholders, challenging the transactions involving Charter, Time Warner Cable Inc., Advance/Newhouse Partnership, and Liberty Broadband announced by Charter on May 26, 2015. The lawsuit, which named as defendants Liberty Broadband, Charter and the board of directors of Charter, alleged that the transactions resulted from breaches of fiduciary duty by Charter’s directors and that Liberty Broadband improperly benefited from the challenged transactions at the expense of other Charter stockholders. In January 2023, and in advance of the expenditure of significant time and costs, the parties reached a tentative agreement to settle the lawsuit. The settlement is subject to preliminary and final approval by the court and will result in a net payment to Charter as a result of the settlement of the derivative claims by the plaintiffs. Liberty Broadband expects to pay approximately $38 million to Charter as a result of the tentative settlement, which has been accrued as a current liability in the consolidated balance sheet and recorded as a litigation settlement expense within operating income in the consolidated statements of operations. There can be no assurance that this tentative settlement will be finalized and approved by the court. Pending finalization of the settlement and in the event the settlement is not finalized and approved by the court, Charter and Liberty Broadband will continue to vigorously defend this lawsuit.
The Company has contingent liabilities related to legal and tax proceedings and other matters arising in the ordinary course of business. Although it is reasonably possible the Company may incur losses upon conclusion of such matters, an estimate of any loss or range of loss cannot be made. In the opinion of management, it is expected that amounts, if any, which may be required to satisfy such contingencies will not be material in relation to the accompanying consolidated financial statements.
Hollywood Firefighters’ Pension Fund, et al. v. GCI Liberty, Inc., et al. On October 9, 2020, a putative class action complaint was filed by two purported GCI Liberty stockholders in the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware under the caption Hollywood Firefighters’ Pension Fund, et al. v. GCI Liberty, Inc., et al., Case No. 2020-0880. A new version of the complaint was filed on October 11, 2020. The complaint named as defendants GCI Liberty, as well as the members of the GCI Liberty board of directors. The complaint alleged, among other things, that Mr. Gregory B. Maffei, a director and the President and Chief Executive Officer of Liberty Broadband and, prior to the Combination, GCI Liberty, and Mr. John C. Malone, the Chairman of the board of directors of Liberty Broadband and, prior to the Combination, GCI Liberty, in their purported capacities as controlling stockholders and directors of GCI Liberty, and the other directors of GCI Liberty, breached their fiduciary duties by approving the Combination. The complaint also alleged that various prior and current relationships among members of the GCI Liberty special committee, Mr. Malone and Mr. Maffei rendered the members of the GCI Liberty special committee not independent.
The complaint sought certification of a class action, declarations that Messrs. Maffei and Malone and the other directors of GCI Liberty breached their fiduciary duties and the recovery of damages and other relief.
On December 23, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint, which, among other things, included a new count of breach of fiduciary duty against Mr. Maffei and Mr. Gregg Engles, the other former member of the GCI Liberty special committee, and new allegations that the price of GCI Liberty was depressed as a result of statements and omissions by Mr. Maffei in November of 2019. During the first quarter of 2021, the parties were conducting discovery with the trial scheduled for November 2021. We believed the lawsuit was without merit.
During March 2021 and in advance of the expenditure of significant time and costs to conduct the depositions proposed to have been taken in this action, the parties began negotiations with the class of plaintiffs for a potential settlement of this action. On May 5, 2021, the plaintiffs (on behalf of themselves and other members of a proposed settlement class) and defendants entered into an agreement in principle to settle the litigation pursuant to which the parties agreed that the plaintiffs will dismiss their claims with prejudice, with customary releases, in return for a settlement payment of $110 million to be paid by Merger LLC (as successor by merger to GCI, Liberty, Inc.) and/or insurers for the defendants and for GCI Liberty, which was recorded as a litigation settlement expense within operating income in the consolidated statements of operations. During the second half of the year, the Company made a payment of $110 million in accordance with the settlement agreement.
On June 17, 2021, the parties filed a Stipulation and Agreement of Settlement, Compromise, and Release. On June 30, 2021, the Court preliminarily certified, solely for purposes of effectuating the proposed settlement, the action as a non-opt out class action on behalf of a settlement class consisting of all holders of GCI Liberty Series A common stock as of December 18, 2020. The Court set a settlement hearing for October 5, 2021, to determine whether to permanently certify the class, whether the proposed settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate to the settlement class, and whether to enter a judgment dismissing the action with prejudice, among other things. On October 18, 2021, subsequent to that hearing, the Court issued a final order permanently certifying the Class and approving the settlement. The Court also awarded Plaintiffs’ Counsel $22 million in attorneys’ fees, which shall be paid out of the settlement fund. Plaintiffs also requested that the Court issue an additional fee award, which Defendant opposed, not to be paid out of the settlement fund, in connection with a certain claim that was mooted earlier in the case (a “mootness fee”). On November 8, 2021, the Court awarded Plaintiffs’ Counsel a $9 million mootness fee, which Defendant subsequently paid and recorded as a litigation settlement expense within operating income in the consolidated statements of operations.
In addition, during the third quarter of 2021, the Company agreed to final settlement amounts with all five of its insurance carriers for insurance recoveries of approximately $24 million, which is recorded net of the litigation settlement expense on the consolidated statement of operations.
Rural Health Care (“RHC”) Program
GCI Holdings receives support from various USF programs including the RHC Program. The USF programs are subject to change by regulatory actions taken by the FCC, interpretations of or compliance with USF program rules, or legislative actions. Changes to any of the USF programs that GCI Holdings participates in could result in a material decrease in revenue and accounts receivable, which could have an adverse effect on GCI Holdings' business and the Company's financial position, results of operations or liquidity. The following paragraphs describe certain separate matters related to the RHC Program that impact or could impact the revenue earned and receivables recognized by the Company. As of December 31, 2022, the Company had net accounts receivable from the RHC Program in the amount of approximately $80 million, which is included within Trade and other receivables in the consolidated balance sheets.
FCC Rate Reduction. In November 2017, the Universal Service Administrative Company requested further information in support of the rural rates charged to a number of GCI Holdings' RHC customers in connection with the funding requests for the year that runs July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. On October 10, 2018, GCI Holdings received a letter from the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) notifying it of the Bureau’s decision to reduce the rural rates charged to RHC customers for the funding year that ended on June 30, 2018 by approximately 26% resulting in a reduction of total support payments of $28 million. The FCC also informed GCI Holdings that the same cost methodology used for the funding year that ended on June 30, 2018 would be applied to rates charged to RHC customers in subsequent funding years. In response to the Bureau’s letter, GCI Holdings filed an Application for Review with the FCC.
On October 20, 2020, the Bureau issued two separate letters approving the cost-based rural rates GCI Holdings historically applied when recognizing revenue for services provided to its RHC customers for the funding years that ended on June 30, 2019 and June 30, 2020. GCI Holdings collected approximately $175 million in accounts receivable relating to these two funding years during the year ended December 31, 2021. GCI Holdings also filed an Application for Review of these determinations. Subsequently, GCI identified rates for similar services provided by a competitor that would justify higher rates for certain GCI satellite services in the funding years that ended on June 30, 2018, June 30, 2019, and June 30, 2020. GCI submitted that information to the Bureau on September 7, 2021. The Applications for Review remain pending.
On June 25, 2020, GCI Holdings submitted cost studies with respect to a number of its rates for services provided to its RHC customers for the funding year ended June 30, 2021, which require approval by the Bureau. GCI Holdings further updated those studies on November 12, 2020, to reflect the completion of the bidding season for that funding year. On May 24, 2021, the FCC approved the cost studies submitted by GCI Holdings for the funding year ended June 30, 2021. Subsequently, on August 16, 2021, GCI submitted a request for approval of rates for 17 additional sites, 13 of which the FCC approved on December 22, 2022. The rest remain pending.
RHC Program Funding Cap. The RHC program has a funding cap for each individual funding year that is annually adjusted for inflation, and which the FCC can increase by carrying forward unused funds from prior funding years. In recent years, including the current year, this funding cap has not limited the amount of funding received by participants; however, management continues to monitor the funding cap and its potential impact on funding in future years.
Enforcement Bureau and Related Inquiries. On March 23, 2018, GCI Holdings received a letter of inquiry and request for information from the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC relating to the period beginning January 1, 2015 and including all future periods. This includes inquiry into the rates charged by GCI Holdings and other aspects related to the Enforcement Bureau’s review of GCI Holdings’ compliance with program rules, which are discussed separately below. The ongoing uncertainty in program funding, as well as the uncertainty associated with the rate review, could have an adverse effect on its business, financial position, results of operations or liquidity.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, GCI Holdings became aware of potential RHC Program compliance issues related to certain of GCI Holdings’ currently active and expired contracts with certain of its RHC customers. The Company and its external experts performed significant and extensive procedures to determine whether GCI Holdings’ currently active and expired contracts with its RHC customers would be deemed to be in compliance with the RHC Program rules. GCI Holdings notified the FCC of the potential compliance issues in the fourth quarter of 2019.
On May 28, 2020, GCI Holdings received a second letter of inquiry from the Enforcement Bureau in the same matter noted above. This second letter, which was in response to a voluntary disclosure made by GCI Holdings to the FCC, extended the scope of the original inquiry to also include various questions regarding compliance with the records retention requirements related to the (i) original inquiry and (ii) RHC Program.
On December 17, 2020, GCI Holdings received a Subpoena Duces Tecum from the FCC’s Office of the Inspector General requiring production of documents from January 1, 2009 to the present related to a single RHC customer and related contracts, information regarding GCI Holdings’ determination of rural rates for a single customer, and to provide information regarding persons with knowledge of pricing practices generally.
On April 21, 2021, representatives of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) informed GCI Holdings that a qui tam action has been filed in the Western District of Washington arising from the subject matter under review by the Enforcement Bureau. The DOJ is investigating whether GCI Holdings submitted false claims and/or statements in connection with GCI’s participation in the FCC’s RHC Program. On July 14, 2021, the DOJ issued a Civil Investigative Demand with regard to the qui tam action.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau and GCI Holdings held discussions regarding GCI Holdings potential RHC Program compliance issues related to certain of its contracts with its RHC customers for which GCI Holdings had previously recognized an estimated liability for a probable loss of approximately $12 million in 2019 for contracts that were deemed probable of not
complying with the RHC Program rules. During the year ended December 31, 2022, GCI Holdings recorded an additional estimated settlement expense of $15 million relating to a settlement offer made by GCI Holdings resulting in a total estimated liability of $27 million. GCI Holdings also identified certain contracts where additional loss was reasonably possible and such loss could range from zero to $30 million, which is a reduction of the reasonably possible loss range as previously disclosed in our December 31, 2021 Form 10-K given the settlement offer made during 2022. An accrual was not made for the amount of the reasonably possible loss in accordance with the applicable accounting guidance. GCI Holdings could also be assessed fines and penalties but such amounts could not be reasonably estimated.
The DOJ and GCI Holdings held discussions regarding the qui tam action whereby the DOJ clarified that its investigation relates to the years from 2010 through 2019 and alleged that GCI Holdings had submitted false claims under the RHC Program during this time period. GCI Holdings continues to work with the DOJ related to this matter and has recorded a $14 million estimated settlement expense during the year ended December 31, 2022 to reflect discussions and settlement offers that GCI Holdings made to the DOJ during 2022. However, the Company is unable to assess the ultimate outcome of this action and is unable to reasonably estimate any range of additional possible loss beyond the $14 million estimated settlement liability, including any type of fine or penalty that may ultimately be assessed as permitted under the applicable law.
Separately, during the third quarter of 2022, GCI Holdings became aware of possible RHC Program compliance issues relating to potential conflicts of interest identified in the historical competitive bidding process with respect to certain of its contracts with its RHC customers. GCI Holdings notified the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau of the potential compliance issues; however, the Company is unable to assess the ultimate outcome of the potential compliance issues and is unable to reasonably estimate any range of loss or possible loss.
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements
Liberty Broadband did not have any off-balance sheet arrangements, except for those matters discussed above, that have, or are reasonably likely to have, a current or future effect on the Company’s financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, capital expenditures or capital resources.
No definition available.
The entire disclosure for commitments and contingencies.
Reference 1: http://fasb.org/us-gaap/role/ref/legacyRef