Dysfunctional is an adjective that increasingly is being used to describe Charter by executives inside and outside the industry. The lightning rod for these digs usually is Charter’s biggest investor, Paul Allen, who is not giving the MSO the care and attention it needs—unless that means bringing in a roster of "consultants" to "oversee" the management team. First it was Bill Savoy. Now its Allen’s sister, Jo Allen Patton. The situation has become so bizarre that programmers and vendors complain privately that the questions about Allen are creating too much uncertainty over Charter. With those boardroom dynamics as a backdrop, the fact that Charter has built Long Beach into one of the industry’s shining jewels is nothing short of remarkable. That’s one of the main reasons why we named it our System of the Year for 2004. Despite Allen’s increasingly tight purse strings and a debt level that would paralyze most companies, Carl Vogel and his Southern California management team led by Wendy Rasmussen were able to keep their focus on creating a cable system of the future. To the uninitiated, there really isn’t much difference between Long Beach and any system that has high digital penetration rates. (Notably, the buzz is that Time Warner Cable and Comcast have been testing the all-digital concept in some systems. They’ve just been quieter about it.) Plus, Long Beach still has a healthy analog subscriber base that won’t be going away anytime soon. Despite its sterling reputation and its state-of-the-art infrastructure, Charter Long Beach still isn’t gaining subscribers. In fact, sources tell me its subscriber count was flat in the third quarter. But Long Beach is to be commended for sticking its neck out and winning the favor of local regulators. I wish all mayors viewed their local cable system with the same reverence that Beverly O’Neill shows for Charter. Check out the words of admiration she shared with Simon Applebaum. She gushes about Charter’s system, calling it "a first-class communications infrastructure" and hyping the "better programming and better picture quality." It’s nice to know that the future president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors has such a positive view of the cable industry, thanks to Charter. Charter is happy enough with Long Beach that it will take more systems down the all-digital route in 2005. Programmers also are pleased with the system’s performance. Fox Cable’s Lindsay Gardner told me Charter’s Long Beach team impressed him during the switch. "There was nothing we asked them that they weren’t able to answer to our satisfaction," he says. "We were delighted to be part of this." Now there’s a message to deliver to Wall Street: There’s talent at Charter, once you look past Paul Allen. Just look at Long Beach.