Buford Hooks 54K Cox Subs

11/12/2003 8:00 AM Eastern

Cox Communications Inc. said it sold small, nonclustered cable systems in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas with about 54,000 subscribers to Allegiance Communications LLC.

Allegiance is a partnership formed by Buford Media Group LLC and the Wicks Group of Cos. LLC, a private-equity firm based in New York that specializes in investments in the communications, information and media industries.

The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2004. No purchase price for the systems was released.

Denver-based cable investment banker Daniels & Associates is representing Cox in the transaction.

The deal is the first major system acquisition for Buford Media, which currently has about 7,000 subscribers in Arkansas. The company was formed by former Buford Television Inc. CEO Ben Hooks and chairman Jeff Buford after they sold Buford Television to Classic Communications Inc. in 1999 for about $300 million.

Hooks had been hunting for cable properties ever since, and he came close on a few occasions. In 2002, Buford Media signed a letter of intent to acquire Alliance Communications Inc., but negotiations broke down over price. Cequel III -- the St. Louis-based investment company headed by former Charter Communications Inc. CEO Jerry Kent -- agreed to purchase Alliance’s 81,000 subscribers earlier this year for $81 million.

Hooks said that about 28% of the subscriber base in his new systems are at 550-megahertz capacity or higher. The rest, although at between 300-330 MHz, have access to digital cable through Comcast Corp.’s HITS2Home service, he added.

Hooks plans to upgrade the systems, particularly to be able to provide high-speed-data services. "The real upside is getting to the data side," he said.

He added that he eventually would like to move subscribers off the HITS2Home platform and onto a headend-based digital service.

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