Adelphia Seeks Court Help in N.H. Row

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Adelphia Communications Corp. wants the support of the New York bankruptcy court and a federal district court to compel three New Hampshire towns to reverse their nonrenewal decisions.

In the lawsuit -- filed in U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H. -- the operator alleged that the action taken by Milford, Litchfield and Hudson is based solely on the company's bankruptcy filing.

The towns announced their decisions not to renew Adelphia's franchise last June -- the same time the operator filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code.

But local officials said this was coincidental, and the decision centered on a lack of resolution to renewal negotiations that have dragged on for two years.

Adelphia filed suit Oct. 23 against the towns, but it has also asked for a Dec. 6 hearing before the bankruptcy court for an injunction in that proceeding against the communities.

The three towns co-operate in their cable negotiations, but actions are made separately by each community's selectmen, said Coleman Kelly, chairman of Hudson's cable advisory committee.

Three operators have moved through the towns in the last two years: Cableco, Harron Cablevision of New Hampshire Inc. and Adelphia. The system is still known legally as Harron Cablevision. The towns are home to a total of 12,000 subscribers, according to Kelly.

Adelphia was granted a transfer from Harron in 1999, according to the filing. As a term of transfer, the operator is obligated to upgrade to a 750-megahertz plant by August 2004 and to deliver high-speed access by February 2005. Kelly said the upgrade is proceeding and customers receive digital services in upgraded areas.

When the decision not to renew was announced, the operator requested written explanations and got "no substantive response," according to the district court suit.

The operator's suit said the towns' actions violated federal informal and formal franchise-renewal procedures, as well as Adelphia's civil rights, and they represent breach of the franchise and of the transfer agreement.

Adelphia asked the district court to declare the nonrenewal void and to direct the communities to schedule a public hearing so that the company can hear and respond to any service complaints.

Municipal attorneys, who termed Adelphia's legal action a "critical attack on [local franchise authorities'] jurisdiction," are closely watching the case.

LFAs noted that they have state and federal authority to protect local infrastructure and to administer franchises, but they fear that they will be superceded at every step by the bankruptcy court.

The LFAs have been striving to guard their power, first by applying to Adelphia's trustee for standing as unsecured creditors. They were denied since cities are not "persons" under bankruptcy law.

Next, they applied directly to the judge in the bankruptcy proceeding. Earlier this month, the judge ruled from the bench against city participation on the unsecured creditors' committee. Matt Leibowitz, attorney for St. Lucie, Fla., which brought the representation action, said the judge did, however, state support for city police powers.

Municipalities want the judge to remember those sentiments as he hears Adelphia's case against the New Hampshire cities.

Adelphia's hearing in bankruptcy court on the New Hampshire towns' actions is set for Dec. 6. The federal court suit will not be heard until the new year.

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