Altrio Critics Could Snag Sale Plans

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Altrio Communications Inc. officials said they're still actively shopping their operation, but any buyer will have to deal with critics who've been administratively dogging the company, and limits set by state utility regulators on its ability to expand.

Activists, including the Pasadena Neighborhood Coalition, have been monitoring and challenging Altrio since the day the competitive cable, telephony and high-speed data provider began its buildout. Although Altrio has franchises to serve several suburban communities — including Altadena, Arcadia, Sierra Madre and Monrovia — the bulk of its build, and most customers, are in Pasadena.

Activists began legal and administrative protests after Pasadena granted the franchise.

They've asserted that the city improperly approved the pact without full review of the environmental impact of a secondary telecommunications provider.

The coalition is very protective of city property values and wary of potential blight. What the group wanted most was a declaration that Altrio would place its large, natural gas-powered backup generators only in commercial areas.

They also sought a requirement requiring Altrio to use backyard poles in cases where utility poles are situated in both the front and back yards, said coalition attorney Anita Taff-Rice of the Bowen Law Group.

Altrio began its build in 2001 with authorization for a limited facilities-based telephony operation. That means the company could only use existing infrastructure to deliver telephone service.

The limited permit was sought because at the time, the California Public Utilities Commission was considering whether new entrants should be subjected to a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Rather than be stalled with all the other pending applications, Altrio accepted the limited operating authority, with an application for full facilities-based authority still pending with the CPUC.

But as Altrio launched its business, the activists took note of the placement of generators, trenching and other activities and filed a complaint with the state commission, alleging that Altrio violated its terms of operation by building infrastructure.

As a result, the CPUC has now rendered two rulings regarding Altrio's operations. In December, an administrative law judge ruled that the company had violated the terms of its limited telephony authority and ordered that the operator sign up no new customers.

But before that order was issued, the CPUC in November acted on an amended petition by Altrio for full facilities-based operating authority.

The original application was for statewide authority, but the amended application asked for authority just in Pasadena — which was approved.

Regulators also specifically denied full facilities-based operating authority beyond the city of Pasadena.

Though the full facilities application was a public docket, the Pasadena Neighborhood Coalition did not contest the application, Altrio CEO Dave Rozzelle noted.

But Taff-Rice said she has asked the commission to reconsider the full facilities approval based on the CUPC's concerns about the validity of the environmental waiver.

Meanwhile, one proposal has been submitted to Altrio's board of directors. Rozzelle said. The overbuilder told franchisers in December that it intended to sell its bundled-services operation.

"The process is active," said Rozzelle, who added that he hopes for more offers.

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