Charter Works to Close Before FCC Acts

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St. Louis-based Charter Communications Inc. hopes to closeon its $600 million acquisition of MediaOne's 300,000-subscriber Twin Cities cableproperties in Minnesota early next month.

In a Federal Communications Commission filing, the MSO saidit has achieved a 100 percent success rate on its franchise transfer requests, eitherthrough approvals from area regulators or in the form of letters from consultantsrecommending the deal.

Charter hopes to close soon after the last of the transfersare approved on Feb. 2, the filing said.

'We can close immediately,' Charter presidentJerry Kent said last week. 'We have no reason to believe that any of the cities willgo against their reports.'

Meanwhile, the city of St. Paul, which has 52,000 MediaOnesubscribers, voted last week to approve a transfer of its system, and held a first readingon a new 10-year franchise with Charter.

News that Charter was preparing to close was a blow toMediaOne parent U S West Media Group, which is under an FCC order to divest itself of theMinnesota cable assets it acquired from Continental Cablevision Inc.

Sources said the telco must hope that the FCC acts on itsrequest for an extension of a waiver allowing it to retain the Minneapolis properties.Otherwise, it will presumably be forced to sell the systems to Charter or be in violationof a federal order.

Tom Creighton, a Minneapolis-based consultant representingfranchising authorities encompassing about 55 percent of MediaOne's localsubscribers, eyed several scenarios: Charter could get its transfers and force U S West toclose on the transaction; the FCC could grant the extension before Charter has itstransfers approved, which could allow U S West to get out of the deal by paying a $30million termination fee; or the FCC could act after Charter has its transfers.

Of the latter scenario, he mused, 'Then what?It'll be a fine mess then, won't it?'

Creighton has also recommended that his cities approve thetransfer to Charter.

U S West is pursuing a restructuring plan that would splitU S West Communications and U S Media Group (soon to become MediaOne Group) into separatecompanies, a move it believes will abrogate the FCC's cross-ownership rules thatprevent a Baby Bell from buying cable systems inside its telephone service area.

Nevertheless, MediaOne spokesman Steve Lang said thecompany continues to abide by an FCC order that requires that it sell off its cable assetsin Minnesota.

'We've said consistently and repeatedly thatwe're working to get these transfers approved,' Lang said. 'But wecan't predict the regulatory outcome at any level.'

Sources at the FCC have said that the agency hoped to havea decision on U S West's request shortly after the first of the year.

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