Faltering Ore. Operator Goes Dark

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Several hundred customers in four rural Oregon communities were left without cable service after Interstate Cable Inc. unceremoniously ceased operations.

The shutdown last week followed months of declining service, local officials said. That prompted residents to switch to direct-broadcast satellite providers, even though that meant a loss of local broadcast-TV stations and higher monthly bills.

The affected area — in Oregon's Douglas County, in the southwest corner of the state — is so remote that residents can receive only two off-air television signals, provided they have a clear path to one of two booster towers.

The financially troubled Interstate told its customers by letter that it had been forced to terminate service after searching for a buyer for about one year.

According to state licensing records, Interstate Cable — known corporately as Tristar Cable Inc. — had been serving the Oregon communities, which appear to have fewer than 500 cable households combined, for 10 years.

Interstate's corporate license was revoked in 1999 because it failed to submit the appropriate reports.

For the last year or so, Interstate hasn't even had a technician in the area, said Linda Higgins, city clerk in Elkton, one of four affected communities. The others are Melrose, Tenmile and Lookingglass.

"They had a franchise with us, but we got nowhere with them. We'd call to complain and all we'd get is an answering machine," she said.

Elkton has only 67 homes, and only half were wired for cable as of last week, she said.

"Unfortunately, this is kind of a blessing," she added. "If they were a decent cable company, we'd be more unhappy."

Interstate is headed by chairman Ted Gleason, whose brother, Thomas Gleason Sr., is the founder and former chairman of Galaxy Telecom Inc., a Sikeston, Mo.-based MSO that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September. Galaxy has no interest in Interstate's systems.

Neal Schnog — president of Uvision LLC, a small operator with about 21,000 subscribers in Oregon — said Interstate had been a mystery for a while. At one point, he was interested in purchasing some Interstate systems, but company officials never returned calls, he said.

Attempts to reach Ted Gleason and Interstate CEO Kenneth Trimble were unsuccessful.

"This isn't so surprising," said Schnog. "You'll probably see a lot more fallout with operators of extremely small systems that couldn't compete."

Interstate was never a member of the Oregon Cable Telecommunications Association, said executive director Mike Dewey. "They've always been a rogue operator," he said.

Dewey said he was not sure what might happen to Interstate's local assets.

Mike Farrell contributed to this story