Overbuild Parade Proceeds: Franchises, Buildouts Grow

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Denver-WideOpenWest LLC signed its ninth cable franchise in metropolitan Denver last week, boosting its Colorado cluster to some 600,000 households.

The agreement calls for WideOpenWest to offer cable, high-speed Internet access and telephony to 38,000 homes in Arvada, Colo., a suburb served by AT & T Broadband on its east side and U S Cable on its west side.

Meanwhile, American Broadband Inc. has launched plans for a Northeastern network by filing for franchises in Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, while Digital Access Inc. inked its ninth deal in the Milwaukee suburbs.

WOW executives said system mapping, design and pre-construction activity in Arvada would begin immediately, as the company pursues "aggressive network buildout and customer-activation objectives."

The company will also bow to the city's request that it start on the west side of town, where US Cable's network has had problems with outages, said Dave Haverkate, vice president of market development.

"I guess the city felt that, 'If we're going to get a new network, let's get it where we need it the most,'" he said. "And it's good for us, marketing-wise, because if we're going to provide all of the bells and whistles, we might as well start in an area that doesn't already have them."

Meanwhile, American Broadband plans a $75 million, 860-megahertz network for Buffalo that would serve 140,000 homes currently passed by Adelphia Communications Corp.

American Broadband vice president of government and public affairs Donna Garofano said the Boston-based startup is concentrating on second-tier markets like Buffalo, which are less expensive to build out and are "generally underserved."

"They're generally easier to build and operate" Garofano said. "And since they have not attracted a lot of telecommunications competition, their residents and businesses are hungry for choice."

But the company figures to have its hands full with Adelphia. The Coudersport, Pa.-based MSO has dramatically improved customer service since taking over from Tele-Communications Inc. and has built goodwill in the community by spearheading a renovation project that will revitalize the city's wharf area.

Buffalo City Council president James Pitts, who chairs the city's telecom committee, said American Broadband's case was strengthened by its franchise win in Baltimore County, Md., and its statewide deal in Rhode Island.

"One of the issues we raised with them was whether they had the wherewithal, in terms of money and resources, to do what they said they were going to do," Pitts said.

During upcoming negotiations, the city will be careful to follow all legal requirements "chapter and verse," in order to avoid giving Adelphia any reason to file a complaint over concessions granted to American Broadband.

"We know Adelphia is watching," Pitts said.

American Broadband has also approached officials in Albany, Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.

In another development last week, American Broadband filed for a telecommunications providers license in Pittsburgh, where it would compete for 300,000 homes currently passed by AT & T Broadband.

Elsewhere, Seren Innovations Inc., a subsidiary of Northern States Power Co., last week announced it would pull out of an agreement to buy Ponderosa Cable in the East San Francisco Bay community of Danville, Calif. Instead, the company plans to build a new network that will pass 11,000 homes there.

Seren decided to walk away from the acquisition after Ponderosa ran into trouble in obtaining a franchise transfer, overbuilder spokeswoman Janey Palmer said. A close inspection also revealed that Ponderosa's network was rapidly deteriorating and that the company had lost about half of its 1,000 subscribers in the last year, she added.

In Tennessee, meanwhile, Digital Access Inc., is preparing for a final reading next week before the Metropolitan Council of Davidson County on a cable franchise for 217,000 households, including those in Nashville.

In the meantime, the Philadelphia-based start-up recently picked up its ninth franchise in greater Milwaukee. The village of Bayside awarded it a 15-year deal, covering 1,500 households. Digital Access now has 30,000 Milwaukee-area homes under contract.

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