Denver -- Seren Innovations Inc. expects to file for its
first Colorado cable franchise in the city of Longmont early next month, company officials
said last week.
The video arm of Minneapolis-based Northern States Power
Co. will follow up by pursuing deals in Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins, Colo. -- area
communities eager to find a competitor to AT&T Broadband & Internet Services.
In Longmont, Seren is negotiating a deal that would allow
it to use a municipally owned fiber optic network to offer telecommunications services to
65,000 area residents.
Ultimately, the idea is to connect Longmont and neighboring
communities to one network, although the company hasn't ruled out the lucrative Denver
market, where its parent's pending acquisition of Public Service Co. of Colorado would
allow it to use PSC's facilities to target another 460,000 AT&T Broadband subscribers.
"You never want to say never, but we always try to
target adjoining markets," Seren spokeswoman Janey Palmer said. "Since our
networks are connected, that makes more sense in terms of getting as many customers as
AT&T Broadband officials, meanwhile, insisted that the
company was "the very first to recognize and retool for competition" by pouring
millions of dollars into area upgrades that will allow it to offer high-speed
Internet-access and telephony services in the northern Colorado communities.
"This has made us better, and our growing subscriber
base proves that our customers recognize the progress we've made," AT&T Broadband
spokesman Matt Fleury said. "For video, voice and data users, the options are growing
every day, and we are determined to be the best choice."
If Seren enters Longmont -- a northeastern Colorado
community located some 40 miles north of Denver -- it will initially compete against
Comcast Corp. That MSO's 17,000-subscriber system is slated to be swapped to AT&T
Palmer said Longmont fits the criteria the company looks
for when considering where it will seek a franchise. "We look for places with high
levels of dissatisfaction with the incumbent," she added. "That's why we go
there: because people are ready for a choice."
Although unwilling to discuss Comcast's reputation in the
community, Longmont officials conceded that the city built a 17-mile fiber optic backbone
two years ago as a way of attracting competition to its voice, video and high-speed-data
market. It has since been in talks with various service providers, telecommunications
manager Jeff Cook said.
"The city is very interested in attracting
competition," Cook said. "And it's negotiating with various service providers on
a possible alliance that would use our fiber optic backbone as part of their
infrastructure. Whether they would expand out from there would be up to them."
Ideally, any deal would involve joint construction,
marketing and sales provisions that would result in services and revenue sharing between
the city and the service provider, Cook said.
Meanwhile, the prospects of a Seren overbuild have produced
enthusiastic responses in Fort Collins and Boulder, a pair of college towns north of
Denver where initial talks are reportedly under way.
Despite "phenomenal improvements" in AT&T
Broadband's service in Fort Collins, the MSO is still saddled with Tele-Communications
Inc.'s "negative history," city information-technologies director Gary Gordier
Part of that history included a battle over an upgrade that
the city believed was required under its franchise. The two sides finally struck a deal
calling for the project to be completed at the 27,000-subscriber system by the end of
1999, but not before local officials were within hours of launching a revocation hearing
against TCI, Gordier said.
The result: The city is ready to start talking with Seren.
"The ball is in their court," Gordier said. "If they're willing to accept
the same franchise we have with AT&T, we could go to our first hearing tomorrow."
Boulder -- where voters rejected a proposed franchise
renewal in 1996, and where AT&T Broadband is operating under an interim agreement that
expires in September -- may be even more eager for an alternative service provider.
"We're certainly very excited about Seren coming in
and offering people a competitive choice," Boulder Cable TV Office director Richard
Varnes said. "It's the only effective way of dealing with the issue of rates and