Seren Seeks 13 Minnesota Franchises

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Seren Innovations Inc. continued to build its Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., cluster last week by applying for cable franchises in 13 different area suburbs.

The subsidiary of Minnesota-based Northern States Power Co. is asking the Quad Cities Cable Commission and the Northwest Suburbs Cable Commission for the authority to offer video, Internet and phone services to more than 120,000 households.

Seren would extend its $26 million network in neighboring St. Cloud, which currently serves the communities of Sartell, Waite Parke and Sauk Rapids.

It would set a collision course with AT & T Broadband, which recently absorbed 330,000 area cable viewers as part of its acquisition of MediaOne Group Inc., the state's largest MSO.

Seren recently received a franchise in St. Joseph Township, and it has a similar deal pending in the town of St. Joseph.

Extending to the Minneapolis/ St. Paul market could be trickier because Seren might have to meet the same public-access requirements as Time Warner Cable.

"Time Warner is required to provide a percentage of its channel lineup for public access," Seren spokesman Pat Petschel said. "If you come in with a greater channel lineup of more than 230 channels, it's not financially viable. We're never going to say never, but it's still too early to tell what we're going to do."

The QCCC represents 29,000 households in the Minneapolis suburbs of Andover, Anoka, Champlin and Ramsey. The NSCC represents an approximate 70,000 cable viewers in roughly 100,000 households located in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Maple Grove, New Hope, Osseo, Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

Seren sees an opportunity to beat AT & T Broadband to the punch in four communities served by the QCCC, where upgrades are not scheduled until next year.

"There's a window of opportunity to have something the competitor doesn't," Seren director of new markets and business development Phil Trammel said in a prepared statement.

AT & T Broadband spokesman Brian Dietz said the MSO is in the midst of upgrading the communities served by the NSCC. "We're operating in a competitive environment, and we expect that competition to increase," he added.

Seren is the third entity to seek a cable franchise in communities served by the NSCC, joining telecommunications-focused start-ups WideOpenWest LLC and Everest Connections Corp.

But even with franchises, it's not likely that all three will compete for wired phone customers against AT & T Broadband and U S West, NSCC executive director Greg Moore said.

"Assuming that they're all qualified, none of them has economic models that support the idea that U S West, AT & T and three new competitors can survive in one area," Moore said, adding that the commission is nevertheless reviewing each applicant's financial, technical and legal qualifications.

"As a commission, we welcome all three applicants, and we certainly welcome competition," Moore said.

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