Small Minn. Town OKs Triax Overbuilder


Upset with its existing service, Nashwauk, Minn., has
become the latest Minnesota community to bring in a competitor to battle its incumbent
cable operator.

City officials voted unanimously last month to allow Range
TV Cable, a privately held operator based in neighboring Hibbing, Minn., to compete for
some 600 area cable subscribers currently served by Triax Cablevision.

Mayor Robert Fragnito said the city was responding to
service problems involving Triax that had come to overshadow virtually all other consumer

'I've had more complaints about cable television
than all other issues, including problems with billing, channels going off the air,
reception and the company's responsiveness,' Fragnito said.

Triax officials referred all inquires to their legal
counsel, who did not return calls requesting comment.

However, sources said Triax is objecting to Range's
entry into the market on the grounds that the city violated state law by not conducting a
hearing or seeking public comment.

'There was no due process,' said an industry

Range chairman Frank Befera said his company will extend
the fiber optic network that it operates in Hibbing to Nashwauk over the next 18 months.
The Hibbing system offers 70 cable channels, Internet access and video-on-demand, Befera

Moreover, the company is also seeking franchises in the
nearby towns of Chisholm, Buhl, Mountain Iron, Virginia, Ely and Grand Rapids, and it has
approached the communities of Two Harbors, Aitkin, Eveleth, Gilbert, Coleraine, Bovey and

'The plan is to tie them all together with fiber
optics,' Befera said.

Mike Martin, executive director of the Minnesota Cable
Telecommunications Association, said Nashwauk is the second community to bring in
competition. Last year, Winnona, Minn., granted a franchise to a private group seeking to
compete with the local system operated by Tele-Communications Inc.

Meanwhile, several other communities -- including
Rochester, Minn., home to the Mayo Clinic -- are looking at launching municipal
overbuilds, Martin said.

'Competition is getting real hot in the state.
There's no doubt about it,' Martin said.

In operation since 1958, Range is not a fly-by-night
operator, and it figures to provide significant competition for Triax.

'These are guys who are spending a lot of money to
build an advanced telecommunications system,' Martin said.