Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright 2002 St. Petersburg Times

St. Petersburg Times…03/02/2002

By LexisNexis

Nineteen months after putting its Americast cable system up for sale, Verizon Communications has found a buyer with some staying power.

Adelphia Communications, a rural Pennsylvania company that has swelled into one of the biggest cable operators in the country, has agreed to buy the Americast franchise in Pinellas County from Verizon. The deal, confirmed by Verizon on Friday, ensures at least a modicum of competition against the Tampa Bay area's dominant cable company, Time Warner.

"I don't think we would have entertained the notion of selling it to Time Warner," Verizon spokesman Bob Elek said.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Americast has about 59,000 customers in unincorporated Pinellas and in Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Largo, Seminole and Oldsmar. Its rates range from $10.95 a month for basic cable to $29.95 for "premiere cast plus."

Based in Coudersport, Pa., Adelphia has diverse interests ranging from telephone and Internet services to majority ownership of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team. Adelphia spokesman Bill Pekarski declined to comment on the deal.

Verizon's predecessor, GTE, entered the bay area cable market with Americast in 1996. The plan was to offer telephone and Internet services over the same fiber-optic cables carrying video images to cable TV customers. GTE promised to expand into Hillsborough County but never followed through.

When GTE and Bell Atlantic merged to create Verizon two years ago, the new telecommunications powerhouse concluded Americast did not fit with its core business. At the time, Americast served a little more than 60,000 customers in Hawaii and California in addition to 60,000 in Pinellas County. The Hawaii franchise was sold last year; the California franchise is included with the Pinellas County sale to Adelphia.

The desire to keep the operation going as a competitive foil to Time Warner was only part of the reason it was tough to find a buyer.

"Had we had a more contiguous or a larger base, it would not take as long as it did," Elek said.