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Former Bresnan Execs Conspire With Private Equity Firm to Abandon Broadband in Rural Kansas

allegianceMore than 20 cable systems across Kansas will be terminating television and broadband service after a private equity firm, working with former Bresnan Cable executives, deemed them unprofitable and not worth upgrading.

Residents of Conway Springs (pop. 1,250), Chetopa (1,125), Sharon (158), and Harper (1,473) are among those who will find their cable and broadband service discontinued in the coming weeks. Abandoned cable subscribers are being told to buy satellite dishes to continue watching television. No immediate broadband solution was available.

Allegiance Communications, which provides cable TV, broadband Internet, and VOIP telephony services to rural and mid-size markets in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas was acquired last month by former executives at Bresnan Communications, itself bought out by Cablevision Industries. The deal was largely financed by BBH Capital Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm.

The purchase by BCI Broadband orphaned nearly two dozen cable systems that Allegiance owned and operated, but were excluded from the sale. Subscribers are being notified they are about to be switched off permanently in letters signed by Allegiance executives.

Several Bresnan former executives are behind BCI Broadband.

Several former Bresnan Cable executives are behind BCI Broadband.

The service will leave rural Kansans without broadband service, cable television, or an alternative to AT&T and other independent phone companies operating in the state.

“This was not an easy decision for us, nor is it one that we came to hastily. The costs of doing business in Conway Springs can no longer be profitable,” Allegiance wrote in its letter, according to KSNW-TV.

Local officials in affected communities are rushing to find an alternative, appealing to providers like Southern Kansas Telephone to see if they can pick up where Allegiance left off, but the phone company has yet to respond.

Allegiance claims the outdated cable systems served few subscribers and the new owners were not interested in investing funds to upgrade them.

BCI Broadband is a new company run by former executives forced out of Bresnan Communications when the company was sold to Cablevision. BCI Broadband claims it wants to invest in system upgrades to improve service to remaining subscribers.

“Historically when we have purchased cable systems and invested in upgrading to the latest technology in markets like Shawnee, that has inevitably led to more customers and the need for more staff,” said Shawn Beqaj, vice president of public and government affairs for BCI Broadband. Beqaj was the former vice president of public affairs at Bresnan.

There has been an accelerating trend of industry consolidation among rural cable operators, particularly by private equity firms that are interested in the stable earnings cable operators usually generate.

GTCR, through its portfolio company Rural Broadband Investments LLC , separately announced its plans to acquire NewWave Communications Co., in what it hopes is just the first of a series of acquisitions. NewWave’s purchase was financed by debt capital from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., and Goldman Sachs Bank USA.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/KSNW Wichita Small towns losing cable service 2-7-13.mp4

KSNW-TV reports more than 20 Kansas communities will lose television and broadband service when Allegiance Communications switches off the cable systems. (2 minutes)

Cablevision West For Sale: Time Warner Cable, Charter, Suddenlink All Submit First-Round Bids

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

Cablevision West, formerly known as Bresnan Communications, has been up for sale for weeks, and at least three major cable operators have submitted bids to acquire its 300,000 customers in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

Cablevision bought Bresnan Communications in 2010 for $1.37 billion. The cable operator invested millions updating the cable properties in the mountain west, but ultimately decided the more rural cable systems were too far away from its hometown systems in densely populated suburban New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Selling Cablevision West would improve Cablevision’s balance sheet and allow the company to concentrate on its highly competitive home territory in the northeast, where Verizon FiOS frequently competes.

Among the three vying for Cablevision West, Charter Communications seems to be the best positioned to win. Charter already operates cable systems in the central and western United States, mostly in smaller cities and rural areas. Former Cablevision CEO Thomas Rutledge was in charge when Cablevision bought Bresnan Communications, and in his new role as CEO of Charter, he told CNBC he still admires those western systems.

Suddenlink has attained deeper pockets after its acquisition earlier this year by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, European private equity firm BC Partners and the cable operator’s current management. With money to spend, Suddenlink Communications could find itself the highest bidder. Suddenlink currently serves over 1.4 million residential and commercial customers, primarily in Texas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Time Warner Cable, the second-largest U.S. cable provider, is also among the stingiest of the three bidders. CEO Glenn Britt has consistently told investors the company will not engage in bidding wars or overpay for acquisition opportunities. The company has passed on several earlier opportunities for cable systems up for sale, although it did successfully acquire Insight Communications earlier this year.

The winner will likely be announced as early as January and then customers will have to prepare, once again, for another owner to take control.

Telecom Companies Lobby for Lower Property Taxes Montana Homeowners Will Pay Instead

Phillip Dampier July 30, 2012 Astroturf, AT&T, Bresnan, Cablevision, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Time Warner Cable Comments Off

Large telecom and oil companies want to pay less property taxes and don’t mind Montana homeowners and small businesses paying the difference.

Telecommunications companies and the oil industry are lobbying the Montana Legislature to lower their assessed property taxes, shifting tax collections away from themselves and towards homeowners and small businesses.

Members of the Montana Legislature’s Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee are reviewing how the state values property — an important prerequisite to setting property taxes. The state legislature intends to collect a certain amount of tax revenue from owned property in the state. What percentage is paid by large national and multinational corporations, small businesses, and homeowners is open to debate, and industry lobbyists are fighting to lower the taxes of some of Montana’s largest businesses. Critics contend that will shift a greater proportion of property taxes on those who don’t have the resources to pay lobbyists — independent small businesses and residential property owners.

The Missoulian reports that the interim committee is currently divided on the proposition — Republicans favoring the views of large corporations and Democrats in favor of small businesses and homeowners.

Outgoing Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer warns that Montanans are facing a corporate lobbying snowjob that will stick them with a higher tax bill.

“What they’re proposing is a great tax shift in favor of out-of-state and multinational corporations in Montana – a shift from those paying the taxes to small businesses and homeowners in Montana,” Schweitzer told the newspaper. “They’ve decided that they can hire lobbyists on both the Democratic and Republican side and pull the wool over legislators. This is the same cast of characters that brought us utility deregulation. What could go wrong?”

The Montana Budget and Policy Center agrees, suggesting a large shift in property taxes towards homeowners, small businesses, farmers and ranchers could prove shocking when tax bills start arriving in mailboxes.

Leading to change the property tax laws are cable television, telecommunications companies, and oil refineries, with the assistance of the Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Taxpayers Association, which does not disclose its funding sources.

Prior to the introduction of the “tax reform” study, large telecom companies including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Cablevision routinely appealed their property tax bills to the tune of $61.3 million out of $108.2 million owed in property taxes assessed from 2005-2011.

State Revenue Director Dan Bucks defends the current valuation system, which he says has used the same practices since the 1930s. Bucks warns if the tax burdens are shifted away from the telecommunications and oil industries, the difference will have to be paid by homeowners and small businesses.

The newspaper reports if Republicans control the 2013 Legislature, telecom and oil industry supporters in the state legislature are confident they can pass a bill to change property tax assessments, and Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, (R-Kalispell) acknowledged there would be a noticeable tax shift.

“We’ve got to take the political hit of the tax shift,” Tutvedt said. “If you’re going to be fair, then you shouldn’t get hit.”

Rep. Dick Barrett (D-Missoula) warned the Republican-backed measure could deliver tax bills packing a major wallop on unsuspecting property owners.

“They could be pretty severe, depending on what it looks like,” he said.

Bresnan’s Montana Customers Now Part of Cablevision’s Optimum West

Phillip Dampier July 20, 2011 Bresnan, Broadband Speed, Cablevision, Consumer News Comments Off

Cable Montana is now Optimum West, Cablevision’s marketing name for the cable systems it acquired from Bresnan Communications.

Earlier today, customers in Billings, Laurel, Park City and Columbus were able to start using upgraded cable, phone, and broadband equipment on the updated cable system.  More than 2,200 Montanans were introduced to the Optimum name in a mailing sent to neighborhoods where service has been upgraded.  But all of the new equipment that comes with the service has created considerable confusion for long-standing Bresnan customers who have been using older Bresnan equipment for years.

The changes have been overwhelming for those used to Bresnan’s modest level of service for more than a decade.  Cablevision, best known for its Optimum service in suburban New York City, Connecticut, and New Jersey, has brought an enormous increase in programming, and improvements in broadband service, for many customers.

“All existing customers in Laurel, Park City and Columbus will be upgraded to Optimum TV by July 20, which will deliver many more channels, including access to more than 100 channels of free HD (high definition), thousands of titles of video on demand and other benefits like faster high-speed Internet and a better phone service with lower prices and more features than are available from any other provider,” says a Cablevision spokesperson.

When it works properly.

The Laurel Outlook reports some customers frustrated with the changeover have found themselves at local cable stores trying to sort out all the problems:

One Laurel customer installed his modem, but was not receiving service. A visit to the Laurel office did not provide answers to his satisfaction, so he drove to the Billings office on Monad Road, where he received two telephone numbers to call for tech support. He called one of the numbers, followed a menu, and was able to troubleshoot with a technician to get his Internet up and running.

A second customer installed her set-top box but was not receiving Optimum TV channels. She called the 1-800 number provided in the mailing packet, but technicians were unable to walk her through the necessary steps to receive service. Frustrated, she drove to the Laurel walk-in center on West First Street and made an appointment for a technician to come to her home. She discovered that not only must she program her television with the new Optimum channel numbers, she must also program the TV-top box with the correct numbers. After doing so, she was able to receive the new channels.

Many customers are likely going to need to reprogram their televisions more than once.  When the upgrades are complete, Cablevision says it plans to unify channel lineups across the area.

Radio Shack Store in Montana Gives Away Free Gun With Every Satellite TV Purchase

Phillip Dampier March 30, 2011 Bresnan, Cablevision, Consumer News, Video 2 Comments

A Radio Shack store in Hamilton, Montana has come up with a novel way to pitch satellite dishes to local residents — include a free gun with every purchase.

Actually, it’s not a promotion sanctioned by Radio Shack, and DISH Network has nothing to say about the promotion either.  It was the idea of store owner Steve Strand, who runs S&S Electronics, authorized to do business under the Radio Shack brand.

Strand says new DISH customers get their choice of either a Hi-Point 380c-p pistol or a Baikal MP-18 20 GA shotgun.  If guns are not your thing, Strand will give you a $50 gift card for the local Pizza Hut instead.

Strand’s store serves Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley — regions that are served by Bresnan Cable, now owned by Cablevision.  Stories about Bresnan on Stop the Cap! always elicit plenty of response… about how darn lousy the service is.  So satellite television, especially outside of Bresnan’s service area, is the only real option for many residents.

Giving away a gun with every purchase may raise eyebrows among many, but for most Montanans, it’s no big deal.  And when you call, S&S tells visitors to their promotional website there is never a need to press “1” for English.  “We are American and we speak English,” boasts the site.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Guns in Country 3-30-11.flv

CNN interviewed store owner Bill Strand about his unique promotion — a free gun with every satellite TV purchase.  (3 minutes)

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