Altrio Sizes Up Pasadena for Launch

Altrio Communications, one of the newest players on the overbuild scene, has chosen Pasadena, Calif., as its inaugural market.

The Los Angeles-based start-up recently filed to begin negotiating a deal with the community, which consists of 56,000 households at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. It was also expected to file last week in nearby Monrovia, Calif.

Altrio holds a Federal Communications Commission license to build open-video systems for 600,000 households in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties.

Although it does not technically require a cable franchise, Altrio must negotiate an arrangement that gives it access to public rights-of-way in each community it enters.

"It's similar to a cable franchise," said Altrio spokeswoman Brenda Trainor. "What each community wants to call it is up to them."

In Pasadena, Altrio will compete with Charter Communications Inc. and Pacific Bell. In Monrovia, the competition will be Adelphia Communications Corp. and Verizon Communications.

"We find these markets to be very attractive in terms of demographics," Trainor said. "They're also markets that our founders are very familiar with."

Altrio's founders consist of the management team that helped build InterMedia Partners into a major MSO.

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Cable Commission last week granted Western Integrated Networks LLC a 15-year franchise that covers the county's unincorporated areas. The deal could be approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors sometime next month.

The company already has a franchise in the city of San Diego, where it will compete against Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable. Unlike the incumbents, which divided up more than 300,000 local cable subscribers, Western Integrated promised to build out the entire city.

Time Warner spokesman Mike Luftman said there were obvious advantages in WIN's covering the entire San Diego market, but not enough to "tilt the table."

"All we ask is a level playing field," he said. "As long as we get that, we're ready to compete."

In Tennessee, the Memphis City Council ignored protests from Time Warner Cable and others and unanimously approved plans by an affiliate of its municipal power company to build a fiber network to deliver telecommunications services.

The approval was a bit premature, though. The project planned by Memphis Networx, a spin-off of Memphis Light, Gas & Water, has yet to be approved by the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.

The utility subsidiary plans to deploy a $100 million plant throughout Memphis and surrounding Shelby County to provide telephone, Internet and cable services.

Investors in the spin-off, according to information submitted to the city, include the CEO of Memphis-based FedEx Corp. and the chairman of National Commerce Bancorporation.

The utility lent $20 million to its affiliate, to be repaid over nine years.