Backtalk: Can You Say, SIGECOM?

I will hazard to guess that just about the only people whoknow what SIGECOM is either work for Insight Communications or Adelphia Communications, asboth MSOs are now battling an intruder in Evansville, Ind., and nearby environs.

There, Insight, which acquired a system much in need of anupgrade from Tele-Communications Inc., and Adelphia, which is in the same boat with theplant it inherited from Century Communications, are scrambling to rebuild in order tocompete with SIGECOM, the new kid in town.

SIGECOM is offering a full array of bundled video, voiceand local telephone services, at discounted prices, to both business and residentialusers. Like other overbuilders these days, SIGECOM offers 10 percent discounts for eachadditional service a customer takes.

SIGECOM (pronounced "siggycome," no kidding) isamong the latest new-styled breed of overbuilder to attack incumbent cable operators.

We've widely reported about the goings on of moreknown overbuilders such as WideOpenWest LLC, Western Integrated Networks and DigitalAccess Inc.

But until last week, SIGECOM was a pretty well-kept secret,at least to me. That's when I got a blast from the past when my former cable-systemmanager gave me a call.

SIGECOM, says Richard Wadman, the company's presidentand general manager, is a different animal from other overbuilders.

While the SIGECOM name might not yet resonate in cable, theWadman name does. Until two years ago, he was the general manager of what was then TCI ofWestchester County, N.Y. But Cablevision Systems acquired that system, and Wadman left insearch of greener pastures.

Prior to his brief stint at TCI, Wadman had worked atColony Communications for 18 years, last serving as division manager of the MSO'sNortheast territory. He left Colony when Continental, later MediaOne, acquired thatcompany.

What's different about SIGECOM is that it is a jointventure of Sigcorp, the parent company of Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Co., andUtilicom Networks Inc., a Franklin, Mass.-based company created to help gas and utilitycompanies move into the telecommunications sector.

And Utilicom is ready to strike again in two Midwestmarkets, also hooking up with gas and utility companies that have strong reputations,Wadman says. Those markets are located east of the Mississippi River, and there'sanother market ready to pop this year in the Northeast, he says.

Like others of this new ilk of overbuilders that arebundling voice, data and video into attractively discounted packages, SIGECOM'sWadman chafes at being called an overbuilder. "That's not right becausewe're bringing services to businesses and residences that never had these kinds ofofferings," he says.

Targeting business customers is key to SIGECOM'sadvance in Indiana, Wadman says, adding that the company is currently installing morelocal phone service than video, competing head on with the local phone provider,Ameritech. Ameritech is not a video contender in Evansville, Ind., although it has manycable franchises sprawling around the Midwest.

Another difference that makes SIGECOM stand apart, Wadmansays, is its plant. "It's unique -- we're running a redundant system toeach node." And each node serves only 150 homes, far fewer than how most cablesystems operate, with as many as 1,000 homes on a node.

The redundant system is actually two diverse routes, sothat if one line goes down, the other is there as a backup, and service is neverinterrupted. Wadman reports that so far, there has not been one outage, and that'simportant if businesses are relying on you for telephone service.

Wadman reports that SIGECOM has already signed up 14,000customers in Indiana, with 8,000 to 9,000 taking phone service from the newcomer. The lureof the phone service is that SIGECOM adds on a lot of freebies to the basic phone package,including caller ID and three-way calling. And those penetration figures are three to fourtimes greater than the company's original projections, Wadman says.

And if you're wondering where many of your old palswound up in the aftermath of industry consolidation, they might just be working atSIGECOM. Wadman says he has assembled a management team of people from all fields,including executives from MediaOne and Cablevision. Some of your old cronies might verywell be working there, or at one of the other overbuilders now besetting incumbent cableplayers.