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Charter To Buy Seren in Minn.

Charter Communications Inc. agreed to snap up the Minnesota assets of overbuilder Seren Innovations Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

Seren's parent, Minnesota power company Xcel Energy Inc., has been trying to exit the telecom business for the past year.

It sold Seren's California operations to WaveDivision Holdings earlier this year. The sale of the Minnesota systems — with 20,000 subscribers in St. Cloud, Minn., and surrounding communities —will conclude that exit.

Xcel said in a statement that the deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

The St. Cloud system was an overbuild of Charter, according to an Xcel Energy spokesman.

Seren had big plans when it was formed by Northern States Power (Xcel Energy's previous name) in 1998, planning to compete with cable operators with a triple-play package of voice, video and high-speed Internet services and obtaining franchises in Concord and Walnut Creek, Calif., in addition to St. Cloud. At its peak, Seren, providing service under the Astound Broadband name, had about 45,500 subscribers.

But those plans proved too ambitious and in 2002 Seren's parent announced that it would not develop any new markets. With losses piling up the electric and gas utility decided to pull the plug on the overbuilder earlier this year.

Charter has been considered to be a seller of assets instead of a buyer, so the deal comes as a bit of a surprise. Last year it completed the sale of some of its non-strategic systems with about 230,000 subscribers to Atlantic Broadband for $735 million. Charter has said it has another 250,000 subscribers in non-strategic areas that it is looking to sell.