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Harron Adds Subscribers In New Region

Harron Communications, which a year ago said it wanted to double in size to about 300,000 cable subscribers, got closer last week, signing two agreements to buy cable systems in the South that will add about 52,000 customers.

“We continue on our mission, if you want to call it that,” Harron chairman and CEO Joel Cohen said after the deals with Vista III Media, for 33,000 customers, and Northland Cable Networks were announced. “And we've got a new region.”

Both deals are definitive agreements expected to close by Dec. 31. Waller Capital advised Northland, which is majority owned by Providence Equity Ventures.

Harron, based in Frazer, Pa., and operating as MetroCast, has about 145,000 cable subscribers, mostly in the Northeast. The purchased systems are mainly in Mississippi and Alabama, other than about 4,000 customers in South Carolina that could be retained or sold, Cohen said.

Harron likes to have systems that mesh into a unit of 50,000 or more basic customers, he said, so the combined purchases were a good fit. Also, Mississippi is “a wonderfully growing area” with good subscriber demographics. “There's a Toyota plant down there that's bringing in 2,000 new jobs,” he said. “This really presented an opportunity that fell into our lap.”

Vista III Media was founded by Neil McHugh and financially backed by Boston Ventures, which also holds a minority interest in privately owned Harron.

“This was a good way to make an entrance into a new state for [Harron] and it was a good exit for Vista,” Boston Ventures partner Louis Bertocci said in an interview.

Vista's markets include Oxford, Miss., home of the University of Mississippi, and Mississippi State.

The Vista systems were upgraded and offer telephone, digital cable and high-speed Internet, while the Northland systems will require a rebuild, Cohen said.

Harron also has a couple of “bolt-on” acquisitions pending in existing markets, Cohen said. But it isn't necessarily rigid in seeking 300,000 customers, especially as additional service rollouts, such as phone and high-speed Internet, have made the concept of revenue generating units more important than overall subscribers.

“We're expanding to the point where we're incredibly comfortable with the 200,000 that we will have” after the pending deals close, he said.

The 300,000 goal was set by Cohen and the late Paul Harron Jr., the company's former chairman. An earlier Harron cable company had that many when it sold out to Adelphia Communications in 1999, retaining just 30,000.