Kentucky City Weighs Cable-System Buyout

If anyone buys bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp.’s system serving Richmond, Ky., and its suburbs, there could be a willing aftermarket purchaser in the wings.

City officials in Richmond are researching the feasibility of acquiring the local 19,000-subscriber operation from whoever emerges as the new owner, city manager David Evans confirmed.

The community is dissatisfied with Adelphia and formed a telecommunications research committee a year ago to examine cable ownership from “top to bottom,” Evans said.

The committee concluded it would cost $55 million for the community — population 30,000, plus a transient 18,000 attending Eastern Kentucky University — to buy the local system.

Richmond had gotten Adelphia to upgrade the region to an 850-Megahertz fiber-optic plant, tied to franchise negotiations to ensure Adelphia or its new owners have authority to operate for 15 years.

But local residents complain about the price they pay for a channel lineup that includes duplicative channels and some blank slots, the city manager said.

Also, Adelphia maintained a local call center until recently, and consumers have told the city they can’t get through to the toll-free number they’ve been told to use.

Cable proponents have not worked out some thorny issues involved with a possible acquisition, though.

For one, the city provides water, gas and sewer services locally, but does not have a municipal electric utility. Most city cable operations piggyback their video operation off the electrical infrastructure.

For another, officials haven’t decided whether to expand a possible cable operation beyond Richmond, where a headend that serves an additional 60,000 customers in the region is located.

The city is nonetheless moving forward, and has begun proceedings to revoke Adelphia’s franchise, according to Evans.

Officials sent a letter to Adelphia, demanding financial information from the local system, including income tax records for the last five years; construction information; data on calls that are answered, abandoned or blocked out by busy signals; and all user policies. Evans said some of the data should be used in future purchase decisions.

“We want good, dedicated service to the people,” he said in explaining the city’s motivation for researching a purchase.

Richmond held a public hearing about the issue three weeks ago, but “we haven’t heard a lot back so far,” Evans said.

Elected city officials have the authority to pursue a purchase without a public referendum, he said.