OpTel Rolls Out Services as TVMax

After more than two years in limbo, OpTel Inc. emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last month with a new name — TVMax Inc. — and a plan to roll out digital video service.

TVMax, which offers video and data service to multiple dwelling units in 11 cities in nine states, said it would aggressively move the digital product onto its systems within the next 60 days.

In a press release, the company also said that about 20,000 subscribers are eligible to receive high-speed data services, and it would work to grow that footprint within the next 18 months.

OpTel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October of 1999; its reorganization plan was approved on Jan. 31, 2002. During that period, the company continued to provide service to its customers.

TVMax passes about 330,000 units and has about 150 total customers, including 50,000 subscribers in its largest market. The company provides service in Tampa and south Florida; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Indianapolis; Chicago; Houston; Dallas; Phoenix; Denver; and San Francisco.

TV Max president and CEO Ron Dorchester said the plan is to roll out digital service throughout the company's footprint.

Dorchester, one of the founders of Prime Cable Corp., is also CEO of Anchor Pacific Corp., an Austin, Texas-based firm that manages distressed cable properties. Dorchester has more than 20 years experience in the cable business.

He started out as a general manager for American Television & Communications Corp. (ATC), the predecessor of Time Warner Cable, in 1973.

In 1998, Prime sold its largest system, in Las Vegas, to Cox Communications Inc. for about $3.1 billion.

"At Prime, the whole business was built on turning around distressed properties," Dorchester said. "This is familiar ground for us."

Dorchester said TV Max has the backers to finance its digital rollout and a credit facility that will fund its business plan for the next four years. But he declined to name those funding sources.

TV Max will initially roll out the digital product of WSNet Inc., an Austin-based provider of digital satellite programming. Other providers may be used in the future, he added.

TV Max and WSNet both count New Rochelle, N.Y.-based investment fund Romulus Holdings Inc. among their largest shareholders. Romulus, which invests primarily in distressed companies, has been rumored to be moving toward combining its cable holdings — including Galaxy Telecom Inc., a Sikeston, Mo. MSO that filed for Chapter 11 protection in November — to create its own satellite-based service. Romulus is also a major shareholder in Galaxy.

Romulus also was rumored to be acquiring the debt of Classic Communications Inc., another bankrupt rural MSO, but industry sources said that Romulus had sold that debt a few months ago.

Dorchester acknowledged that Romulus is among TV Max's largest shareholders, but said he knows of no present plans to combine the service with other Romulus holdings.