WOW Gets Texas-Wide Thumbs-Up

Texas state regulators last week approved Wide-OpenWest LLC's plans to construct broadband networks capable of offering telecommunications services statewide.

In issuing its order, the Public Utility Commission of Texas confirmed that in reviewing the Denver-based overbuilder's qualifications, it found that WOW has the technical, legal and managerial expertise to compete in the state's telecommunications market.

"We are thrilled to be starting the construction process in Texas," WOW senior vice president and general manager for Texas Julia McGrath said. "Receiving state certification allows us to accelerate the process of bringing open-access broadband Internet, digital-cable television and telephone competition to our cities."

Headed by former RCN Corp. executives who helped that company to launch an overbuild in the Boston market, WOW has already been awarded cable franchises in Austin and Grand Prairie, Texas.

It has similar deals pending in 42 communities statewide, including Dallas, Fort Worth and Irving, where it will collide with AT & T Broadband. In Austin and San Antonio, it will take on Time Warner Cable.

"The PUC's decision is only a first step, but a necessary step for us," WOW spokesman Michael Steinkirchner said. "It allows us to get started."

Unlike AT & T Broadband, WOW is staking its future on its willingness to allow unaffiliated Internet-service providers to offer services over its high-speed networks.

AT & T Broadband, meanwhile, vehemently opposes the open-access concept, arguing that the market should drive competition, rather than the government.

In addition to Texas, WOW is preparing to take on AT & T Broadband in Portland, Ore., where the MSO is locked in a legal battle over open access.

The legal standoff is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing a lower-court ruling upholding Portland's right to require open access in exchange for a transfer of its former Tele-Communications Inc. franchise to AT & T Corp.

Experts contended that even if AT & T prevails in the appellate court, it may still be forced to unbundle its network in order to avoid losing market share to upstarts like WOW.

Meanwhile, WOW plans to begin offering cable, Internet and phone services in the metropolitan areas of Denver, Portland and several Texas cities this year, with other markets to follow.