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Time Warner to expand with Shaw purchase

A branch of the cable company will buy Shaw Communications' Florida systems, meaning more cable services for central and eastern Pasco.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2003


ZEPHYRHILLS -- For television viewers in central and east Pasco, there's a new cable company coming to town.

Shaw Communications, which has about 20,000 customers in Pasco County, is selling its Florida cable systems to a branch of Time Warner, the dominant cable provider in the Tampa Bay area.

The sale is set to close in June, once it receives approval by the Federal Communications Commission and local cable regulators, Shaw Communications president Peter Bissonnette said.

"(Time Warner's) systems are contiguous to ours, so it really made good sense for them to buy our systems," Bissonnette said. "They understand the Florida markets and the opportunity for growth in those markets."

It's too early to say how the sale will affect monthly rates or channel lineups for Pasco customers, said Linda Chambers, vice president of business affairs for Time Warner Cable's Tampa Bay division.

"We're in the initial stages of finalizing the details," she said. "Ultimately, I think it's going to be good for customers, because we plan to upgrade the systems and bring customers some of the advanced services such as video on demand and HBO on demand, like we offer in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties."

Dade City Commissioner Hutch Brock also hopes the new owner will add public access channels, coverage of city meetings and better packages for residents. The city should negotiate for those perks when Time Warner applies for a Dade City franchise agreement in the coming weeks, Brock said.

The sale is part of a larger $197-million deal that helps Alberta-based Shaw Communications pull out of the American market, allowing it to focus on its Canadian cable systems, Bissonnette said.

Shaw Communications will sell its six cable systems in Florida, serving about 50,000 customers, to a subsidiary created by Time Warner Entertainment and cable operator Advance/Newhouse. The systems serve Pasco County, Clermont, Palm Coast, Ormond Beach, West Palm Beach and Doral, a community near Miami.

The Time Warner subsidiary already serves about 950,000 Tampa-area customers. It will split away from Time Warner Cable next month, and Advance/Newhouse will run the yet-to-be-named cable company, Chambers said.

Three other Shaw Communications systems in Texas, serving about 20,000 viewers, will be sold to St. Louis-based Cequel III telecommunications and cable company.

Bissonnette said he could not disclose the sale amounts for individual systems.

The revenue will help Shaw Communications pay down its debts and focus on its home base of Canada, where it serves more than 2.1-million cable customers, Bissonnette said.

"We loved being in Texas and Florida," he said, "but sometimes you really have to stick to your knitting, and our knitting is really here in Canada."

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 352-521-5757 ext. 23 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 23. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com .

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