Cable outfit delays Baltimore County application

Starpower puts off plan to vie with Comcast

April 11, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Forget about cable television competition in Baltimore County.

Viewers have been left with a single, familiar choice for cable -- Comcast -- after a second technology company decided not to invest in new fiber-optic lines.

Starpower Communications of Washington formally notified county officials yesterday that it was suspending its application for a franchise agreement that would have let it do battle with the county's monopoly cable provider.

"Starpower is very concerned about the potential risks of rapid expansion in today's capital-constrained markets," said company general counsel Deborah M. Royster in a letter to the county. "We have decided to delay finalizing a cable franchise agreement with Baltimore County until market conditions improve."

A year ago, Starpower and American Broadband of Massachusetts told the county they were willing to invest a combined $365 million in lines and other equipment to compete with Comcast. The companies pledged lower costs and better customer service.

American Broadband told the county in January that its capital had dried up. Starpower, a joint venture of Washington-based utility Pepco and RCN Corp. of New Jersey, is facing similar economic problems. RCN's stock closed at $4.17 a share yesterday, down sharply from a 52-week high of $45.

Starpower's withdrawal came the same day Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who handles the council's cable negotiations, was to present a final draft of a franchise agreement to his colleagues.

Kamenetz estimated that he spent 100 hours on negotiations.

"I'm disappointed because of the time, and because it would have been a benefit to the community," he said. "I think that we were diligent in maintaining an active negotiating schedule. We believe that competition is the best way to improve service and price."

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