Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 14
 
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
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Patriot Media Bought Out by Comcast

Matthew Hersh

The cable provider for both Princeton Borough and Township, Patriot Media, once heralded as the customer-friendly successor to the debt-saddled RCN, finalized an agreement Friday to be purchased by the cable giant, Comcast Corp.

The $483 million buyout, following a 2006 sales process decision carried out by Patriot owners Steven J. Simmons, Spectrum Equity Investors, and Spire Capital, could indicate programming changes for the company's current 81,000 subscribers, in both Princeton Borough and Township, as well as in municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon, and Morris counties. The move could also indicate a leveling of the playing field, with Verizon FiOS TV introducing its fiber-optic service and broadband Internet access to the Princeton area in the last month.

The buyout still has to clear various regulatory hurdles, including approval by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, as well as closing conditions, but both Patriot Media and Comcast expect the move will be complete by this fall, according to Jim Holanda, Patriot Media president and general manager.

"I think this means a lot of good things," he said. "Comcast has a lot more resources than a small company like us." Mr. Holanda pointed to subscriber amenities, including video on-demand, as well as Comcast's involvement with the Sprint-Spectrum consortium working on the so-called Quadruple Play, tying cellular wireless service into Patriot's current Triple Play, the conglomerate of high-speed Internet, television, and telephone service over one connection.

Mr. Holanda also pointed to some expanded programming that would include SportsNet Philadelphia, CN8, a regional channel.

Subscribers will be notified of any changes before they occur, Mr. Holanda said. However, while neither subscribers' existing equipment, nor Patriot's recently rebuilt infrastructure will change, details like the altering of e-mail addresses ending in "patmedia.net" are forthcoming.

But Comcast representatives say the transition should go smoothly, and that current Patriot subscribers will notice little change. Princeton's local access channels, including the Borough and Township municipal networks, Princeton Community Television, the Princeton University Channel, as well as the Princeton Regional Schools channel, will remain, Mr. Holanda said.

Stephen B. Burke, Comcast COO and president of Comcast Cable, said the Patriot Media acquisition would be a seamless extension of existing Comcast coverage. "Patriot Media systems are fully upgraded, have superior demographics, strong penetration of advanced products and best of all, they geographically compliment our systems in New Jersey," he said.

Steve Simmons, Patriot Media chairman and CEO said in a statement, "customers will be in very good hands and the Patriot tradition of excellent service will be continued."

Mr. Simmons started Patriot in 2002, buying up several cable systems, including RCN, in September 2002, for about $289 million.

Patriot's Mr. Holanda said that it is likely Comcast will retain the "majority of Patriot employees.

"There will still be service visits, and customer calls coming in every day, and Comcast needs people to service these 81,000 customers, so it is our expectation that a vast majority of these people will be hired by Comcast."

It is not yet clear, however, if the ten-person Patriot management team, will remain intact.

Current subscribers should begin to see some programming changes within the next 30 to 45 days, and once regulatory approvals are completed, Comcast will likely notify customers, Mr. Holanda said.

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