Comporium says it's ready to face Time Warner

Cable provider could start serving parts of York County within a year

05/21/2008 12:33 AM

05/21/2008 12:41 AM

Comporium Communications isn't flinching, at least not publicly, in the face of this week's news that Time Warner Cable hopes to start providing cable TV service to almost half of York County.

Instead, the century-old, Rock Hill-based, private company says it plans to stand toe-to-toe with the nation's second-largest cable company.

"We compete against Time Warner already," said Comporium vice president of operations Glenn McFadden, noting the limited area both Time Warner and Comporium already serve near the state line in Fort Mill. "We feel our products will stand on their own."

But Time Warner's plans will expand the competition to a larger area of the county. If approved by state officials this year, Time Warner will be allowed to offer cable service to almost all unincorporated areas of the county north of S.C. 5, according to the Time Warner franchise application. Areas inside city limits would not be included, nor the Newport and India Hook communities or a small area along Sutton Road near Interstate 77, according to the application.

The application was approved by the York County Council on Monday night. The next step will be approval by state officials. If approved, Time Warner, which already serves the Charlotte area, could begin serving the expanded York County area within a year.

"We saw an opportunity to expand, and it looked like a good opportunity for us," said Time Warner spokeswoman Sue Breckenridge. There's a lot of growth in that area."

Focus on new developments

Breckenridge said Time Warner had a small franchise area outside of Clover it already serviced. When that franchise expired this year, the company decided to expand, she said.

Time Warner's plans could become the biggest offensive by a Comporium cable competitor in York County since the emergence of satellite TV.

That's in large part because Comporium's territory has been viewed as a place where competitors couldn't succeed, McFadden said.

"Comporium has always done a really good job of providing all the services customers in the area have desired," he said.

But instead of going head-to-head with Comporium in existing neighborhoods, Time Warner, a cable super-company that recently arranged for naming rights to Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena, will focus its York County growth in new developments, Breckenridge said. If the company were to compete in existing areas, it would require a huge capital investment to install its own cable lines next to Comporium's existing lines.

Competition 'a great idea'

Critics have often called Comporium's lack of competition a monopoly. In 2005, a city of Rock Hill study revealed that 48 percent of residents surveyed wanted more channels, and 50 percent said Comporium didn't offer a fair value.

"It's a great idea. Comporium needs competition," Stuart Moskovitz, who lives off Gold Hill Road in the Fort Mill area, said about Time Warner's proposed expansion. "Competition brings better service and better prices."

Moskovitz, who retired to the area from Chicago several years ago, said he switched to DirectTV recently because it offered more channels and a better price. He's hoping Time Warner will drive prices down for local cable service.

However, standard cable rates listed on the two companies' Web sites Tuesday indicate that Comporium already has lower prices by a few dollars in the areas Time Warner wants to serve.

While Comporium has avoided telephone competition because it's designated as a rural carrier, McFadden said no one has forced other cable companies out of the county.

"It has always been wide open," he said. "Sometimes, there are people who think we are somehow keeping people out, when we're not."

McFadden said he doesn't expect Comporium customers to see any changes to rates or service related to the Time Warner expansion.

"We already have very competitive pricing against Time Warner," McFadden said. "This is nothing new."

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