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Changes in the picture at cable TV business

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published February 18. 2013 4:00AM
Thames Valley Communications looks to expand under new owner

Groton - Changes are coming quickly at Thames Valley Communications where the new owners say plans are in the works to boost the cable, phone and Internet company's profile, number of employees and offerings to customers.

Bill Pearson, TVC's new president and chief operating officer, said in a recent interview that he has already brought on board former Charter Communications and Dish Network executives to help in the expansion of programming and to upgrade Internet speeds. He said he plans to advertise for jobs in positions like community sales representative, customer service, information technology and finance.

Part of the push for a wider customer base will occur in the Stonington and Pawcatuck areas, he said.

"We need to educate people we're more than just the City of Groton," Pearson said. "We've got to get the word out."

Sold by the city earlier this month, TVC had remained unprofitable since its inception in 2004 as a subsidiary of Groton Utilities. The town was left with $27.5 million in debt as a result of borrowing money to establish the company and connect homes.

While Pearson said he looks to hire in the coming months, he said 14 employees of the original TVC remain. Before the city sold the municipally run cable, phone and Internet business, there were 23 city employees working for TVC. They were all laid off by the city on Feb. 1 when TVC ownership was transferred to CTP Investors LLC.

One employee resigned before the transfer. Two former TVC employees retired with city benefits. Pearson said four installers were laid off in a move to move all of the work to the contractors already used by the company. Several others now have employment with Groton Utilities, Pearson said.

In anticipation of the job losses, the City Council this month approved a policy that gives former TVC employees a shot at filling open city positions, or "recall opportunities," for 18 months after the date of layoff.

When a city position opens up, Mayor Marian Galbraith said, unions and then former TVC employees will be notified before the position is advertised to the public. The agreement does not supersede any collective bargaining agreements.

Pearson, who moved to the city with his wife and has worked for or run several large broadband companies, said he looks forward to the challenge of building the company, which he said is one of his passions and the reason he saw the sale of TVC as a great opportunity. Without the fiscal constraints of a municipality, he thinks the company can become profitable.

He said the fact that TVC is in a competitive market with Comcast doesn't bother him.

"We have to provide a better value," he said. "I'm a huge fan of the power of broadband networks. I'm OK with building a company that competes with the evil empire."

A graduate the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Pearson earned an MBA, taught marketing classes and lectured on the Information Superhighway at Denver University, according to his published biography.

His last job was at Open Range Communications, where in 2010 he was named senior vice president of marketing. That company later filed for bankruptcy which Pearson said had to do with bad decisions by the company.

Pearson said he has great expectations for TVC, which he said had an advantage over other companies because of its customer service and established network.

CTP Investors' purchase of the company did not come without some last-minute competition, newly released documents reveal.

The city released information about two of the four proposals that emerged during a one month call for outside bids for TVC.

Partially redacted information released by the city in response to a Freedom of Information request from The Day shows that a $550,000 offer came from Cornerstone Management of Wellesley, Mass., the same company hired by the city in 2011 to provide interim management of TVC while the city searched for a buyer.

A second proposal came from Richard Wadman, doing business as Wadman LLC, who offered the city $150,000 and a shared service agreement.

The city eventually settled on a $550,000 offer from CTP Investors, which as of Feb. 1 owns and operates TVC.

CTP Investors' bid proposal, which jumped from an initial offering of $150,000 to $550,000, was not included in the city's response to the Freedom of Information request. In excluding the fourth bidder and CTP's proposal, city attorney Matthew Shafner cites confidentiality and trade secrets exemptions in the states Freedom of information law.

Cornerstone Management, in their partially redacted nine-page bid package, offered the city a 25 percent interest in a newly formed company called Newco, "allowing the city to participate in future proceeds."

In response to an explanation about the methodology used in the bidding process, Shafner released the following information: "Price, Price-diminishing conditions, strength of buyer capitalization; Buyer's growth plan for TVC; buyer's plan for TVC employees; local management/customer service presence; form of transactions; Ability to close transaction quickly; and regulatory approvals required."

g.smith@theday.com

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