BCI acquires rural cable system in Mississippi

Second major deal for PG parent firm

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Block Communications Inc. announced on Monday an agreement to acquire MetroCast Mississippi, a rural cable system that provides cable television, telephone and Internet services to more than 45,000 residential and business customers in 16 Mississippi counties.

The deal, which is expected to close by the end of the year, is subject to franchise transfer approval by local municipalities and possibly other agencies. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

It marks the second major acquisition this month by Block Communications, which also owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Last week, the diversified media holding company acquired Line Systems Inc., a suburban Philadelphia business communications provider.

MetroCast Mississippi is a subsidiary of Harron Communications, LP, of Frazer, Pa., a cable television operator that operates systems in nine states.

John Robinson Block, publisher of the Post-Gazette and vice chairman of Block Communications, said the Mississippi cable franchise is a modern cable system that is mostly interconnected, will be entirely digital by year’s end, and provides the three modern cable-based services demanded by consumers — cable, phone, and Internet. MetroCast also has an excellent reputation among its customers, he added.

The purchase represents a “geographic diversification and a rural diversification” for Block Communications. “I am optimistic this will be a good opportunity for the company for the future,” Mr. Block said.

MetroCast Mississippi serves customers throughout a 200-mile territory, including two academic jewels of the state — the cities of Oxford, home to the University of Mississippi, and Starkville, home to Mississippi State University. Its service area also includes, Kosciusko, the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey, and the county seats of Carthage, Holly Springs, Philadelphia, Booneville, Raleigh, Iuka, Louisville, Houston, Decatur, Pontotoc, Forest and New Albany.

As of March 31, MetroCast has a service area of 100,000, including 61,000 primary service units. Primary service units include video, high-speed data, or residential telephone customers. Some customers receive all three services.

“We couldn't be more pleased to have another family-owned, customer-oriented company who has enjoyed a long history in the communications industry like Block Communications acquire our Mississippi systems,” said James J. Bruder Jr., chairman and CEO of Harron Communications.

Historically, the acquisition marks the first business investment in the South for the Block family, owners of Block Communications, in 88 years.

In 1921, Mr. Block’s grandfather, Paul Block, purchased the Memphis News-Scimitar newspaper, whose coverage area extended into Mississippi.

In May, 1925, the News-Scimitar covered the exploits of Tom Lee, a 39-year-old black man who used his small wooden skiff to save 32 passengers from a capsized riverboat on the Mississippi River. Paul Block led a successful effort to have Lee invited to the White House to receive an award from President Calvin Coolidge.

Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Jon Chavez is a reporter for The Blade.

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