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ADELPHIA SALE PLAN WORRIES MASIELLO

As Adelphia Communications Corp. shops its cable television assets, Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello is questioning a sale's potential impact on the area's 1,700 Adelphia employees.

During a news conference held Sunday afternoon outside Adelphia's waterfront call center, the mayor called on the troubled cable company to open a dialogue with city officials on the future of its local work force and subscriber base.

"I don't want to wake up some morning and hear they've sold off the Buffalo franchise and the new owner is going to pull the plug on the call center and Empire Sports Network. Then it would be too late," Masiello said. "I want to make a pre-emptive strike and start talking with them about Buffalo now, before a deal is struck."

Cable company officials could not be reached to comment.

Adelphia, which employs about 1,000 customer service and technical support staffers in Buffalo and Cheektowaga, plus another 700 workers who operate the local cable network, provides cable television and Internet service to 300,000 subscribers in Erie and Niagara counties.

The cable company's 10-year contract for cable service in the City of Buffalo will expire next year, and preliminary discussions are due to begin on its extension.

The mayor acknowledged that Buffalo is just one of dozens of markets that would be affected by an Adelphia asset sale but said the city's relationship with the cable company runs deep.

"We stood by them in good times when they planned to build their national operations center here. We also stood by them through their bankruptcy, hoping they'd emerge from their financial problems," he said.

The mayor said he would like to be informed about those with whom Adelphia is negotiating on the potential sale of its cable systems and have an opportunity to open conversation with any potential buyer.

In recent weeks, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner, the No. 1 and No. 2 U.S. cable operators, respectively, have confirmed they are exploring a potential joint bid for Adelphia. In what portends to be a complicated deal, Time Warner, according to speculation, would give Comcast some portions of Adelphia in exchange for Comcast's interest in Time Warner Cable.

The mayor also wants to stay on top of efforts to sell Empire Sports Network, which employs about 50 in its broadcast of the Buffalo Sabres and local college and high school sporting events.

"I'm worried Empire could go dark. I'm also worried that if an out-of-town buyer picks it up, it could become an add-on service for local cable subscribers, reducing access to local and regional sports programming or having local content eliminated altogether," Masiello said.

New York-based Madison Square Garden Network had been negotiating with Adelphia to carry Sabres games, allowing Adelphia to dissolve Empire, but those talks cooled off as the National Hockey League lockout loomed. Tom Haywood, Adelphia's local executive, has said "several networks" are interested in Empire but has not provided specifics.

Masiello said Sunday that local parties are interested in acquiring Empire. While he declined to name names, Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano reportedly has an interest in the broadcast division. Jeremy Jacobs, the Delaware North Cos. chairman who has an ownership stake in Boston-based New England Sports Network, also is considered a candidate.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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