Hauser Communications, a New York-based cable television company operating systems in Arlington County and suburban Minneapolis, is negotiating to buy Montgomery County's troubled cable television franchise from Tribune Co. of Chicago, industry sources confirmed yesterday.
The Hauser company was selected by Tribune from among four bidders.
Tribune Co., facing revocation of the Montgomery franchise for alleged contract violations, put all 15 of its cable operations on the market earlier this year, and announced last week that nine of them had been purchased by a Colorado-based company for $237.5 million. Four were purchased by the president of Tribune's cable subsidiary.
Last month, County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist angrily charged the cable company with "mismanagment," announced the start of lengthy proceedings to revoke the franchise because of what he charged were repeated contract violations.
Tribune officials informed Montgomery administrators last month about the bids for the county system and said they would be negotiating with a potential buyer. But they have refused to reveal details about the bidders or the negotiations.
Under the franchise agreement, the county has the right to accept or reject a potential buyer before the system can be sold.
Yesterday, Alexander J. Greene, a special assistant to County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, said the company had asked for a meeting with County Attorney Paul McGuckian this afternoon to explain "who bid and why they selected whom they selected."
Officials from Tribune and the Denver brokerage firm handling the sale also asked to meet with Gilchrist Friday to present the buyer formally. Green said the county had not been told the buyer's name, but three cable industry sources told The Washington Post that Hauser Communications was negotiating with Tribune for the county system.
Hauser President Gustave Hauser declined to comment on the proposed sale. While his company is considered the leading candidate to take over the county system, one source stressed that negotiations are still tentative.
Two other major cable companies with ties here also expressed interest in the Montgomery system.
Sources said that Prime Cable Co., owner of one of the two cable franchises serving Prince George's County, also had bid on the Montgomery system, as had Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) the nation's largest cable company and a major partner in the District's cable television firm.
The source said Prime Cable, which has been operating in Prince George's since 1984, is no longer actively negotiating with Tribune.
The Montgomery franchise was included in TCI's bid for all of Tribune's cable systems, but a TCI spokesman said that, "apparently our bid was dropped when they took the Jones proposals."
Media General Inc., operator of the Fairfax County cable system, the area's largest, did not bid on the Montgomery franchise, a Media General spokesman said.