At Home to lose cable partners

At Home has suffered a major setback with the announcement that Cox Communications and Comcast Cable Communications are to...

At Home has suffered a major setback with the announcement that Cox Communications and Comcast Cable Communications are to terminate their distribution agreements with the company as of 4 June 2002.

Best-known for its Excite@Home brand, At Home operates a cable modem network which serves 3.6 million residential users. With the defection of Cox and Comcast, At Home will be left with only one major cable partner, AT&T.

AT&T has a controlling interest in At Home, holding a 23% ownership stake and a 74% voting interest. Comcast Cable decided to exercise an exit provision in its contract "in light of the recent published reports regarding Excite@Home's financial condition", according to Comcast president Steve Burke.

"We have been and continue to be in discussions with Excite@Home about how we might structure a different relationship," added Burke. "That being said, we will have 950,000 customers by the year's end, and we need to insure that they continue to be well-served."

Cox had been in discussions with At Home for several months about assuming greater control over the Cox@Home broadband service, according to Cox spokeswoman Laura Oberhelman. At Home's mounting problems "simply accelerated" those plans, she said.

Cox currently has 484,000 residential broadband customers and is in trials with America Online and EarthLink to test their high-speed Internet services. Cox's arrangement with At Home is legally binding until the end of 2001, but the company intends to offer its customers a choice of ISPs (Internet service providers) early next year.

At Home has been struggling with large losses and a mountain of debt. The company recently fired its auditors, Ernst & Young LLP, for expressing doubts about At Home's future viability. At Home maintains that its change in auditors was unrelated to Ernst & Young's grim evaluation.

In a separate development, At Home said it was planning to retain an investment banking firm to assist its restructuring efforts, which are likely to include the sale of the company's Excite.com portal.

At Home's shares fell 23.1% on the news of its latest troubles.

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