WOW! exits Chicago area, sells cable systems to rival RCN

Expands footprint in Chicago area

In news that would’ve been a big deal fifteen years ago, WOW! – or Wide Open West, has sold its cable and broadband services to RCN parent Astound Broadband for $661 million.

The deals were one of two separate transactions WOW! made last Wednesday: the other was a sale of its Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio cable and broadband systems to Atlantic Broadband $1.13 billion. Atlantic Broadband is the U.S. Subsidiary of Cogeco Communications, based in Montreal. Atlantic’s U.S. headquarters are based in Quincy, Mass.

The acquisition expands RCN’s footprint in the Chicago area, as the telecom provider serves Skokie, Lincolnwood, Evanston, and the Chicago neighborhoods of the Loop, River North, and Hyde Park. The purchase gives RCN soon-to-be-former WOW systems on Chicago’s South Side, Evansville, and Anne Arundel, Md.

In addition to Illinois, RCN provides cable and broadband service in six other states and the District of Columbia.

The sale comes as more and more households are cutting the cord and relying on solely broadband service as both RCN and WOW! ended traditional cable installs a few years ago.

WOW! operated in what was once known as Chicago’s “Area 5” – one of five franchise areas designated by the Chicago City Council in the 1980s for cable TV services as it awarded one to TCI (now Comcast) in the 1980s and awarded one to Ameritech in 1995, one of the former baby bells absorbed by SBC (now AT&T.) Launched as Americast, the Disney, Bell South, SBC, and GTE venture lasted only five years before selling the entire unit to WOW. “Area 5” ran east and south from Midway Airport, zig-zagging to 71st/Western and then to 79th and all points southward from there in Chicago proper. 

RCN operates in the “Area 1” franchise area, covering Lakefront neighborhoods stretching from Rogers Park to roughly somewhere around 51st Street in Hyde Park.

A sale to Comcast was not possible, given anti-trust concerns since they already are operating in Chicago, leaving those on the South Side and other areas WOW! serves with just one major broadband provider though this is the case in some areas, particularly in the south suburbs where Comcast dominates.

Channel lineup and equipment changes are likely once the deal closes.

WOW! has nearly 75,000 residential and 2,800 business customers in the Chicago area, and plans to continue operating in six other states, including the Detroit Metro area.

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