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Cable business as usual despite new ownership

Shaw to take over Whistler Cable services Oct. 1

The announcement last week that Shaw Communications had purchased Whistler Cable signifies the end of an era for the community, and for community-based cable in general. According to Whistler Cable owner and general manager Ron Saperstein, Whistler Cable was the last independent service provider of its kind in all of Western Canada.

With Shaw recently acquiring Coast Mountain Communications, which operates in Pemberton, Saperstein knew it was only a matter of time.

"My thoughts are that we’ll miss the community we’ve served since 1979, and it will be sort of sad," he said. "But, at the same time, we hope our subscribers will have a better experience with Shaw, which can offer a lot of things a small company like ours just can’t match.

"(Shaw) approached us some time ago, and the negotiations took place that allowed them to acquire us. We weren’t up for sale at the time, but I believe Whistler is a fairly high profile acquisition with the Olympics and so forth, and I believe it was only a matter of time before a larger company would have wanted to acquire the company."

Details of the sale, which is pending approval from the Toronto Stock Exchange, are private, but Saperstein said he expects Shaw to continue to offer community programming on Cable 6, as well as Whistler-specific channels like the guide on Cable 13 and Whistler Resort TV on Cable 2.

"They’re probably going to enhance the services that we have, as (Shaw) has resources that we just can’t have. When you have a million or two million subscribers, you can do a lot that a small operator can’t," said Saperstein. "It will mean better digital programming, we’ll get Video On Demand, we’ll have an Internet telephone service where you’ll be able to call anywhere in North America and not have the long distance bills."

If the sale is approved – sales are only rarely halted by the stock exchange – Shaw will take over operations on Oct. 1.

As for Saperstein and his family, who started Whistler Cable in 1979, it will be tough to leave the community. Saperstein says he will be looking at other high tech opportunities in Vancouver and Calgary. He says he will miss the town, but doesn’t plan to be a stranger – "I’ll always be skiing here."

For Whistler Resort TV, the flagship station of the Resort TV Network, the Shaw Cable takeover was expected and should have no impact on their operations.

"(Shaw) is currently broadcasting us in Banff, as they inherited us when Monarch was bought out by Shaw, and things haven’t changed in that year and a half," said Jacki Bissillion, vice president and general manager of Whistler Resort TV.

"We’re still broadcasting alongside their community channel in Banff and Canmore. I think in resort towns Shaw has recognized the value of having a custom channel that targets visitors.

"After Monarch and Coast we knew that this was coming here, and that it was just a matter of time. As to what that might mean, the ink is still drying on the contract so we’ll have to see, but we’re not anticipating doing anything different. Our intention is to continue to rent space off Shaw just as we rented space from Whistler Cable."

Assuming that Shaw can offer the same services to Whistler as to subscribers in other markets, Shaw will be able to offer digital phone capability, over 200 channels of cable and digital television, Shaw On Demand movies and sports, three types of residential Internet plans and business Internet.

Shaw could not be reached for comment.