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High-tech in W.Va. could benefit from mega-merger

by Paul Leakan

STAFF WRITER

Some analysts tout the proposed merger between America Online and Time Warner as the dawn of a new era in communication.

But what exactly would the mega-media marriage mean to the Mountain State?

Depending on whom you ask, the answer is still somewhat unclear.

"As far as the dynamics and what will happen, it's hard to say," said Lenny Hannigan, general manager of Time Warner Cable in Clarksburg.

"We expect no initial impact on our local operations. But I have to say that we firmly believe that the combination of these two companies will probably enhance our service to our customers."

Despite the uncertainly of the initial effects of the proposed merger, some analysts believe the deal could help promote the high-technology sector throughout West Virginia.

Among other things, the merger could further advance a growing trend toward the nationwide expansion of high-speed Internet service through cable lines.

"There's going to be increasingly more and more competition between the cable companies as they migrate from traditional cable services and integrate their services with Internet providers," said Tom Witt, associate dean of research and outreach at West Virginia University's College of Business and Economics.

"The big, upcoming battle is going to be, 'Who is going to provide the services to connect you to the Internet in your home? Is it going to be through the telephone lines, is it going to be through your cable modem or, in some cases, is it going to be satellite dishes?'"

In some cases, wider cable lines can be up to 100 times faster than traditional phone and modem connections.

As it stands now, Time Warner Cable in Clarksburg has the infrastructure in place to someday offer Internet service through its cable lines.

Either way, the proposed merger would have an effect on the local telephone company.

"It's certainly going to affect us because Time Warner was already a formidable competitor, and by merging with AOL they'll be able to bring a lot of resources competing against us," said Paul Miller, spokesman for Bell Atlantic.

"However, we are pleased that their system will be an open one, which means you could use them as a pipeline (for the Internet) but you could use any Internet service provider you want."

Miller said the proposed AOL-Time Warner merger was no surprise.

Even so, Witt believes the proposed merger is more about the overall resources in what AOL and Time Warner can offer each other than it is about cable Internet access.

The proposed deal would combine America Online Inc.'s 22 million online subscribers with Time Warner Inc., including Time magazine, CNN, TBS, TNT, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly.

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