Cablevision Puts “For Sale” Sign on Wireless Unit

Cash-strapped Cablevision said it would look for a partner in its fledgling wireless effort but vowed to continue its broadband push.

Cablevision admitted Thursday that it expected to end the year with a shrunken customer base, and the company told investors it would sell off assets and institute a wide-ranging cost-cutting plan in an effort to free up much-needed cash.

The Bethpage, N.Y.-based cable provider said it would put its 49.9 percent stake in Northcoast Communcations wireless business on the block, looking for a partner or an outright buyer. A sale would help raise the estimated $1 billion Cablevision needs to continue operating its far-flung empire, which includes ownership of the New York Knicks and Rangers.

Cablevision also abruptly changed course by scrapping its plan announced in May to spend $42 million on a pilot program to roll out a wireless PCS service in New York City.

With the struggles of the wireless industry, Cablevision can expect to receive far less than it would have received had it sold off the wireless business, along with its spectrum licenses, during the heyday of wireless.

Selling off Northcoast would be part of an overall cost-cutting package that Cablevision said would slash its capital spending in 2003 by as much as $450 million, while the company also plans to sell assets like its Clearview Cinema chain and some of its The Wiz electronics stores. Cablevision also said it would layoff 1,800 employees.

“This is the right plan for the future of Cablevision, but it required us to make some very difficult decisions regarding staff,” Cablevision Chairman James Dolan said in a statement. “We believe that the steps we are outlining today are necessary to enable the company to grow as we invest in the future.”

Broadband is one of the growth areas earmarked for continued spending. Cablevision said it expects to end the year with 3.8 million high-speed data-capable homes at the end of the year, about 200,000 more than previously forecast. The company said high-speed data networks, along with digital TV, were both key future revenue drivers.

In late January, Cablevision increased the cost of its Optimum Online high-speed Internet service, upping the price between $5 and $10 a month. Cablevision pointed out that Optimum Online was still cheaper than its New York City-area broadband rivals, AOL Time Warner’s Road Runner and Verizon DSL.

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