ACS looks at acquiring Matanuska Telephone Association

Posted: Friday, May 05, 2000

PALMER (AP) -- The Matanuska Telephone Association has been talking in secret for more than a year with a potential buyer -- Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. -- which has suggested an offer in writing of more than $180 million.

ACS is the company that bought the Anchorage Telephone Utility a year ago. It also purchased PTI Communications, which had phone operations in Fairbanks, Juneau and 70 other Alaska communities.

ACS President Charles Robinson said in a letter dated April 4 and sent to MTA President Scott Smith and board members that the purchase is his company's highest priority, and that it's prepared to move quickly.

MTA members would get more than $100 million in cash and local governments would gain $2 million a year in property taxes, Robinson wrote.

''This proposal reflects our continuing belief that MTA would be a valuable addition to the operations and business of ACS and that ACS ownership of MTA's operation, in turn, offers substantial benefits to the members and customers of MTA,'' the letter said.

A measure passed earlier this week in Juneau would make it easier for the Palmer-based Matanuska Telephone Association to be sold.

It came as a rider that Sen. Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, attached to a popular bill aimed at helping offset the high costs of rural power.

The amendment exempts the MTA board from strict sale provisions required by state law. It eliminates a requirement that the board notify other cooperatives and the state that the company is considering a sale and that the board place all competing bids on the ballot from which members would choose.

Some Mat-Su legislators said they were unhappy with the way legislation was passed that appears to make a sale easier.

Rep. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, and Sen. Lyda Green, R- Wasilla, said they had no time to evaluate the amendment, introduced at the last minute on the Senate floor.

''I'm not making a judgment on whether it's a good or bad thing,'' Ogan said. ''But I didn't like the lack of public process.''

They expressed concern that the amendment will allow the cooperative's board to limit competing purchase offers.

Halford said state law makes it too easy for someone to block a sale. The state requires that any bid by a private company must be approved by two-thirds of the members who vote.

''If you're working to confuse the members, you simply put in three or four extra proposals,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Board members still can list other bids, and Halford thinks they should, as long as they're serious proposals.

''If I have an offer from AT&T and ACS and other real companies with real capacity, I would want them all on the ballot,'' Halford said. ''I am not at all opposed to putting all bids on the ballot, just the requirement that all proposals be there.''

He said ACS asked for the change ''I think because they felt it would be more difficult to reach the required two-thirds vote'' if all proposals had to be listed.

MTA was founded in 1955. It serves 33,000 members from Eagle River to north of Healy.

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