Critics of proposed telephone utility sale form group

Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2000

PALMER (AP) -- Two former candidates for the Matanuska Telephone Association board are leading a group to fight the proposed sale of the local telecommunications cooperative to Alaska Communications Systems.

Al Strawn, president of the Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union, and retired attorney Lee Sharp, from Palmer, are among those heading up ''Just Say No to ACS.'' Both ran for the board this year.

The group also includes former MTA board member Chuck Griffin and Green Party activist Jim Sykes. They have been vocal critics of the sale.

The group said members were not getting the full story about the sale, in part because an agreement between the companies prohibits MTA officials from speaking out against it.

''We think (the sale) is a mistake for the community,'' Strawn told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We felt if we didn't do something, all we'd have to look forward to is listen to ACS tell us what a great deal this is.''

The two companies announced in May that they had reached a tentative agreement to sell the cooperative to ACS for $187.5 million. The deal still needs approval from at least half the utility's 33,000 members at an election later this summer.

Officials at both phone companies have said the sale would improve service and benefit MTA members, who otherwise might see their company decline in value because of increased competition.

But Strawn contends that selling MTA would reduce competition and cost residents the close relationship they have now with the company as a member-owned cooperative.

Strawn said the sale negotiations, conducted in secret for almost a year, created distrust.

MTA spokeswoman Pat Walsh said the company will provide members with arguments for and against the sale.

MTA officials are not allowed to actively campaign against the sale, she said. But dissenting opinions written by two board members who voted against considering the sale will be included in an informational packet to be sent out in a couple of weeks.

''I believe MTA is working very hard to provide a balanced viewpoint,'' Walsh said.

ACS is based in Anchorage, but its majority owner is the San Francisco-based investment firm Fox Paine & Co. If the deal goes through, then ACS would own approximately 90 percent of the telephone access lines in Alaska.

MTA serves an area from Eagle River to north of Healy.

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