A change in New Jersey’s cable map

Tom Paine

Cable television provider Altice said Wednesday it will purchase Service Electric’s operations in New Jersey. Service Electric’s franchise areas in New Jersey are in Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex Counties. The price will be $250 million.

Service Electric, based in Bethlehem, has a rather unique history. John Walson had a TV store in Mahanoy, PA, but over-the-air reception was poor in the mountainous region. In 1948, Walson ran a cable from his store to an antenna he placed on top of a nearby mountain. The idea was to be able to demo broadcast content in his store. But as the story goes, he found he could hook residences near the cable route onto his system. Many in the industry believe this was first commercial cable TV system.

Service Electric still has its Pennsylvania systems, in the Lehigh Vallley, the Wilkes-Barre area, and pieces of Chester, Berks and Lancaster Counties. It’s still controlled by the Walson family.

The New Jersey systems that New York-based Altice (formerly Cablesystem) is acquiring are contiguous to its preexisting territories. But they are also contiguous to Comcast territories.

The cable industry was once all about buying and selling systems, But now there are only a few major systems left, and not many sizable independents to buy. Since withdrawing from the Time Warner Cable sales process, Comcast has not been a buyer in the US, with the exception of some tiny fill-in spots mostly in New England (Comcast “not welcome” here: Customers protest sale of tiny cable company)

. Its not known whether it showed interest in the New Jersey Service Electric systems.