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Charter buys into ranks of cable leaders

One of the fastest growing cable television operators in the nation plans to buy two smaller cable companies, adding nearly half a million subscribers to its roster.

Charter Communications, one of the fastest growing cable television operators in the nation, plans to buy two smaller cable companies, adding nearly half a million subscribers to its roster.

Charter, owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, yesterday said it plans to purchase InterLink Communications Partners and Rifkin Acquisition Partners (RAP) for an undisclosed sum. Charter expects to add about 460,000 customers in 18 states as a result of the agreements.

When the deals close in the third quarter of 1999--pending regulatory approval--Charter will have nearly 3 million subscribers, ranking it close in size to second-tier operators such as Cox Communications and Comcast. Charter also will assume InterLink and RAP's outstanding debt.

As part of the deal, Charter will gain a strong geographically clustered presence in Tennessee, Illinois, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as systems in Atlanta, Miami Beach, Indiana, and New Mexico.

Allen has been on a cable acquisition binge since buying Marcus Cable last April. Allen bought Charter in July and last month Charter entered into a three-way purchase and exchange deal with Tele-Communications Incorporated and InterMedia.

The company also offers Charter Pipeline, a high-speed cable modem service, with EarthLink and Sprint.

Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.