Adelphia Communications said Thursday it will explore a possible sale of the company.

The announcement represents a major policy turnaround for the nation's fifth-largest cable TV operator, which has been operating under bankruptcy protection since 2002.

It represents a victory for Adelphia shareholders and other creditors of the company, who had argued against the plan of Adelphia's current management to exit Chapter 11 protection by the end of this year as a freestanding company.

The equityholders say that a sold-off Adelphia will reap more value for creditors and shareholders than an independent company. It's their belief that a sale of Adelphia will raise enough money to not only pay off creditors but also return value to shareholders. That's contrary to the usual case in bankruptcy reorganizations, in which pre-bankruptcy shareholders find their stock to be valueless.

Thursday's news also increases the possibility of major changes in the landscape of the cable TV business. Three of the nation's largest cable operators -- Comcast ( CMCSA), Cox ( COX) and Time Warner ( TWX) -- are all believed to have both the interest and the means to acquire all or part of Adelphia.

Adelphia's shares, which have traded on speculation that the company could be auctioned off out of bankruptcy, were quoted at 70 cents on the pink sheets Wednesday. Shares in the stock have ranged between 4 cents and nearly $2 over the past year.

Adelphia said its board decided Wednesday to explore a possible sale, citing increasing demands from interested parties.

"We were pursuing a plan of reorganization that called for an independent Adelphia because we believed it was in the best interests of our bankruptcy constituents," CEO Bill Schleyer said in a statement. "Increasingly, in our continuing dialogue with constituents after filing the plan, it became clear that a broad range of constituents preferred to allow the market to determine the appropriate value for Adelphia."

"Over the last week," the company said in its statement, "the sentiment in favor of market testing the company's value crystallized to the point where it became appropriate to explore a possible sale of the company."

At a bankruptcy hearing slated for next Monday, Adelphia management had been expected to fight to keep its plan of emerging as an independent entity -- the only bankruptcy reorganization plan under consideration.

The company's announcement "represents a turning point in the case," Peter Morgenstern, attorney for Adelphia's equity committee, said in a statement. "The Equity Committee believes that a sale of Adelphia's operating assets offers the best opportunity to maximize recoveries for all of Adelphia's constituencies, and particularly for shareholders. This announcement and change in approach by the Company is an important first step in that direction."

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