Cable Operators

Cable One Draws On Katrina Lessons in Joplin

6/13/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

When Cable One CEO Tom Might
visited Joplin, Mo., shortly after a deadly
tornado swept through that town last
month, killing 141 people and flattening
the cable company’s gear, he made a bad
situation better.

“I think his coming up there has a good impact
on the associates,” Jerry McKenna, Cable
One’s senior vice president and chief sales
and marketing officer, told Multichannel
News
. The CEO’s crisis-management expertise
enabled the system to get back in
business fairly quickly.

Phoenix-based Cable One has about
720,000 cable, phone and high-speed Internet
subscribers overall in systems in 19
states. Of that number, about 15,000 are in
Joplin, Mo., and roughly 2,600 of those customers
lost their homes, company spokeswoman
Melany Stroupe said.

Cable One also provides service — via
fiber — to neighboring Miami and Vinita,
Okla.

BOUNCING BACK

“We’re in pretty good shape now,” McKenna
said. The operator reports having restored
service to about 90 percent of its customers
in Joplin.

The powerful F-5 rated tornado that plowed through
Joplin on May 22 made the town look like it had been
bombed, the devastation was so great. And Cable One’s
plant was in the twister’s path. Might was able to add his
expertise to the recovery
effort as well as attempting
to lift morale, as he
did when he visited Cable
One’s Gulf Coast systems
that were ravaged by
Hurricane Katrina in 2005,
McKenna said.

“Tom’s an industrial engineer,
so he’s very, very
helpful at getting stuff organized,”
McKenna said.
“He was very instrumental
working with our field
techs to figure out a way
we could get a pole line
across about a mile area
that had been destroyed by
the tornado.”

Might lent a hand while
Cable One was “staging all
the field techs and mapping
exactly where our
poles were down and getting
all the stuff in there
to get things replaced,”
McKenna said.

That meant getting new
poles in place. Cable One
staffers “literally bulldozed
a path,” McKenna said. “They got permission from the city,
as I understand it, they bulldozed a path, they laid fiber on
the ground, and then they just bought poles.”

The damage wasn’t as dire or widespread as Katrina, he
noted.

“Katrina, it destroyed the whole system along the
Gulf Coast,” McKenna said. “It tore down our poles,
our drops, etc. Here, it was very specific to a geographic
area about a mile wide. So if you were just north or
south of where the tornado went through, all the drops
and poles and everything were still working. It was just
a matter of getting the fiber back to the nodes and turning
it back on.”

The MSO was fortunate that only one employee had to
go to the hospital for injuries sustained during the tornado,
but they weren’t serious, according to McKenna.

About a half-dozen employees lost their homes, he said.

There is no assessment yet for the monetary toll the
tornado has taken on the Joplin system, according to
McKenna, not just physical damage but lost business.

Cable One does have insurance, but it has a high deductible,
he said.

“More than likely, we will have to absorb a significant
amount of the damage there,” McKenna said. “You can’t
really tell now how much that will be.”

The tornado and Katrina are similar in at least one respect:
They not only damaged Cable One’s equipment;
they both destroyed the homes of Cable One’s customers.

“It’s pretty difficult at this point in time to have a clear
understanding of when we would be back to where we
once were,” McKenna said. “And that may take years, because
you’ve got to build all those homes. It’s like Katrina.”

COMPANYWIDE CHALLENGES


As for Cable One as a whole, McKenna, a 17-year veteran
of the Washington Post Co.-owned cable provider, said
strategic challenges include how to respond when bigger
players start offering high-publicized services, such as
streaming video to the iPad.

“When it comes to what I would call these evolving
technologies, we like to be a follower and not the leader,”
McKenna said. “Being a midsized operator, we have a limited
amount of capital and we have to place our bets very
carefully. That being said, we are looking at some
applications that we think we could use to transport
content within the home.”

Cable One is holding an internal meeting this
month “to decide what our next steps will be,” according
to McKenna. Developing an iPad app to
stream content is one of the options being considered
as it would “make our cable service more
valuable to a customer.”

An iPad app could help Cable One address
what McKenna called the “constant challenge”
of fighting off the two satellite providers, DirecTV
and Dish Network, and AT&T’s U-verse video
service.

We track our market share against those guys
all the time, and for a period of time we were declining,”
he said. “We seem to be stabilizing now.
In our markets anyway, DirecTV is improving
their market share and Dish, their market share
is eroding a bit.”

AT&T U-verse is coming into states such as
Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, where
Cable One has systems. Cable One has responded
with a $25-$25-$25 video, high-speed Internet
and phone bundle that it has “promoted that
very aggressively, particularly among our current
customers.”

Cable One has also made some product improvements,
including launching a 50-Megabyteper-
second Internet service that customers get if they
sign a one- or two-year contract. It also lowered the
cost of DVRs and is distributing a $5-a-month HDTV
box for customers with expanded basic. And it’s
offering free same-day repair for subscribers who
call by 3 p.m., according to McKenna.

September