Iowas South Slope Braces for AT&T

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

South Slope Cooperative Telephone Co., a rural Iowa outfit
facing competition from AT&T Broadband & Internet Services, has moved to secure
its future.

The Norway, Iowa-based telephone company has acquired cable
systems serving 426 subscribers in the rural communities of Ely and Walford from
Mid-American Cable Co.

Through its South Slope Communications subsidiary, it hopes
to learn enough about delivering cable to be able to defend itself should AT&T
Broadband come calling in other communities where it provides phone services, CEO J.R.
Brumley said.

"If you're going to compete against AT&T,
you'd better have some experience in your pocket," he said. "And the way
the industry is going now, you need experience in everything. We have an abundance of
experience in telephone, long distance and wireless, but we need some experience in cable
television."

South Slope Cooperative -- which has 11,000 access lines in
five Iowa exchanges covering 272 square miles -- is currently overbuilding GTE Corp. in
the rural communities of Solon, Tiffin and Oxford.

To date, the company has signed up about 1,700 out of 3,200
existing GTE customers in the three communities.

But with AT&T Corp. acquiring the former
Tele-Communications Inc. cable systems in those towns, the prospect of competing against
the world's largest telephone company persuaded South Slope to include coaxial cable
in its overbuilds in case it needs to offer video services in the future.

"I want to be covered for video and wideband-data
services," Brumley said. "If [AT&T] gets into my telephone business, I want
to be able to get into their video and data business."

Brumley has already begun tinkering with the channel lineup
in Ely, where Disney Channel will shift from a premium service to the expanded-basic tier
Sept. 1 -- a monthly savings of $6.50 for subscribers. The channel will be introduced on
expanded basic in Walford within nine months, or after the company goes to a one-headend
operation.

During the transition, though, there have been a few bumps
in the road -- like on the day South Slope took control of the cable systems in Ely and
Walford.

It seems that the electrical company failed to coordinate
an order to terminate Mid-American's account with a separate order to transfer it to
South Slope Communications. The result: A workman was dispatched to remove the
system's electrical meter, which cut off service to hundreds of customers.

"Our first day as a big cable-television operator, and
within three minutes, we got 16 trouble calls," Brumley recalled. "My first
thought was, 'My God, what have I done?'"

Related