Keeping up with rapid technological change isn’t necessarily the biggest challenge in today’s telecommunications industry.
Rene Wukich counts herself lucky just to be able to keep up with who owns her company.
Wukich is the general manager of VideoWave Television (VTV), a wireless cable television company serving the immediate Spokane area. And VTV is a subsidiary of … well, you might want to take some notes now.
VTV was founded as Skyline Entertainment in 1990, but that company was acquired in 1994 by Wireless Holding International (WHI), a subsidiary of Videotron, based in Montreal, and TTI, based in Salt Lake City. Besides its Spokane operations, WHI has similar companies in Florida and California.
WHI was acquired a few months ago by San Francisco-based Pacific Telesis. And last week, Pacific Telesis was sold for $16.7 billion to SBC Communications Inc., based in San Antonio. The merger will form one of the world’s largest telecommunications corporations.
Regardless of what the corporate letterhead says on any given day, though, Wukich’s job remains trying to convince Spokane television viewers to buy their cable television service from VTV rather than Cox Cable or one of several satellite delivery companies.
Largely unadvertised, VTV is different, she says.
Skyline Entertainment Network was founded by Spokane entrepreneur John S. Hansen in November 1990. According to Wukich, Hansen’s idea was to capture the largely rural market unserved by Cox Cable.
Skyline could do that because Hansen held a Federal Communications Commission license that allowed the company to deliver television signals downloaded from satellite transmissions via microwave.
Cox delivers its programming via a system of wires which are run to every house it serves. Satellite systems, or direct delivery systems, require a satellite dish to receive transmissions directly from the satellite.
“Multichannel, multipoint distribution systems” like VTV, though, offer a third alternative.
The company beams its package of TV channels via microwave to small microwave antennas located at subscribers’ homes. The customer doesn’t buy the antenna. It is included in the $19.95 monthly fee for VTV’s basic package of 30 channels. The company also offers five premium channels and a pay-per-view channel for additional fees.
Unlike the direct delivery satellite systems, the microwave delivery systems include local channels, and programming based on West Coast rather than East Coast air times.
When WHI acquired the company, Wukich says, it decided to position VTV as a more direct competitor within Cox’s service area rather than relying on the rural market.
That decision was partially driven by two upcoming changes that will, Wukich says, greatly enhance VTV’s ability to compete here.
Last month, Pacific Telesis invested $21 million as the successful bidder for the FCC’s “basic trading area” licenses for the markets its microwave cable companies serve in Washington, Florida and California.
The licenses will dramatically expand those companies’ service areas. VTV’s current license gives it exclusive rights to the microwave distribution technology in a 35-mile radius of its Tower Mountain transmitter. When the new license goes into effect, that exclusive service area will expand to include Spokane, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry, Lincoln Adams and Whitman Counties in Washington; all of North Idaho and most of Western Montana.
The second factor has to do with technological advancements.
Under current technology, VTV is limited to transmitting on 31 frequencies. “But as soon as we change from analogue to digital technology,” says Erica Buschhorn, VTV’s marketing coordinator, “we’ll be able to offer as many or more channels as our competitors.”
“The wireless industry has tremendous growth potential,” Wukich says, “and I expect us to be competing head on, customer-for-customer, with the wired systems within five years.”
Currently, VTV has about 8,300 subscribers, or about 4.5 percent of the market share in it 35-mile service radius. A significant opportunity to capture some of the traditional cable market will occur later this year when Cox leaves the market in a service area swap with TeleCommunications Inc.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” Wukich says.
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