In the early days we considered ourselves a CLEC, a telephone company first and foremost, a cable tv company second and high speed internet service company third. Today, we consider ourselves to be a high speed internet company first, an entertainment service company second and a telephone company third.
In 1999 Keller, Texas was a small, remote bedroom community outside of Ft. Worth. Over the years, businesses in the city began moving out into the community and more schools and homes were built to accommodate the growing population. Keller grew into a thriving community and in 2009, Money Magazine ranked Keller as the 7th best city to live in in the United States. Today, the city houses approximately 42,000 people within its 18.6 square miles.
OneSource Communications, which began operating in 1999, is a multi- service company providing TV, phone and internet to its community. Its current Vice President of Operations, Kent Blackwell, has been with them since the beginning. He has played a key role in building out the fixed wireless network, as well as the DSL and Fiber networks. OneSource has been a ZCorum affiliate from the time they first started offering internet service in 1999 and has since grown to over 12,000 subscribers. Kent agreed to talk with us about the Keller community and OneSource Communications.
ZCorum: Tell us a little about the beginning when you first got started.
Kent Blackwell: We had 32 customers when I got here in December of 1999 and our very first customer was the Keller Independent School District. We built out their wide area network, and using the backbone that we built for them we began extending services to new communities and to new retail and business developments along key routes. One of our parent companies at that time was Tri-County Electric and we kind of followed them into a lot of the new Greenfield opportunities even beyond the scope of the ISD original network.
ZCorum: Were you guys a CLEC (competitive Local Exchange Carrier) when you got started? How was it that you were providing the service?
Kent Blackwell: Yes, we were. On the telco side, we were a traditional CLEC. Well, traditional in the sense and definition of a CLEC, atypical in the sense that we were building our own infrastructure. We weren’t doing the unbundled network elements like so many other traditional CLEC’s did in that day and age. We actually laid our own fiber optics, our own copper, and then for the cable TV side of things, our own hard line coax network. At the time it was a cutting edge network. The infrastructure was built deep into the neighborhoods and retail developments so that we could push digital services as deep and as close to the consumers as we practically could at that time.
ZCorum: Were you doing the cable tv with the coax and internet services all at once or did you stagger the roll out?
Kent Blackwell: Yes, we rolled out with a four service bundle in the very beginning that included your traditional telephone services, cable tv, security services, and high speed internet. Which, in 1999, high speed internet was barely above dial up. It was just then beginning to emerge.
ZCorum: When you were starting with the high speed internet, were you providing it via DSL?
Kent Blackwell: We were primarily providing DSL, yes. We did have a cable modem play right out of the gate but it was a very infantile service plan, especially in independent market space.
ZCorum: You mentioned that you began as a CLEC, how would you describe OneSource today?
Kent Blackwell: In the early days we considered ourselves a CLEC, a telephone company first and foremost, a cable tv company second and high speed internet service company third. Today, we consider ourselves to be a high speed internet company first, an entertainment service company second and a telephone company third. As we move forward, we are seeing yet another paradigm shift. While high speed internet will probably be the core of our business going forward, the telephone business is also growing again as VoIP and hosted PBX services are really becoming more and more mainstream and more widely accepted by customers. We even have our own switch for the service, the GenBand C15. Telephone is shifting our cable tv services to our third seat, due to the lack of revenue that is generated from that particular service.
ZCorum: As far as the area, how would you describe your service area? What counties do you serve?
Kent Blackwell: We serve parts of North Ft. Worth, Tarrant County, Parker County, Wise County, and Denton County.
ZCorum: Who is your competitor there?
Kent Blackwell: We have competitors in many different areas. In fact, in a lot of the neighborhoods that we have built, we have as many as four wireline service providers in there. Verizon is one of our main incumbents. In fact, Verizon’s FIOS rollout occurred right on top of us. Literally right across the street from our office is where they beta tested their very first fiber to the premise customers and began to roll out their fiber to the premise networks. AT&T and Charter Communications are also competitive TV service providers in this area.
ZCorum: How do you guys compete against them? What is your advantage?
Kent Blackwell: We know that the only way that we will ever be able to compete against such behemoths is through service. Service meaning the local quality, the local attitude, and being able to get service techs out to a home within hours as opposed to our competitors that schedule it two, three, four days out to get just a basic service call. That’s how we compete with the larger companies by providing better customer service that gets our customers back up and running a lot faster.
ZCorum: How do you guys market your services? Do you do billing inserts, TV, what do you do?
Kent Blackwell: Largely, our marketing is done through direct mailing. With our limited focus footprint, large scale marketing just doesn’t really fit for us. We serve such a small sliver of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex that we have to really be hyper focused with our marketing efforts. We have to plan every marketing dollar so it makes the most sense and reaches the most viable customers possible. We have found that direct mailings, newsprint ads, focused magazine ads, and so forth are really some of our better campaigns that have provided the best results.
ZCorum: Do you guys have any type of referral program for happy customers?
Kent Blackwell: We do. It’s not a big, diverse campaign, but we definitely do. I believe it is a fifty dollar credit to their bill for each referral.
ZCorum: What is next for OneSource? Any plans on moving towards one particular kind of technology?
Kent Blackwell: We are spending a lot of money and resources towards the VoIP and hosted PBX markets. We are seeing very early adopters really challenge us on some big demands to try and displace their investments and traditional key systems and PBX’s. On the broadband side of the house, we are continuing to grow out our fiber to the premise networks. There are some remote communities that we are building fiber backbone out to and we are beginning some plans for some overbuild efforts to try and displace some incumbents out in some other rural service areas.
ZCorum: What factors come into the decision to build out fiber in certain areas?
Kent Blackwell: I guess you can say it was immediacy to market. We started it to serve customers in some areas that we had hopes and anticipation of building our fiber networks out towards. The demand for wireless has really kind of exploded on us, from being something that we started as an effort to contend with the wireless competitors that were beginning to encroach on our far reaching service areas. What started as just a couple of towers in the early beginning has now grown to a network of 20+ towers and we are still looking for more to grow that effort.
Once we started providing fixed wireless we found that there was a huge demand for bandwidth in a lot of these rural communities where building fiber or any other wireline based network from scratch just didn’t make the most economic sense. Fixed wireless broadband was cost effective and able to deliver adequate bandwidth to satisfy a lot of the pent-up demand.
ZCorum: What is the biggest challenge you face as a broadband provider?
Kent Blackwell: On the broadband side of the house we are a DSL provider, cable modem service provider, and we’ve evolved and become a fiber to the premise service provider in a lot of our footprint. On top of that we also are a WiMAX wireless broadband service provider.
Definitely the biggest challenge is staying on top of all of those independent but congruent networks, being able to make sure we follow the technological developments of each of those platforms, and keeping everything current and competitive to provide the ever growing demand of our customers for more bandwidth and more protocol flexibility.
ZCorum: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Kent Blackwell: I would say getting to build new networks, play with the new technology, and challenge myself to figure out the latest technology and how to leverage it in a cost effective manner. It is one of the most challenging parts of my job, but certainly the most rewarding. I also love dealing with developers and getting to really see things turn from an overgrown lot- a big wide open field- into massive developments that host 200-300 retail outlets.
ZCorum: So when you work with developers you go in first?
Kent Blackwell: Yes. We’ve worked very closely with developers over the years and have really built a solid interdependency. They know that we are the guys that will be most flexible in their development demands and work with them in advance of their infrastructures being placed as opposed to our competitors who wait for their streets and water/ sewer networks to go in. After everything is kinda dressed up and pretty and ready for development to begin, only to tear up what they’ve made.
ZCorum: Any challenges in your job that you wish you had a solution for?
Kent Blackwell: Probably the one service that we offer that we always complain about is the cable tv industry and just the broken business model that it carries. The ever growing programming costs and ever shrinking retail price that you can afford to put on it.
ZCorum: Being in the technology business you must have a favorite device. What is the one piece of technology that you cannot do without?
Kent Blackwell: My smartphone, without a doubt. Just seeing it evolve into what it is, and the dependencies of it. I was one of the very early testers for Motorola’s very early smartphones and saw them fail miserably. It is pretty amazing to see what these phones and tiny gadgets can do in this day and age. It would be hard to give one up, even for a day.
ZCorum: Ok, let’s talk about you Kent. What was your position when you started with the company? What are you doing these days?
Kent Blackwell: I started as operations manager and then as we grew the organization structure roles and responsibilities have just been tacked on. Today I am the Vice President of Operations for the company.
ZCorum: Tell us a little more about Keller.
Kent Blackwell: The Ft. Worth stockyards are kind of the big claim to fame around here. Ft. Worth was a big oil boom town that kinda went bust in the early 1980s. It is beginning to re-emerge and is growing out of the shadow of its big brother next door- Dallas. The claim to fame for our immediate area is the roll out of the Verizon fiber network. Anybody who has been in telecom probably saw that happen. Verizon was very good at gaining the national spotlight—so much so the FCC planned their very first meeting outside of DC right here in Keller of all places. It was quite the dog and pony show that Verizon put on for many years. As fiber to the premise has become more and more commonplace, the excitement has kind of fizzled over the years but Keller was one of the early hotbeds when the technology was just exploding.
ZCorum: Did you grow up in the community?
Kent Blackwell: No, I am actually a transplant from Oklahoma. I moved to Keller for this job in 1999.
ZCorum: What do you do when you are not at work? Do you have any hobbies or favorite activities?
Kent Blackwell: Hobbies. Oh gosh. Both of my daughters have now graduated, my youngest has started college this year; they are both at Oklahoma State University. I have to say to this point it has been all about raising kids and building a family. Now that they are gone, that is a good question. We just moved to a lake community and beginning to set up a new camp and build a new home front that will hopefully be exciting for the kids to want to come back to.
ZCorum: Living by the lake it sounds like fishing is in your future.
Kent Blackwell: Right! Now there’s my hobby answer!
For more information about OneSource Communications, visit http://www.1scom.net