By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Cherokee Cablevision is now under new operating management, and it’s making strides to improve services to customers.
“BalsamWest, which is owned by the Tribe, has been selected to operate (Cherokee) Cablevision,” said Jason Maples, BalsamWest vice president of sales and marketing. “Cablevision is kind of a multi-pronged project, but the tribal assets of Cablevision will always remain tribal assets. BalsamWest is just basically the manager of those assets.”
In a press release, BalsamWest officials noted, “BalsamWest will support the vision of Chief Sneed and Tribal Council to consolidate the leverage operational efficiencies of EBCI investments with the dual goal of improving services provided and accelerating broadband deployments. BalsamWest will extend our operations, call center, engineering, and service staff to maximize support of the existing Cablevision system and future EBCI fiber builds.”
One major announcement is the elimination of data cap overage fees. “The Data Cap ‘power package’ will be a $50 additional charge to the subscriber’s current Gold, Silver, or Bronze plans,” said Maples. “It will eliminate overage charges. For those who rarely go over their allotted data cap, the package may not make sense. For those who regularly go over and want a stable monthly fee, this package will save people money.”
He added, “We do have a plan now for data caps that has been approved by the Board. This will be our first step in multiple steps at making improvements to Cablevision.”
Maples said BalsamWest is currently looking at ways to improve the overall system. “Our role is twofold – one is to take a look at the existing system, come up with plans and options and opportunities to improve the service of the current infrastructure as well as help manage the Vantage Point which is the Tribe’s engineering looking at building fiber throughout the Boundary. We’re being an arm of the Tribe – a support and logistics arm – as we begin to look at these short-term and long-term goals. The short-term goal is to get broadband wherever we can.”
He said the current system is in need of upgrades. “It’s kind of like inheriting a car from your grandmother. Yes, she may not have driven it much, but did she take care of it? This is a very old system, and the changes we’ll make will, in some cases, be so incremental that they’re not going to be felt nor noticed. Some of them are operational, and then obviously we have some hiring to do.”
Maples noted, “It’s a new BalsamWest, and we plan to serve our owners and our community. We’re not your father’s BalsamWest.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians became 100 percent owners of Cherokee Cablevision in November 2020. A feasibility study on the issue was completed by R TECH GROUP, from Cumming, Ga., in June 2018. According to the feasibility study, “There would be a very compelling benefit for the EBCI Fiber cable plant to be combined with the Cablevision Fiber routes and develop a larger-scale fiber cable network and establish opportunity to pass 6,400 member’s homes, providing services to a large percentage of EBCI members.”
With the increased services, the feasibility study projects net sales will go from $1.5 million in 2019 to $2.8 million in 2026 with a net income of $559,803 with the bulk of the revenue being made in increased internet to residences (projected from $561,192 in 2019 to $1,020,857 in 2026).
Jeremy Brown, EBCI IT Project Management supervisor, told Tribal Council during the March 2019 Budget Council session, “We have fiber optics going up most of our main roads – fibers in the ground on the main roads. We need a way to distribute it up and down each of the little coves. And, as you know, the cost of doing that is the same cost we’ve incurred to get up to all of these areas so far. So, you’re going to pay $50,000 to $60,000 a mile no matter whether you’re going up someone’s driveway or you’re running a 96-strand up to a cell tower.”
He said Cherokee Cablevision has lots of existing poles. “So, with this acquisition, we would be gaining access to the poles that they already have. The cable that’s on it is kind of irrelevant. We would continue to use to distribute TV initially, but our goal would be to use the poles, the backbone infrastructure, our fiber along with their fiber to run additional fibers over their poles into the people’s houses.”
For more information on BalsamWest’s operation of Cherokee Cablevision, visit: https://www.balsamwest.net/cablevisionproject