Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 438

 

This is the transcript for Episode 438 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. In this episode, Christopher talks with Steve Lange, IT Manager for the city of Wadsworth (pop. 26,000) in eastern Ohio, which built its hybrid fiber-coax municipal network CityLink back in 1997. The two talk about the history of the network, its push to bring more competition to the town, its operational structure, and the phenomenal momentum it's built over the last few years. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript.

Steve Lange: It's a community. This is a community-based ISP. You're part of the community. We want you to feel that you're in it with us. It's just a really cool experience to work for a small place that actually cares about something other than just the bottom line.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Welcome to Episode 438 of the Community Broadband Bits Broadcast. This is Ry Marcattilio-McCracken here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, Christopher talks with Steve Lange, IT Manger for the City of Wadsworth in eastern Ohio. The city of 26,000 first built its hybrid fiber coax network called CityLink all the way back in 1997. Steve shares the history of the municipal network, starting with the desire to bring more competition to the town. And like in many other places, though Wadsworth has a municipal electric department, CityLink is a separate entity. Steve tells Christopher how the network has built momentum over the last few years, moving from 2,000 subscribers in 2017 to more than 5,400 today, which he attributes to the network's increasingly thoughtful and proactive approach to managing its infrastructure and customer service. Finally, they talk about the value of choosing what to do wisely and doing it well. Now here's Christopher talking to Steve.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I am Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota, talking today with Steve Lange at the City of Wadsworth where he is the IT manger there at Wadsworth, Ohio. Welcome to the show, Steve.

Steve Lange: Thanks for having me, Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: You and I were on a Broadband Bunch show. We did a panel, which there's still a video for, with the folks from ETI Software. And on that, I was just realizing that I never talked about Wadsworth on this show, so I really appreciate you coming on to do an interview.

Steve Lange: Absolutely. Yeah, I remember that podcast. That was pretty fun. And it was my first time really getting exposure to these types of podcasts. I've listened to them before but never really been on them.

Christopher Mitchell: Oh great, so you're a pro now.

Steve Lange: Yeah, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once so I've got one under my belt and ready to rock and roll.

Christopher Mitchell: That's awesome. So you're in eastern Ohio, about 25,000 people in Wadsworth. Tell us just a little bit about that region.

2:20

Steve Lange: Sure. So Wadsworth's in northeastern Ohio. It's a really small town, real community-driven sort of atmosphere. I was actually born and raised in Wadsworth so it's near and dear to my heart. And I was fortunate enough back in 2006 to get hired in to work for the city, so now I get to work for a community that I grew up in and all that. I enjoy it. The community's great. It's a real close-knit community. Great education and school system. Everybody in this city seems to really care about the citizens and trying to just do the best job to make the right decisions to make the city do well and to make the citizens enjoy living there.

Christopher Mitchell: Excellent. So you came on then about nine years or so into the city's foray into HFC, having built a cable network. You inherited that after it was well on its way. Can you just give us a little bit of background before your time as to why they decided to do that?

Steve Lange: In the '90s, there was a pretty large cable conglomerate, I would say I guess, in town, and they ...

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I like to call them monopolies.

Steve Lange: Monopolies, okay, that is the word we'll use. Yes. And they're still in town today, but they were the only provider for cable TV back in the '80s and '90s. And the city at one point just kind of thought, "Man, do we want our residents to have to pay this much for this type of service?" And started looking into it. I don't know exactly what was the ultimate decision or how they got the money, but they decided that they were going to launch their own offering and get some competition just to give people a choice and to hopefully lower the bill. Because they thought that even if people didn't sign up for the city-driven service that would be upcoming, at least the people on the current monopoly would still benefit too because their bill should be lower. It was really driven for the city residents.

Steve Lange: So they launched running the hybrid coax fiber network in 1997. They started just with cable TV, and then in 2001 they expanded that to include DOCSIS and cable modem services. So that's really when we started offering the Internet.

Steve Lange: Yeah, so I came on five years after that. I believe a lot of the fiber was ran in this city around 1993 because they were, even before they wanted to get into this whole cable television Internet thing, they had the forethought to realize that in order to connect all the city buildings and also the school system's buildings that we needed to have a pretty diverse and redundant and pretty impressive fiber network. So a lot of work was done by people I still work with today on that.

5:06

Steve Lange: The one driving factor here is we're way more than just one or two or three people involved in something like this. I mean there are teams and teams of people that make something like this happen, so it's really impressive. The service ultimately is the culmination of all those people's efforts and what they do to provide a good product for the city.

Christopher Mitchell: The story is in some ways familiar to this audience in that your city has a municipal electric department, but in some ways quite different because the network is not actually under the electric department. It is its own thing. So tell us, I mean when you say about the city running fiber, even whether you have the municipal electric or not, I should say that early '90s is earlier than many places started running their own fiber. So that certainly shows good forethought. But when the city was organizing it, how did they organize who owns the cable network?

Steve Lange: Yeah, it's interesting. I think there's various aspects of it. So the electric department does, since they interact with the utility poles, they own a large portion of that, and they have run a good portion of that for us as well. I know there is some other work that's done more from the utility pole to the homes that's maybe more on the communications side of things, which they'll say. But it's a mixture. But the electric department certainly is a key factor in why we were able to do it in the first place because owning your own utility poles is a huge benefit to getting into this type of arena. So massive kudos to our electric department for all the work they do and making it possible.

Steve Lange: I think the city at this point, if there's an electric issue, the electric department tends to handle that. And sometimes that affects the fiber that's on those same lines and everything. But there's plenty of times where the communication crew and the fiber technicians, they have to go out and do splicing. I can just think of actually this last weekend, we had some serious wind in Ohio. I don't know if you guys saw any of that, but I mean last Sunday just absolutely devastating winds all day long. 50, 60 mile an hour gusts. And so that caused a real decent amount of fiber to be down and power outages and things of that nature that had to get repaired. And I know the electric crews and other crews and things were working all night long to get that repaired.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm sure it was God's retribution for someone that Ohio State did.

Steve Lange: Nice.

7:33

Christopher Mitchell: Oh, it's Big 10 country. We always got to be at each other's throats a little bit.

Steve Lange: Oh yeah. Big game coming up this Saturday too, for sure.

Christopher Mitchell: But I guess one of the things that I'm really interested in also is just how the broadband and the cable television network are structured. They're kind of their own entity, aren't they?

Steve Lange: Yeah. So basically the CityLink is sort of, we call it the enterprise side of the budget. You know, we've got the government side, and we never want to use government dollars to fund anything on the CityLink side, the enterprise side. So we keep separate books. The only money that goes into the CityLink side is revenue generated from subscribers, so that keeps it nice and clean. And they try to do a real good job at kind of keeping those things separate and everything.

Steve Lange: So we have installers that go to people's homes and actually connect the service up. Those installers work on the drops from the utility poles to the houses as well. And we have CSRs, customer service reps, so that's who to call if you ever have a problem after the service is installed. There's dedicated fiber technicians that do all the fiber splicing, and also set up some new work, new construction when new areas are being built. There's obviously managers for the department that need to coordinate things and everything. And there's a whole another set of CSRs that do scheduling for those appointments and cable TV troubleshooting. We offer VoIP services for phones, so there's that aspect. I mean there's so many different aspects.

Steve Lange: On the IT side that I manage, there's even a group of system administrators that are doing routing changes, [BDP 00:09:08] changes, all these crazy server and storage modifications and anything they need. So really like I said earlier, if it's not for all those people in all those different areas this service just doesn't happen. The reason why it's been so successful is because we've got a lot of talented people that all strive for a common goal to provide the best service for the citizens of Wadsworth.

Christopher Mitchell: Now for a while, CSRs I think were, it was a contracted out kind of position, and then you brought it in-house. I'm curious a little bit about that transition, but also do your CSRs now, is it like if I call a number I'll get someone who could help me with electricity or sewer or cable? Or am I just going to get someone who just helps with cable?

Steve Lange: That's a great question. So on the CityLink side of things, we've always had in-house support. But it used to be that after a certain hour of the day, we would go to a third-party call center that would handle like our nights and weekends. About two years ago, we decided to change that model and they are now handling in-house calls all day long, and nights and weekends they're doing their own support as well.

10:15

Steve Lange: Where it gets a little interesting is because we've got CityLink, which is Internet and cable and phone, and then you've got the electric department which handles your electricity, and your normal utilities as well, there's actually possibly three different numbers that you'd have to call. So if you needed electric help, it's this number. Other things, it's that. And other utilities like water and trash pickup, it's a third number.

Steve Lange: So about a year ago, and this process has been slowed down due to the pandemic and everything, there was another decision made to try to merge the utilities side and the CityLink side as far as a call center goes so that way we could kind of train both sets of employees on both sides of each business and all that. So there's a little bit of that happening right now just so we can make it a little easier on our residents and they don't have to call so many different numbers and things like that. That's kind of the vision.

Steve Lange: We also, it's interesting, our water treatment plant, they are a 24/7 shop obviously due to EPA regulations. So our electric number even bounces to the water treatment plant after a certain time of day just because they're still staffed, and then they can get ahold of people in electric if there's an outage and things after hours.

Christopher Mitchell: The network, it seems like ... I mean just backing up the number of people, and over the summer you'd said you had 5,400 subs I think. So that suggests to me that you're doing quite well, that you probably have more than half of the market or approaching half of the market, which must make you the market leader. You must have more subs than anyone else in the market. And that's something you attribute to word of mouth mostly, apparently.

Steve Lange: Yeah. In this business, word of mouth I think is everything. And it all goes back to what the subscribers' experience is. If they're really happy with their service, they're going to go out of their way to talk about it to their friends and family and anybody else that is mentioning that their Internet might not be that great or whatever.

Steve Lange: So I would say we started a huge, just complete rebranding and shift of focus probably about five years ago. Certainly in the last three years it's really picked up pace. And we tried to change that model. I mean we weren't always in this spot. When I started we were, let's see, five years in or so on the Internet side and we had about 2,000 subscribers when I started, maybe 2,500, somewhere around there. And we were kind of viewed as like, "Yeah, that's Internet connectivity, but it's not the fastest. It's there and it's reasonable and it gives us a choice, and that's great." And I can't even say that theory was wrong at the time. We were still in our infancy trying to get things going, still trying to figure things out.

12:45

Steve Lange: But now, I mean I would say starting around 2017 or so, certainly since then, it's completely changed. I mean we now, you've got a bunch of people that have been here a while that understand this equipment, they understand this business. We've made changes, we've learned things. Because we've been growing, we've been getting more revenue with subscribers, so we dump that money back into the infrastructure. And now we ... it used to be kind of more reactive, I would say. "Oh, this is happening, now we need to do this because we're kind of still getting the system going." But now I would say it's 100% proactive. I mean you're looking, people are reviewing trends, they're reviewing usages in the different neighborhoods. And when it starts to even get in like the low 70% of utilization, people are saying "Let's get some more space there or more speed, more bandwidth before it becomes an actual need." So we're actually making adjustments now to neighborhoods before these people even see a problem, and we're staying ahead of the game now.

Steve Lange: By doing that over the last three years, I mean people are just loving the service. The service is fantastic. It's super reliable. You get local support of something goes wrong, you've got a crew out there quickly fixing it. I've heard stories of, you know, businesses have called in at maybe 10 o'clock in the morning and they're like, "Oh, I want to get hooked up. I'm sick of my current provider." And we're saying something like "Well, we can be out there at one o'clock today. How's that sound?" And they go, "Today? That's like three hours from now or something. What are you talking about?" And they're just used to the mindset of, "If I call, it's going to be two weeks before I see someone out here to install it." And it's just a different mindset.

Steve Lange: Being able to have a smaller service area, we feel that we can provide much greater service than anybody else can. And we've been proving that over the years, and it's translated into people spreading the word that, "Hey, you should be with CityLink. Oh, you're not happy? Go with CityLink. They've got great speeds, they're reliable, they're fast." And we don't have slowdowns at any point in the day. Anybody can watch a video or anything at any point in the day and there's no ... I mean sure we have peaks, but we don't have peaks that actually affect your performance. We're pretty proud of it.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, one of the things that I found interesting was it looked to me like you must have been on the early side of DOCSIS 3. You converted over in 2012, I think. And that was ... I mean I could be remembering incorrectly, but it strikes me that there was very few conversions that early. Most of them came later I thought.

215:07

Steve Lange: Yeah, you're right. Yeah, we did migrate in 2012 to DOCSIS 3. But a lot of this has to do with the equipment you choose too, because the equipment we chose back then, it didn't offer all the same features as the equipment obviously we're using now. And that's just the nature of technology is things get better. But if people are listening and they're going to get into this industry, I mean if we would've chose a different product than what we chose in 2017, we would not be able to do the same things we're doing now. It's crazy. We're so happy that we selected the route we did. And that comes with experience though, you know. If we put that whole thing back in the 2006 era when I joined, I don't know if we would've made the same move. Because sometimes you need to see it with your own eyes and see the benefits and disadvantages yourself before you really understand it.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's explore that for a second. Because of someone who hasn't been in your position, what I would imagine the thing to do would be, you know, you have to put out an RFI or some kind of RFP and then look at the proposals. And what I would assume would be the best practice would be to try to talk to some other folks who are running similar networks to see what they're doing and that sort of a thing, and then that should give you enough information. But obviously you're saying that the experience you've built up ... Like what did you do that others might not have done? What did you learn over those 10 years that you made sure you picked the right gear?

Steve Lange: I mean we did that too. Even when we were thinking about upgrading our gear, we would talk to other communities that are running ISPs. We would drive there and see what they're doing and talk to their employees and stuff like that. And anything you can pick up, you know. Sometimes it doesn't really sink in until you get in it yourself.

Steve Lange: I mean the big thing that we learned is that the equipment we used to have, it would only allow you to put so many channels. For people that aren't aware, cable Internet's based on the amount of TV channels that you dedicate to it, basically. So you're sort of strapping these channels together and creating sort of like a pipe with that. So the equipment we had back in 2012, yeah, it was DOCSIS 3 and it got us to the latest generation that was there, but it was very limited on the amount that it could scale and the more pipe that you could get to it. It worked at the time, but when you start gaining subscribers, you can outgrow equipment pretty easily.

17:20

Steve Lange: So there's some equipment out there, and I don't want to necessarily say it on this podcast, but if someone wants to reach out that's fine. But there's other equipment out there that will let you scale much more. And you know, it might be the kind of thing where maybe that piece of equipment costs 10,000 more up front or whatever the number is, but it allows you to not have to re-buy a forklift upgrade down the road and spend another $250,000 on a new router or something like that.

Christopher Mitchell: It may not be obvious just comparing the two brochures right next to each other is my impression.

Steve Lange: Yeah, exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: Because they're both probably going to make similar claims, but you don't really necessarily know which is going to really actually do it. Those things are often, you know, I did programming back in the day and I just remember that the salespeople weren't as related to the development people in [crosstalk 00:18:07] process.

Steve Lange: That's a good point, yeah. Exactly right.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things that I was interested in was that the price for the service from the competitor goes up right across the city lines, you'd said. Is that something that just drives resentment in the community? Do people even know it, is what I'm wondering.

Steve Lange: The people are aware of it, and they're very frustrated by that. Yeah, basically wherever our service area is, the bill for the other provider, it's half of what it is if we're not in the service area. And there's a lot of townships in Wadsworth that we would love to be in that we're not currently in. And it's hard because there's so much investment and construction for these areas that are like 400 feet off the road and there's good distance between them and their next neighbor. With anything, you have to build a business case of why you're going to build there, and unfortunately, you know, we'd love to be in every township but we need to make sure that we don't put ourselves out of business in the process of trying to get there as well.

Steve Lange: But yeah, the people, we hear stories. We've had emails and phone calls, people call in and say, "This stinks. My friend who lives just over a street that's in your service area, their bill is this and I'm paying this for the same services." And we'd love to help them. We're working on other strategies too, so the cable modem system will not be our final solution for Internet in the city. We're already looking at plans for fiber to the home and things of that nature.

Christopher Mitchell: Have you considered the crowd fiber type of route? Or I know that there's neighborhood zones, what's it, the COS [crosstalk 00:19:49] ...

Steve Lange: Fiberhoods, maybe?

19:50

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I mean there's different products that, I didn't want to pick favorites or put my thumb on the scale, but yeah, that approach where people can sort of demonstrate demand. And I know that we've talked on this show multiple times about how there's pluses and minuses with that kind of an approach. But have you considered that?

Steve Lange: Yeah, we certainly have considered it. And I think it makes a lot of sense, really. I mean you might as well build to the areas that have the most interest first just so that you're spending your money in a wise situation and getting people the services that they want faster. I think with a model like that, what you start to see is, okay, you built here in this neighborhood, then you built in this one. And those people really start to rave about the service, right? And now all the people that want ... now there starts to be more interest in the other areas. And before you know it it's like, okay, we got to build the whole city. Which is great, you know, that's ultimately what you want when you're trying to provide a good service to everybody. But the construction aspect of this stuff is a huge undertaking.

Steve Lange: We do everything in-house, so we don't have any contractors that do any part of our service. So everything from directional boring to aerial stuff to underground stuff, all the construction aspects, the fiber splicing, all the electric that goes to these places, the conduit piping that's ran, there's not one contractor that's called out to do this. So that's pretty unique as well, and I think that that is one of the things that kind of keeps the level of our service really high, though. Because if you're doing all the work yourself as a crew, you care about ... I don't want to dog contractors. There's a lot of good contractors out there that do good work. And we depend on contractors for other things in this city too, so contractors are good. But when you're doing that, these guys aren't getting paid per job or anything like that. They're getting paid throughout the day for what gets accomplished, so they're going to make sure that's it's of a high quality.

Christopher Mitchell: That's something that you worked your way up to. So if you're advising someone that may be starting off new, I think, would you say to be ... I don't think you can make a general rule. Everyone's geography is different and that sort of a thing. But would you say that it was a good decision at the time to start with more contractors and then work your way into bringing everyone in house?

Steve Lange: I think there's situations where it makes total sense to use contractors for things even now today. It's just that you got to look at every case, write out the pros and cons and the cost-benefit analysis and see, does this make the most sense? And there's plenty of times where, okay, these contractors are experts in this area and they're going to do a better job than we will.

Christopher Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

22:19

Steve Lange: We just happen to have a really vast crew where we can do a lot, so we're lucky in that regard. But yeah, sure. If somebody else is starting out directional boring and stuff, maybe they're going to contract that out. Maybe they don't even have ownership of the utility poles, so they're going to have to use some contractors for things. So yeah, I mean just look at every single aspect. You just got to keep in mind that the service is the culmination of all of those things. You could have the best programmers in the world or the best system administrators in the world, but if your customer service reps aren't good or if your people running the actual drops to the houses aren't doing a good job, then it doesn't matter if those other things are good because their experience is still going to be bad. So the whole thing's got to be good.

Christopher Mitchell: That leads into one of the things that you've emphasized before too, which is don't start with something if you can't deliver it well. If you put a bad taste in people's mouth, it takes a long time to get rid of it.

Steve Lange: Yeah. Earlier I said word of mouth is everything. I'm telling you, if you rush a service, if you get into this thing just because you want to and you haven't thought out everything, it will bite you way worse than just taking an extra year or two and getting your ducks in a row and making sure that you're delivering a solid product. Because once people have tried something and they've left it, they're very unwilling to come back a second time, for one. And they're going to make sure that they tell everybody what a bad experience it was. So now all these future potential subscribers will have maybe a wrong viewpoint.

Steve Lange: Unfortunately, I've seen it firsthand. Because when we started, we were not the fastest Internet provider in town. That other monopoly had a much faster network than us at the time, hands down, no comparison. We had better customer service than they did, hands down. But guess what? A lot of people said, "Well that's great, but most of the time the service is going to work and I'm only going to interact with the customer service when it's not, so I'd rather have the better speed." And so we were missing a lot of customers early on because of that.

Steve Lange: So that's when we took our time, got the speed thing figured out. And it was challenging because some people that had us before said, "Well you know, I had your service four years ago and it wasn't as fast as I wanted it to be. What makes you think it's going to be better now?" And now you've got to go through this whole thing. "Well in those four years, we did this, we did that. This is different. Why don't you give it a shot? And if you're still unhappy you can leave, but we're going to think that you're going to like it." And that's worked and it's a slow process, but now that we've got years under our belt of high performance, now we're having to do a lot less of that convincing because people are doing that for us.

Steve Lange: And one thing that we decided to do too which we think is a good model, we're offering every service that we have for free for 30 days.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that.

24:50

Steve Lange: Yeah. So basically it's, "Don't take our word on it. Why don't you try it out free for a month? We feel that after a couple days, you're going to realize that this is a good service and you're not going to want to give it up." And that I think has helped a lot too.

Christopher Mitchell: Now, one of the things, I've seen this with a couple of folks, but you got rid of email. I feel like you're just trying to get rid of things that you don't have to do to keep your plate a little bit more simple.

Steve Lange: Yeah. When I first started in '06, this is one of those learning experiences that we were kind of talking about earlier. We felt we had to do everything. We have to host email. We have to host websites for people. We have to be an Internet provider. We have to do all this because guess what? Other people are. I don't know if that was a wrong move at the time, but it became very clear that when you don't have all the people in the world to do every type of service, you need to kind of ... It's kind of like the Steve Jobs mentality at Apple, right? I think he kind of got people to say, "Look. We've got 12 products or whatever. Let's focus on just four." Same idea. We just decided, "Look. Look at the amount of manpower it's taking to run an email server, fighting spam every day."

Steve Lange: And what it was doing, I honestly believe that getting rid of email is one of the crucial things we did in order to change our image and get faster speeds. Because what that did was by outsourcing that ... And here's a classic case of where using a contractor is great. We're outsourcing with a company that's running our email for us, so that could be viewed as a contractor in a way, software as a service. So basically by doing that it freed up time, and that time was then better spent in, "Okay, let's learn more about this infrastructure. Let's be proactive instead of reactive." And over the course of years, that starts to then evolve into a better service.

Steve Lange: And I don't miss the email one bit. I mean it's a tough service to run. So it sounds easy because people use email, right? Like if you've used email, which most people I would imagine have, it's simple. You're just replying to messages and all that. But when you're running the backend of an email server, fighting the spam, doing all that, that is a full-time job for somebody.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I know. I barely miss the command line email. I sort of remember Pegasus and I remember Eudora. I mean I go back more than 25 years on email. But 2006 and '07, that's like, I mean that's sort of the magic time of the dark days. It was so awful. I remember in the early podcasts when they were just starting out, John C. Dvorak, everyone would call him "I get no spam" John C. Dvorak because you had companies that just specialized in doing nothing but that. And Gmail ultimately was sort of one of the major ... But for people who weren't around in that time, it was so miserable to use email if you didn't have just the perfect spam filters and the right technology.

27:24

Steve Lange: It certainly was. And I remember specifically in that timeframe, you would get on ... they had these things, the blacklists for email or whatever and the spam lists. You'd get on one of those and it would just affect your ability to email anywhere, and then you ...

Christopher Mitchell: The black holes, yeah.

Steve Lange: Yeah, and then they would spend the next two or three days basically doing the formal process of asking for forgiveness on these websites. And then I just remember the conversations with our customers going, our customers want to be able to receive and send email. Or send email, they were still receiving email. And we would have to tell them, "Well, we don't know when it's going to be fixed." And they're like, "What do you mean you don't know when it's going to be fixed?" I said, "Well, our stuff is actually working, but everybody else in the world is blocking us right now just because of this one bad thing that happened a day ago." And I remember that. It's just not the type of service level we wanted to have with our customers, so that's another reason we went a different route. And we never looked back.

Steve Lange: And sure, whenever you make any change of that magnitude, you're going to have some people that get upset, right? Because it's a change, it's new. They got to learn something different. But when they understand the benefits of what it's going to do for them ... So I remember specifically cases where somebody was like, "Oh, well if you do that I'll be able to have more storage space with this, and I'll be able to keep more email, or I'll be able to send email when I'm overseas" because we were blocking some foreign IP addresses from Europe and things like that. "Well yeah, you'd be able to that." "Oh, because I travel to Europe all the time so that would actually be a benefit." Almost everybody, if you talk to them enough and let them see the good things, they'll jump on board with you. And once people saw that ...

Steve Lange: And the other thing we did was we didn't just say, "On this date, you're on your own." Our customer service reps spent months working with every single person on an individual level to transfer their contact address book and mail so they didn't lose any messages, they didn't lose any contacts, and we made that process completely seamless for them. And then before the date that we were going to stop hosting email, we made sure that everybody was on the new system and working fine. So as long as you don't make people feel like they're on their own, as long as you help them, they're usually on board.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. And I think it helps to have built up goodwill prior to that with a history of that. Not playing gimmicks with the marketing and all that sort of thing.

Steve Lange: For sure.

29:44

Christopher Mitchell: Well, this is great. Let me ask you if there's anything else that we haven't covered that you think would be a good window into why CityLink is special.

Steve Lange: I'll just go back to something I just found out this week, actually. So just to give you an idea of the type of service that we offer for our residents, we had a situation where somebody was moving out of an apartment. And our installer was called to disconnect the service, which they were going to do and everything was fine. Well, the new tenant had already moved into the building, and they hadn't made up their mind on which provider they were going to go with yet. And they just happened to see the CityLink truck out there, and they asked outside and asked our installer what was going on. And he mentioned, "Well, we're disconnecting from the person that was here previously" and all that. And he goes, "Is there any way that I could just get hooked up with you since you're here right now?"

Steve Lange: And typically I think what you'd find out with most of the other providers is they would say, "Well if you want that, you've got to call in and get an account, and then we'll come out again and get you hooked up." So what our installer decided to do, and I think this is such a cool story, he decided to call into the office right away and said, "Look, the guy that's moving in, he wants our service. I'm already here. Can we just get him an account set up and I could just reconnect what I just disconnected and he could be up right now instead of having to wait a couple days or whatever?" And they said sure and they created everything, and he ended up hooking the new person up when he was there on that initial call. And that person was so happy that they actually wrote in an email to the management team of CityLink, and just wanted to just praise how awesome of an experience it was.

Steve Lange: And I'd like to say that stuff like that happens with our service every week. I mean there's someone that's getting extraordinary customer service that they weren't expecting. And we just like to do it because we like to keep our subscribers happy, we love to gain new subscribers, and we ... it's a community. This is a community-based ISP. You're part of the community. We want you to feel that you're in it with us. It's just a really cool experience to work for a small place that actually cares about something other than just the bottom line.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, especially if you grew up there.

Steve Lange: Exactly.

Christopher Mitchell: An added bonus.

Steve Lange: Really special for someone like me that went through the school system here and then came back to live here. And yeah, Wadsworth is a very special place for me for sure.

Christopher Mitchell: I just want to get verification. So when you said the townships earlier, so does Wadsworth serve all of the homes within the city lines of Wadsworth and then some of the surrounding area as well? Or are there places within Wadsworth that are not connected right now?

Steve Lange: So the entire Wadsworth city is connected with CityLink. And then there's townships where it's hit or miss. All of those townships have Wadsworth electricity.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Steve Lange: It's just hit or miss on whether the CityLink cable Internet and phone service is available in those parts. We've installed in as many places as we can and we're always looking to maybe expand, but right now we're at a crossroads with, well, if we're going to build something new it's probably going to be the next generation of our Internet service, which is probably going to be fiber to the home.

32:42

Christopher Mitchell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steve Lange: So at this point, there's been a lot of discussion in the city over the last couple years about fiber to the home, and it looks like it's getting closer to becoming a reality. So I have good hopes for it.

Christopher Mitchell: Cool. Yeah, keep us posted then as things move on.

Steve Lange: Sure.

Christopher Mitchell: It's been really great to have you on the show.

Steve Lange: Thanks for having me again, Chris. Appreciate it.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: That was Christopher talking with Steve Lange. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available on muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email at us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @MuniNetworks.

Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts.

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Ry Marcattilio-McCracken: Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 438 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening.

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