Local consumers could soon see a “transformational change” to their television and Internet service if a rollout of new technology goes according to plan.
BCI Broadband, which purchased Allegiance Communications in April, will begin transitioning customers today to its upgraded digital telecommunications system.
The company recently invested $100 million to build a 400-mile fiber optic ring around the state of Oklahoma. Work on the project began in April after the completion of Allegiance’s sale to BCI Broadband.
Shawn Beqaj, BCI Broadband’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs, said Shawnee will serve as the central hub of the company’s regional system.
“It’s a counter rotating, redundant ring, which means service is still secure, even if part of it gets cut,” he said.
The Purchase, N.Y.-based company reaches more than 300,000 homes over eight states, Beqay added. These include Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
“What we’re doing here, we aren’t doing anywhere in the country,” he said.
Beqaj said the new digital television service will have 250 MPG4 all digital, all high definition (HD) channels with no up charge for HD.
Another improvement will be the higher connection speeds available to BCI Broadband’s local customers.
“In the past in Shawnee, Allegiance was able to get up to 10 MBPS. Allegiance had difficulty keeping up with demand during peak hours. We now have a very broad bandwidth. It will allow residents to get speeds of 25, 50 and ultimately 1000 MBPS,” Beqaj said.
With these newer services, the question is: will local residents see an increase in their monthly rates?
Beqaj said as a company BCI Broadband takes the long view regarding rates and service.
“Our business plan is to serve non-urban or rural markets,” he said.
“We want to increase our market share. We can’t do that by dramatically raising rates. Our rates will remain competitive to what was previously offered and what is offered in neighboring towns and cities.”
BCI Broadband has been communicating with customers via mail and its television service about the transition to its new system, Beqaj said.
“Two-hundred or so customers will be switched over [on the first] day. The transition will be done neighborhood by neighborhood over the next four to six weeks,” he said. “Although this is more labor-intensive for us, it is more customer friendly to take it in smaller bites.”
Page 2 of 2 - Beqaj explained that the switch requires all televisions connected to the system use a digital converter or DTA. This will require customers to swap their current cable box for one of the new converters, he added.
BCI Broadband would provide two converters per home for two years without charge and additional converters will cost 99 cents per month, Beqaj explained.
“Customers can get these multiple ways,” he said. “They can go to our walk-in center on Saratoga Street or call our call center to request a self install kit be sent to them.”
Making an economic footprint
Beqaj foresees BCI Broadband’s investment in Shawnee eventually leading to new jobs.
He has some room to speak, as this isn’t his first rodeo. Beqaj along with other members of BCI Broadband’s senior management team previously led Bresnan Communications before that company was acquired by Cablevision in 2010.
“Looking back to [the purchase of] Mountain State Systems in 2003, we went from 750 to 1,300 employees in less than five years,” he said. “We anticipate with the construction of the center to go from 40-50 employees here to well over 100.”
BCI already has hundreds of contractors working in and around Shawnee, Beqaj said.
“The economic impact is already happening that way,” he said. “They are going to restaurants and staying in hotels.”
Additionally, the availability of higher Internet connection speeds will make Shawnee more attractive to outside businesses considering moving to the area.
“Businesses need bandwidth to move to cities and as Shawnee grows, we hope to fill that need,” Beqaj said.