BY K. C. NEEL High-definition television is coming to Oregon. And surprisingly, the first operator to offer the new service is a local telephone/cable cooperative that serves only 1,700 rural customers. Clear Creek Telephone and TeleVision, a 90-year-old co-op, launched an HD tier of services on Sept. 2 after a two-month trial, says president Mitchell Moore. In little over a week, 18 people had called to sign up for the service. That’s good because Clear Creek, which counts 2,800 cable and telephone customers, is going to need as many HD customers as it can get. It cost the co-op $50,000 to switch out and modify equipment necessary to offer the product, Moore says. Clear Creek was one of only a handful of systems around the country that still subscribed to a national data-collecting service that used a telephone return path to collect billing data, he says. But the Motorola DCT-5100 set-tops don’t have a telephone return path option, so the system had to undergo some modification before it could offer HD. Clear Creek is leasing the HD set-tops for $5 a month. For that, customers get the local off-air HD signals for free. They also receive the HBO and Showtime HD feeds if they subscribe to those services. For another $9.95, they can get HDNet, HDNet Movies, Discovery HD Theater and ESPN HD. Moore’s not too worried about getting a return on his investment. The company has a 33% penetration rate for high-speed data and he suspects HD will be similarly popular. Clear Creek’s customer base may be rural — the company’s plant passes about 12 homes a mile — but they are sophisticated users, Moore says. “We probably wouldn’t be in business today if we didn’t have cable modem service,” he says. “It’s a fourth of our corporate revenues, and we offer standard telephone service in addition to our cable offerings.” Clear Creek decided to launch HD before video-on-demand, Moore says, because he felt it would enable the system to better compete against DBS. “We’ve lost about 2% of our customers in each of the last two years, and we found that about two-thirds left to sign up for DBS,” Moore says. “And they tended to tell us that they were leaving to either get the sports packages or high definition. We can’t get the sports packages but we could offer HD.” Clear Creek sent customers a direct mail piece earlier this month to promote the launch. The system doesn’t have local ad insertion capabilities, so cross-channel promotion is out of the question. Moreover, the company’s service territory doesn’t lend itself well to much of a retail strategy, Moore says. Still, he’s looking into getting some point-of-purchase presence in some stores. Comcast is preparing to launch its own HD product in the area. Its Eugene system is set to launch HD Sept. 30 and the Portland system has an Oct. 8 launch planned. Moore says he hopes to benefit from the MSO’s hyping of the product.