To paraphrase Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Time Warner Cable’s Golden Triangle system in Texas. In this case, this is a tale of not two, but three cities: Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur, which form the points of the Golden Triangle region near the Louisiana border on the Gulf Coast. In 2005, Time Warner’s Golden Triangle system was surging upward, having reached a record high in basic subscribers—more than 91,000, up from 88,000 at the end of 2004. But staring down its DBS competitors was easy compared to grappling with Mother Nature in the form of Hurricane Rita. It’s said that the measure of a person is how he/she handles adversity. Perhaps the same can be said for a cable system. It’s this belief that led us to name Time Warner Cable Golden Triangle CableWORLD‘s System of the Year for 2005. Before Rita hit, not only had Golden Triangle been growing basic and advanced service sub counts, it was doing this while drawing praise from local officials for helping Katrina evacuees. As the sidebar below shows, Golden Triangle also was making strong forays in digital video and high-speed Internet access. Digital phone service was gaining penetration as were high-definition DVRs. Bundle combinations were heavily advertised and promoted through demonstrations at consumer electronics stores and Time Warner retail shops in Port Arthur and Silsbee, 50 miles inland from Beaumont. Golden Triangle general manager Mike McKee attributed the customer surge (the system added a record 3,000 basic subs from January 2005 through mid-September) to a shift from monthly campaigns using one marketing avenue at a time (direct mail only one month, cross-channel promos the next) to a monthly multiple-media strategy encompassing print, cross-channel and broadcast station messages and direct mail. The system also expanded its door-to-door sales team from seven to 15 people. Preparation was Key The late football coach George Allen said that preparation was one of the things that differentiated winners from losers in professional football. Golden Triangle was prepared. Its managers and employees determined that they’d worked too hard to let its high profile as a local presence be dented by Hurricane Rita, even though there would be no escaping a certain amount of devastation. McKee and his 221 staffers followed an emergency preparedness plan that had been in place at the system for several years. As part of that plan, the following measures taken: *Supervisors had contact information on each employee, including primary and secondary phone numbers, and primary and alternate destinations. *Equipment vendors were advised to send emergency shipments of coaxial cable, drop cable, converters and other gear to a designated site within 24 hours. Golden Triangle deliberately overestimated its equipment requests to be ready if damage turned out to exceed expectations. *All windows were boarded up with plywood, while sandbags were stacked around the base of each of Golden Triangle’s buildings to keep as much water as possible from getting in from immediate storm surge. *Every vehicle was filled with gas and moved inland. "Through our emergency preparedness plan we were able to keep in touch with our employees at all times and meet their needs as well as our customers’ needs," says McKee. Weather forecasters initially projected Rita would hit Galveston or Corpus Christi, southwest of Time Warner’s service area, and McKee thought his system would get off with severe rainfall and a taste of high winds. By Sept. 21 the projections were revised for likely landfall near Orange and the Texas/Louisiana border, placing Golden Triangle smack in the center of Rita’s path. State and local authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation the next day. All Golden Triangle employees were contacted and asked where they would wait out Rita. Supervisors were given that information and alerted to contact 10-12 employees in their area immediately after Rita passed through. An emergency employee hot line was set up at Time Warner’s system in Flower Mound, outside of Dallas, while subscriber inquiries were transferred to the MSO’s El Paso operation. On the night of Sept. 24, Rita slammed into the Golden Triangle with winds of more than 130 miles per hour and didn’t let up for nine hours. At the time, Golden Triangle was, in addition to tending to its own customers, providing service to apartments and emergency shelters housing more than 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities that had been struck by Hurricane Katrina less than a month earlier. As residents made their way out of Golden Triangle, Time Warner used school buses to help state authorities arrange transportation for many Katrina evacuees. Rising From the Wreckage McKee and his management team rode out Rita in Dallas and El Paso. "I stayed up all night watching CNN for updates and calling the Nederland center every 30 minutes to hear if the calls were being forwarded to El Paso." McKee says. Returning from Dallas to assess the aftermath, McKee and engineering director Bob Shugarman were stunned by the wreckage. "It looked like a Third World nation, with the debris and damage everywhere," McKee says. "We were pretty well devastated." The damage report: 400 miles of coax plant and 120 miles of optical fiber missing or shattered from falling trees and wind; one side of the Nederland phone center blown off, with sewage water flooding in; a giant hole on top of the Orange retail store made by a 100-foot pine tree, and a 500-foot head-end tower gone; the homes of 10 employees destroyed, the residences of 19 employees suffering major structural damage. Golden Triangle employees returning to the area were encouraged to deal with their personal situations before committing to reconstruction work for the system. Contract crews from El Paso, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Waco and other Time Warner systems in Texas came to Golden Triangle to relieve employees who’d suffered the most personal damage. "Even Kansas City people came down," McKee recalls. "They did whatever we needed them to do, whether it was reconnecting drops or answering repair requests from customers." At one point, more than 800 contract personnel were involved in Golden Triangle service restoration, along with 80 Time Warner people from outside the area. All but 5% of Golden Triangle employees were accounted for within four days after Rita hit. The rest had returned to the area by the following weekend. None suffered injuries. Canned food, water, ice and gasoline were shipped in to meet the basic needs of employees. Those with no homes or badly damaged homes were taken to Houston and given free temporary shelter. Service resumed in some neighborhoods throughout the Triangle within the week; other neighborhoods were briefed by phone, e-mail and website announcements about when service might return. During the World Series about a month later, Time Warner mollified Golden Triangle subscribers still without service by televising the games for free at entertainment venues in Beaumont and Orange. Time Warner arranged the special deal with Fox Broadcasting’s local affiliate, offering free hot dogs and soft drinks (perhaps the freebies made it easier to swallow the spectacle of watching the Houston Astros go down in four straight). By Thanksgiving, Time Warner had restored service to all of its customers. With facility repairs now complete, Golden Triangle has turned its attention to its 2006 agenda, topped by wireless service through the joint Sprint/MSO venture, along with the launch of a number of local programming video-on-demand projects, starting with news. Time Warner’s efficient preparation and response to Rita didn’t go unnoticed by local officials. Golden Triangle’s Texas state representative Joe Deshotel (D) says, "For many of my constituents, their cable, Road Runner and digital phone services came back online as soon as power was restored." Time Warner Cable’s response to Rita was "most impressive and effective—resulting in a quick response by their hurricane restoration team." Obviously, we agree. Time Warner Cable Golden Triangle, Texas By the Numbers Employees: 222
Miles of plant: 2,500
Homes passed: 145,000
Bandwidth: 870 MHz
Percent upgraded: 100%
Basic subs: 91,000
Basic penetration: 63%
Digital penetration: 32%
HSD penetration: 30%
Digital phone penetration: 10%*
HD penetration: 6%*
HDTV: 12 channels
HDTV subs: 6% of digital customers
VoIP subs: 10% of digital subs
Ad insertion: 45 channels Source: Time Warner Cable
*among digital video customers

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