Our 2014 Independent Operator of the Year is a difficult company to pigeonhole—unabashedly rooted in traditional values, yet exceedingly progressive. “It’s small cable, but there’s plenty to talk about,” is how ACA EVP/Chief of Staff Rob Shema puts it.

As is true with some of the indies pro_ led in these pages, Comporium is a privately held, family run business that started as a voice provider. It dates to the charter of Rock Hill Telephone of South Carolina in 1894. Its current owner, the Barnes family, took the reins in 1912. A cable subsidiary started in the mid-1960s; Comporium’s Frank Barnes Jr and his brothers John and Ed were among its founders.
Data and VoIP followed. Today the company passes nearly 150K homes and businesses.

Not only is Comporium family run, it’s a family company. Its owners have a deep Christian faith, and the culture and daily operations reflect that. For example, Comporium has never opened its retail stores on Sundays. Meetings after lunch begin with an invocation. And its programming excludes explicit adult content. ‘Is it good for the children?’ is among the first questions Comporium uses to guide decisions. Its annual Christmas party is open to its 1,000 employees’ families and their children, who are treated to a bevy of youth-focused activities.

While Comporium’s values are traditional, its stance on technology is cutting edge. “We are constantly upgrading our systems and offerings to remain competitive with the largest national providers,” EVP Bill Beaty says. “In some cases, we attempt to stay ahead of them.” In addition to TV Everywhere and VOD, the company has a host of home security and home automation products. Its most impressive accomplishment is its upgrade of the majority of its HFC plant to 1 GHz, allowing it last month to launch Zipstream, its 1-Gig service to both businesses and consumers. Zipstream features speeds nearly 85 times faster than Comporium’s standard Internet service.

Comporium’s progressive thinking led to Zipstream’s launch despite having few of the tech businesses that require extreme amounts of bandwidth in its service area. It believes Zipstream will attract tech-driven companies and jobs. Its initial two business customers are located at Rock Hill’s downtown, urban business area known as Knowledge Park. The launch has led to area buzz, and interest “has been very strong,” Comporium says. Indeed, as we went to press Comporium informed us that four more industrial parks will be getting the 1-Gig service and by early September it will make Zipstream available to 125
of its fiber-to-the-home neighborhoods in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and the surrounding areas.

Comporium’s plans for Zipstream are in concert with its commitment to growing Rock Hill’s economy. “For our community to be successful, we need a vibrant downtown,” says Comporium President/CEO Bryant Barnes. “Many projects had floundered, so several years ago we decided to step in and make a difference.” Comporium is completing a four-story, 50,000-square-foot office building for lease to help bring new businesses downtown. It’s also working to revitalize the area with a park, hotel and performing arts complex, which will sit on land Comporium donated. “This is vital to the success of Rock Hill’s growth and development, which, in turn, is good for our employees, shareholders and customers,” he adds.

Comporium’s commitment to its community can also be seen through its support of local events and causes through grants and donations. Its regional Emmy-winning channel CN2 also plays a role. It “has had a positive effect on increasing the quality of life in the area… by bringing increased exposure and participation to area events,” says Comporium
EVP John Barnes.
-Seth Arenstein

Fast Facts
Comporium is the 27th largest cable operator, the country’s
13th largest telecommunications provider and 11th
largest privately owned company in South Carolina.

A diversified company, Comporium has interests in the
smart home industry and connected car technology as
well as in data management and storage.

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