WOW! Offers Shelter in the Storm
By Cathy Applefeld Olson
When Newnan, Georgia, was hit with an EF-4 tornado last spring, WOW! was on the ground not only ensuring service was restored but also that the town’s residents could have a sense of normalcy.
“We did whatever we could to get the market up and running, but also helping those in the community,” says Teresa Elder, WOW! CEO. “It was around Easter, so we did Easter baskets for the kids, and we had WiFi hotspots in parking lots so people could bike or walk or however they could get there to tell their loved ones they were OK.”
Those efforts, as well as co-sponsoring the “Where I Come From: Tornado Benefit Concert” headlined by hometown country music star Alan Jackson, is all in keeping with the company’s mantra: “Customers are neighbors, not numbers.” It’s an axiom that has led its drive to expand the digital equity lens to include both residents and small, family-owned businesses in the nine states in which it provides cable and internet service, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“Bridging the digital divide is what we do every day. It’s in our vision statement. We take seriously the role we play in our communities, and we know the products and services we provide are lifelines for our customers,” Elder says.
The communities WOW! serves are dotted with family-owned businesses and as the pandemic wore on and it became clear some were on the brink. Employees came up with a cross-departmental solution to help. Last year the company rolled out Local Advantage, a program through which mom-and-pop business customers could be featured in a WOW!-produced commercial, at no additional cost, that airs for 12 weeks on a variety of networks in the client’s market.
“The program was designed to give WOW!’s small business customers an edge over their competitors during the pandemic when so many were struggling to keep their doors open,” says CTO Henry Hryckiewicz. “WOW! has created more than 200 of these local commercials, helping these businesses reach and serve more customers.”
It’s been good business for WOW!, too. “The things we’ve done to help our customers in financial need, and retain them, have been really exceptional. We are having some of the lowest churn we’ve ever had, and that customer loyalty is key to us. Seeing the hardships definitely reinforced that part of our commitment.” Elder says. “Every day we’re making sure we are working with small business, whether it’s helping them figure out how to get their business online when they couldn’t have customers in person or our Fiber Flex product.”
Launched in February 2021, Fiber Flex offers a lower-cost, high-speed data service for small and medium-sized businesses. Sales of the service doubled from 2021 to 2022. It’s just one of the ways WOW! is ensuring Americans remain connected beyond its participation in government-created programs for discounted broadband service to eligible households.
“WOW! created Fiber Flex out of recognition that internet reliability and speed are a necessity for operating a successful business in today’s technology-centric world,” says Hryckiewicz. “It allows business customers to meet their operational goals at a considerably lower price. The cost of internet access should never be a barrier to operating a business, especially under the dire conditions we’ve witnessed during the pandemic.”
WOW! is also powering ahead with its greenfield strategy. Expansion plans call for 400,000 homes passed by 2027.
“Faster speeds, lower latency, enhanced security and universal access are required for almost everything we envision for our futures—self-driving cars, virtual reality, commercial space travel,” Elder says. “It’s hard for us to even image all the ways future innovations and faster broadband speeds will power our futures. The challenge for our industry is to continue to work toward digital equality so everyone has access to and can participate in that yet-to-be-envisioned future.”
- $13,500 in WOW! scholarships were provided to graduating high school seniors in Newnan, Georgia, to support continued education
- $100,000 is how much WOW! will invest in fiber networks in communities such as Orange and Seminole counties in Florida