NuLink pushes ahead with big plans

by Clay Neely - clay@newnan.com

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Photo by Clay Neely

Scott Madison, V.P. Technical operations for Nulink, examines the room where all the electronics are located, which is called the headend. the term was coined in the early days of cable because it is the beginning, or head, of the cable system.


Five years after its disassociation with Newnan Utilities, NuLink is heading down the final stretch of one of its biggest projects to date — transitioning its analog signal to an all-digital feed for subscribers.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements over the last few years, but the biggest is the digital transition,” said Daniel Shoemaker, CEO of NuLink. “It’s been about a year in the making and we’re finally in the twilight of the project. Obviously, the primary goal is to provide better sound and video, which will subsequently free up a large amount of space to add additional offerings such as our video-on-demand content.”

Scott Madison, vice president of technical operations, explained the allocation process a bit more specifically.

Until the end of the year, the channels were broadcast in analog form. Every channel takes up 6 megahertz of capacity, Madison said.

“However, with digital, there are 8 to 12 channels per one 6 mhz channel,” Madison said. “We’re able to compress the bandwidth into a small amount, which adds space for HD channel launches along with high-speed data, keeping pace with the current demand.”

For NuLink, customer service has been the key to this transition.

“We wanted to make sure that communication keeps the customer informed but keeps it simple,” said Scott Werner, director of marketing. “The planning and logistics was the biggest challenge. With such a large number of digital boxes, we really needed the feedback from the customers. Some may have one TV, some have five, some have 15, so we had to get the feedback as to how many DTA’s they needed.”

“From a technical standpoint, we have to allow the customer to be able to see both services. We used all our channel capacity originally, so it was a challenge to have room to add digital channels as well,” said Madison

NuLink implemented several strategies to help customers transition.

“One of our strategies was to provide online videos detailing the steps, so it’s a relatively simple installation process. We also have people dedicated to actually going out and helping those who need it,” said Werner.

NuLink also held a series of open houses across the county where customers were invited to speak with senior representatives from the company to ask any questions they might have regarding the digital transition along with any other ideas or suggestions.

“We’ve had great response,” said Shoemaker. “We initially planned on doing this for only the transitional period, but now we’re planning on doing this in the future. We found that people come out with all kinds of questions. They want to meet us, see what we’re planning, maybe speak to a service issue or things they would like to see. This has been a great way to get in touch with our customers.”

“We’re a local company,” stressed Werner. “They can see us, talk to us, shake our hand and get answers from us.’”

So how does NuLink feel the transition has gone so far?

“Overall, I’d say it’s been a very smooth transition,” said Madison. “We have the website, which has done very well. In addition, our technicians are doing installs and upgrades and have been trained to solicit the information from the customer in regards to their needs. We know it’s an inconvenience, but we wanted to minimize the impact and make it as smooth as possible for the customer,” said Madison.

NuLink is anticipating a complete shutdown of analog channels and the addition of HD channels in the early first quarter of 2014. Then, the launch of the additional VOD (video on demand) product in mid first quarter.

“We’re moving from 3,000 hours of HD to over 12,000 hours of video on demand,” said Werner.

“Then late in the first quarter is the launch of our ‘whole-home-DVR,’ which goes anywhere,” said Madison. “It’s a five-tuner DVR and supports up to 15 satellite units tied into the DVR. You can view and record five programs along with moving a program started in one room, into another to finish watching. It has a high-speed data connection so it can act as a phone device and, most importantly, it has a phenomenal customer interface.”

“And in the second quarter is where we really start to see the benefits of our conversion by freeing up the bandwidth so we can see faster internet speeds,” said Shoemaker. “Just 18 months ago, we doubled our Internet speed and we plan on doing it again.”

“We are local and a big community supporter. We’ve donated over $33,000 to schools with our annual campaign in the fall. Our employees live here and send their children to school here. You can see our live call center. If a customer calls in, our reps know where they are. We can speak the language,” said Werner.

Discussing the company’s working philosophy, “It’s a very personal service,” said Shoemaker, “People are empowered because our objective is to provide customer service and every employee is empowered to solve customer problems.”

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Follow Clay Neely at www.twitter.com/clayneely





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