Rural Retreat cable owner calling it quits
Dec 25, 2012 (Wytheville Enterprise - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Thirty-eight years ago when Porter Sage bought a cable television franchise, a lot of people didn't know what cable TV was.
"When I started out, I really didn't know how much of an interest there would be for it," he remembered. "I got the franchise in 1974, started digging ditches for the cable in 1975, started hooking up people in the first part of 1976 and have been here ever since."
But not for long.
Starting Jan. 1, Porter's one-man operation will give way to Shentel, a telecommunications company that covers the southeastern United States.
"I feel like Shentel is going to do a really, really good job for the people of Rural Retreat," Sage said. "The company is going to totally rebuild the system with fiber optics and run fiber all the way to every house. That should meet the needs today and many, many, many years from now. They are spending money today for tomorrow and going first-class."
Because he knew he couldn't run the system forever, Sage actively sought a company to take over his system.
"Porter was very proactive in making sure the people of Rural Retreat had cable service," said Willy Pirtle, vice president of sales and marketing for Shentel. "Once we upgrade the system, we will provide more than cable service. We will provide television service, digital service, Internet access and telephone service."
Pirtle said Shentel plans to take over Sage's system and leave it in place while the company constructs a new fiber optic system.
"Anyone currently on the system or on the system in the future will have a fiber optic system from our network to their home," Pirtle said.
He estimated that the conversion will be complete around November 2013.
"We plan to run a line to everyone's house," he added. "We will go door-to-door, knocking on doors and asking permission. There will be no costs to get fiber into the households; we will do that on our nickel if they want our service."
Shentel serves about 1.5 million customers, Pirtle said, adding that the company has not finalized monthly rates yet.
As for Sage, he plans to help Shentel with the conversion for about a year. He said he doubts there will be room for the local programming he aired over the years, including high school graduations, church services, parades and town council meetings.
Sage started out as a two-way radio technician for Two-Way Radio. He and two partners started the cable company. Sage eventually bought them out to become the sole owner.
"Each year, I'd take time off from Two-Way Radio to bury some cable," he recalled. "I'd come home, eat my supper and maybe bore a hole in the road or dig a ditch. When I started, I didn't think we would get above 13 channels. You just don't know what the future holds in store for you. Currently, Sage offers 43 channels.
Most of the cable was installed through openings he made with a Ditch Witch Trencher.
It was slow, back-breaking work, but Sage didn't mind.
"People were wonderful about letting me to along the edge of their property; they were very cooperative," Sage said. "Of course, most people in town know me. I was born here and lived most of my life here. It's the end of an era."
For the man who laid 26 miles of cable around town, retirement is bittersweet.
"I've always worried about my people more than a dollar. In fact, I've let my heart get in the way of being a good business person. I'm glad Shentel is taking it over. If I'd had to pull the plug, it would have killed me. It's been a lot of hard work and heart."
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