East Cleveland Cable TV, the only cable broadband and TV provider for most of East Cleveland’s 8,000 households, has been taken over — not by Charter Spectrum or another Big Cable company, but by a new, independent LLC headquartered in rural Nebraska.
The new owner is called Windspeed Broadband (not to be confused with Windstream.) The ECC TV website has been redesigned with the Windspeed brand.
This transaction took place very quietly over the last few months. As far as we can tell, this is the first public “story” about it, other than the unexplained name change on the ECC TV website.
Windspeed Broadband was incorporated in Colorado in March — apparently for the sole purpose of buying and running the East Cleveland operation — but its “Cable Community Registration” form, filed with the FCC in early April, lists Windspeed’s address as 1140 10th Street, Gering, Nebraska, and its CEO as William Bauer, who already has three companies at that address. They include a cable technology development company called BBT; InterTECH, which the BBT website describes as “an ISP that provides First and Second level support and Provisioning Services for cable operators on a National and International basis”; and WinDBreak Cable, a very small cable provider serving the towns of Lyman, Oshkosh and Harrison, Nebraska and Pine Bluffs and Guernsey, Wyoming.
The East Cleveland system’s longtime Technical Manager, Ron Kessler, is listed as Windspeed’s agent in its Colorado corporation filing, as well as the new company’s registration with the Ohio Secretary of State. So it looks like the the system’s day-to-day management will continue to be local.
It’s likely that the new owner’s first priority is restoring the cable TV side of the business, which blew up publicly last Fall when thirty channels went dark due to ECC TV’s “financial issues”. In the wake of that debacle, many community members expressed the hope that ECC TV would be bought or replaced by Charter Spectrum. Instead they have Windspeed Broadband, which now faces an uphill climb to rebuild confidence in its independent television service.
But East Cleveland residents and leaders should also be asking three important questions about Windspeed’s impact on the community’s Internet access:
- What does the system’s new ownership mean for future broadband speeds, reliability and cost?
- What does Windspeed Broadband’s future look like if AT&T starts offering symmetric 100 Mbps-to-gigabit home fiber service in East Cleveland? And…
- Will Windspeed help in any way to close East Cleveland’s enormous digital divide?
East Cleveland is currently the least broadband-connected “Census place” of any size in Ohio, and one of the least-connected anywhere in the U.S.
The U.S. Census’ 2017 American Community Survey lists 3,120 U.S. places with 5,000 or more households. Among those three thousand communities across the country, the city of East Cleveland had the sixth lowest percentage of households with cable, DSL or fiber broadband subscriptions (33.8%), and the ninth lowest percentage of home broadband Internet subscriptions of any kind including mobile (46.7%). That’s about as far on the wrong side of the digital divide as you can get.
In recent years East Cleveland has also been the only municipality in Cuyahoga County, and one of very few urban communities anywhere in the U.S., which doesn’t have “real broadband” as defined by the FCC — speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up — available to most of its residents from a either a cable or DSL provider.
ECC TV’s claim on the city’s municipal cable TV franchise (until 2008, when the state took over “video services authorization”) meant that a bigger cable company like Adelphia, Time Warner or Cox never entered the city. When Big Cable companies began upgrading their analog networks to fiber-enhanced digital technologies more than twenty years ago — laying the basis for their broadband download speeds of 100 to 300 Mbps today — ECC TV’s owners didn’t follow suit. In a recent phone call, Kessler told CYC that the system has now had significant fiber upgrades. But the fastest Internet service offered on the ECCTV/Windspeed site is still “up to” 25 Mbps down.
Most East Cleveland residents are also limited to very slow ADSL Internet service from AT&T, thanks to the same historic digital redlining that afflicted nearby Cleveland neighborhoods.
East Cleveland is a very poor community, so the lack of fast broadband options is probably not the main reason why fewer than half of its households had any kind of home Internet service in 2017, and only a third had wireline (DSL or cable) broadband connections. ECC/Windspeed charges a relatively affordable $40-$45 a month for its 10 Mbps and 25 Mbps Internet accounts, compared to more than $60 for the same speeds from AT&T. The city’s supply of households who can afford that monthly expense, even for faster service, may be limited.
And serious competition for those households,including Windspeed’s existing customer base, appears imminent. AT&T has been hanging fiber lines on its East Cleveland poles. That means residents who can afford $60 a month may soon have access to broadband speeds of 100 Mbps down and up, or faster. Even if Windspeed can somehow match that service, it’s probably going to lose a lot of current customers to the new competition.
Meanwhile, the majority of East Cleveland households — mostly low income households — still don’t have home broadband of any kind. That’s obviously an opportunity, but only for a Internet provider that can make money delivering good broadband service at a really affordable price.
Is Windspeed that provider? Does it want to be?