Community Voices - Ralph Potts

Ralph PottsRalph Potts is the General Manager of the Cable Co-op and has been a member of the Oberlin Community for nearly three decades. His business has provided an alternative to large corporations for the community's cable and internets needs for over 28 years. He also serves as the President of the Board of Trustees of the Oberlin Business Partnership.

Could you tell me a little bit about the Cable Co-op?

The Cable Co-op is a 501c12 public utility, non-profit.  Every nickel of revenue goes to operating the system: in paying the daily bills, programmer fees, electricity, just the everyday operating expenses, and anything left over gets put back in the system to upgrade or provide additional services.

How did you get started?

Well, it’s a long story.  We’ve been in operation for 28 years. There was a group of citizens about thirty years ago that wanted to build a cable TV system here, there was none here at the time, in 1986, but they didn’t want a Time Warner or a Comcast or a large organization, they wanted local control.  So, they formed this group to look at that possibility, and it’s not unusual since the community already had a city-owned power system, so its very similar to that type of operation, the only difference is we’re not a department of the city.  We’re run very similar to a rural electric co-op: we have a board of directors that are elected, they are members of the Cable Co-op, they subscribe to our services.  They set policy, and I do the operation.  We have approximately 52 miles of plant throughout town.  We serve approximately 3,000 homes in the city of Oberlin, and about 60% of the surrounding New Russia Township area.  And we service a little over 2,200 subscribers — either through cable or data services.

In what ways do you think your work with the Cable Co-op relates to the concept of sustainability?

Our existence is a[n] example of sustainability, because we’re small, because we started out from nothing. There were those that didn’t expect us to last more than 5 years, but just the perseverance of the staff and the board, we were determined to make it work. It was tough at first, it really is, especially when you’re building from nothing.  The first few years were difficult, and I had a lot of sleepless nights.  But with the help of the board and different people around town, they assisted us, and we made it work.  Just our existence — because we’re only one of a few left that have not been bought up by the bigger operators, that’s just our sustainability.  That’s what Oberlin’s all about.  Our contribution to Oberlin’s sustainability is just what we’ve been doing and what we plan on doing.  The changes in technology and the services were going to be providing here soon will be a draw for new businesses to come in and generate some jobs, and keep Oberlin’s future a little bit brighter than someone who’s not doing it, or a larger company that’s doing it with noting but profit in mind.

What comes to mind when you think about the Oberlin community?

The community itself — like I said I’ve been here 28 years. I like the people, I like the people I work with, I like the people that I work for.  And the people that I work for are the people that walk in that door everyday, or call on the phone. Those are the people that I work for.  I’m not working for corporate America. I believe in who we are and what we are and what we’ve been able to accomplish over the years, and have high expectations for our not too distant future. I wont be around here forever, but when I do leave here, I want to be proud of what I’ve done, and what the people that I’ve worked with have done.  So when I turn the keys over to someone new, I want to be able to hand them the keys with no regrets. I want to be able to do that with pride, and I think I’ll be able to do that.  This community is very very goodhearted, and I want to be included in that group.

We laugh here everyday, we have a good time. Being small, when those people come through our door, they’re not just an account number, they’re not just a customer. We know them by their first name, 9 out of 10, because they’ve been customers for a long time. And it happens all the time too.  That person will come in the door and they’ll want to talk to me personally because they’re having some financial issues and they can’t pay their bill on time, and we work with people.

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Guest March 15, 2017

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