Conway Corporation Cable System
In 1966, Conway Corporation recommended to the Conway City Council that it reserve the cable franchise for the city of Conway. The corporation felt that a nonprofit municipal cable system would fit in well with its publicly-owned electric, water, and wastewater system. All would have the same fundamental philosophy of low rates, efficient service, and citizen participation. Public ownership would, also, mean the system would be service-oriented rather than profit-oriented. In addition, the corporation felt the community's technical expertise in running a municipal electric system would be easily transferable to a cable system. The electric system already had the in-house technical capability. The corporation's ownership of rights-of-way and electric utility poles would be another added advantage.
Not only did the city council realize that Conway was well-suited to set up a cable system through Conway Corporation, but it, also, recognized the many advantages such a situation would reap its people:
citizens would have an active voice in controlling the quality and type of programs coming into their homes;
the amount of revenue flowing into the city would be enhanced; as a nonprofit entity, the system would contribute to lower costs for the community; and the service-oriented attitude of a municipal utility would benefit all concerned.
In 1979, Conway Corporation petitioned the Conway City Council for permission to conduct a study on the cost and benefits of a city-owned cable system (Resolution R-78-64). Next a franchise (Ordinance 0-79-21) and lease agreement (Ordinance 0-79-22) between the city of Conway and Conway Corporation was drawn up to provide the necessary capital investment for the construction of the cable system and to provide maximum benefits to both the cable's subscribers and to the city of Conway.
On May 8, 1979, Resolution R-79-19 was passed allowing Conway Corporation's electric department to purchase, with surplus revenues, a bond from the cable department in the amount of $1.5 million (to be repaid over a 25-year period at an interest rate of 7% per annum) to finance the construction of, and to be used as operating capital for, the new system. (Eventually the corporation would loan the cable system an additional $200,000 to cover a cost overrun.)
On May 15, 1979, Frank Robins, chairman of the board of Conway Corporation, signed a resolution accepting on behalf of Conway Corporation the exclusive franchise to operate a cable television system in and for the city of Conway. Finally in a special May board meeting, Conway Corporation board members approved two measures that officially initiated the cable system operations: authorized the installation of 114 miles of aerial cable and 8 miles of buried cable, and approved a program package adopted by the systems' Programming Committee.
LP&H Construction Company of Tipton, Missouri was awarded the project's construction contract with the lowest bid of $1,188,654.
In January, 1980, the Conway City Council, passed Ordinance 0-80-1 establishing an advisory committee of Conway citizens to be organized for the purpose of recommending the programming to be offered by the new cable system. The committee was composed of 16 members: the mayor, who was to serve as chairman; three representatives one each to be named by the two local college and the one university presidents; one representative each from Conway's Ministerial Alliance and the local school board; eight citizens, to be appointed by the eight city aldermen; the chairman of the city council's utility committee and the Conway Corporation CEO or his designee. This committee produced the original 16 basic channel package, with 2 premium channels offered as optional selections, initially proposed by the cable system.
By June, 1980, the city council had passed Ordinance 0-80-12 establishing the initial rates for cable service for individual users. In January, 1981, this document was amended when Ordinance 0-81-2 was passed establishing the rates for bulk service customers.
Residents' response to the new system was immediate. The initial sign-up projection of 50% of the town's 6,700 residential customers was, in fact, closer to 60%. A target completion date was set for January 1, 1981. However, due to inclement weather and a shortage of equipment and parts, the actual laying of cable was delayed. In April, Conway Corporation hired an additional contractor, A-1 Telephone Installation, Inc., providing more crews to compensate for the unforeseen delay.
On May 26, the University of Central Arkansas' communication department began broadcasting announcements on Channel 17 (now Channel 6, the channel reserved for local origination). And, finally, on October 7, Jay and Roxanna Witt, of 516 Grove Street, became the first to receive cable transmissions when they were randomly selected to test final installation procedures.
In April 1982, the American Public Power Association (APPA), a national organization of municipally-owned utilities conducted a nationwide cable television workshop here in Conway using the Conway Corporation's cable system as its model. Conway's citizens, indeed, have a right to be proud of their cable system.
By May 1994, Conway's original 100-plus miles cable had grown to 250 miles. Integrated Network Services of Roswell, Georgia, was contracted to map the system, the first step in the plant's rebuild. The system's original 1982 subscriber count of 4,000 was now closer to 12,500. Earnest Hicks, telecommunications superintendent: "Every new street and subdivision added since ('82) has required both splitters and amplifiers to provide signal to the new area." Splitters decrease signal capability; amplifiers must be added to compensate for that loss. "We have some neighborhoods where the cable signal must go through as many as 25 amplifiers before it reaches the subscriber's home."
In 1995, the system's remapping and design completed, Conway Corporation began a city-wide rebuild of its cable system. Fiber optic cable was used from the system's headend to neighborhood nodes. Fiber optics is a thin, flexible glass fiber, composed of two to three layers of different kinds of glass, which carries TV signals in a beam of light with very little distortion. Coaxial cable was used from node to subscriber's home. Nodes are the intermediate points in telecommunications systems where optical impulses are transferred into radio frequencies.
The rebuild, which was done by Cable Constructors, Inc. of Iron Mountain, Michigan, was completed in January '97 with a final system count of approximately 325 miles. The system currently operates at 750MHZ with the capability of carrying up to 117 analog channels.
The two-way characteristics of fiber also allowed the plant to install a cable modem internet service in April 1997. Conway Corporation's Internet service, began operations with one T-1. It expanded to eight T-1's in 2000.
In October 2002, Conway Corporation added a digital cable package to its offerings and in December 2003 began offering High-Definition Cable Service. Video On Demand became available to digital cable customers in October 2007.