Elgin TV Association stays viable amid unexpected costs and changing technology
Ted Thamert, president of the non-profit association, is serving his second year of a two-year term at Elgin TV Association. He is one of an eight-member board of directors, all volunteers who supervise various departments and functions of the organization.
Each of them puts in between five and 20 hours of volunteer labor each month. Besides these, the organization employs two full-time and one part-time employee.“We’re a community-based association founded in 1955 and originally organized to bring cable television to the area,” said Thamert. “Our channel 11 allows people to advertise at a reasonable cost of $2 to $4 a day.”
Channel 11 can run up to 1,500 announcements per day, including community events, items for sale, local business offers and school news.
Local government notices are posted free of charge on channel 50, Thamert said, because the association has its franchise through the City of Elgin.
The association currently offers 51 cable television channels.
The association has 501 Elgin subscribers. This represents about 70 percent of the households in Elgin. Of those subscribers, 266 purchase the service at member rates of $35 per month.
However, in order to stay viable, Thamert said the association had to increase its services beyond cable television.
“We just recently put in broadband Internet service,’’ he said. “We added another T-1 line, and in the first 12 months we gained 126 Internet subscribers.”
The addition of broadband Internet service was well supported by the county, Thamert said.
County Commissioner Steve McClure helped facilitate a meeting between the association and a Hood River cable company who had already installed its infrastructure to support Internet services to its residents. The association’s board of directors went to look at their system and learn from the Hood River project.
“The county was really good about helping us,” Thamert said. “They helped us with the survey costs and were real supportive.’’
The Internet service has brought economic benefits to the community, according to Thamert.
“We have some home businesses that require broadband, so this service supports Elgin’s small businesses,” he said. “It also makes Elgin attractive to businesses who want to locate here.”
Though the association’s growth has been steady and progressive, it has also been threatened by unexpected service costs.
“Two years ago we took a big hit, a raise in service costs, but our subscribers stuck with us,” Thamert said.
The association felt an unexpected financial impact when OTEC issued an invoice to them for $27,000 for pole “contact fees” retroactive to a period beginning five years ago.
The association was charged $6.30 per pole per year for its lines.
“So OTEC set us up on a payment plan,” said Thamert. “We also put in meter bases at a cost of $1,400 each. OTEC worked with us on that too. They were wonderful. We would have folded otherwise without their support.”
The association had some long-term debts when they started offering Internet service, but again they found local support.
“Community Bank has fully backed us on that endeavor. We will work on the principal as soon as we have our OTEC balance of $2,148 paid off,” Thamert said.
The transition from analog to digital television has brought new financial obligations that did not exist with the analog system.
“We had to buy new equipment for the DTV change,” Thamert said. “We used to get a signal out of Spokane to our antenna, but now we have to pay for a signal from a television company in Spokane. So we went from free to paying thirty-six cents a month per subscriber. All the Portland and Boise channels are doing that too.”
County Commissioner McClure has been working with the association, looking for stimulus money that may assist them, but “there is no trickle-down money,” Thamert added.
“There is money available for big cable companies but nothing for us,” he said. “That’s one reason you’re seeing some of these smaller cable companies fail.”
Despite the debts incurred by the increased service costs and the transition to DTV, Thamert was proud of the association’s profit and loss sheet. During the first quarter of 2009, the association earned $96,579 and its costs totalled $96,714, leaving a loss of only $134.
“Not bad,” said Thamert. “Through it all Elgin TV Association is still financially solvent.”
The association’s board of directors is asking for more volunteers, a younger generation to carry on what past Elgin volunteers have built.
The average age of the association's directors and volunteers is 55.
There are many goals yet to achieve, said Thamert, as he points to a list on his white board, and “we need new blood on our governing body.”