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VALLEY AND VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS | VENTURA COUNTY
/ LEO SMITH

GTE Cable TV Enters Battle for Customers

June 24, 1997|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

During his 23 years in the cable television industry, Ronald Hummel has learned the value of providing the customer with a wide selection of channels, clear television images and dependable service.

But perhaps more important than the features a cable company offers its customers, he said, is the manner in which it communicates with those customers.

"Right now there is a technological battle going on with all companies competing by adding digital signals, fiber-optic networks--those are the buzzwords," Hummel said. "But eventually all that technology is going to be similar. All the programming is going to be similar. And what will distinguish cable companies is the way they treat their customers."

Hummel will bring this business philosophy to his new role as general manager of the Ventura County operation of GTE Video Services, a subsidiary of GTE Corp. A telecommunications giant, GTE worked its way into the Ventura County cable market in April, offering 80 channels through its GTE Americast system, a fiber-optic and coaxial cable network.

The company now serves about 27,000 homes with franchises in Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and the county's unincorporated areas, competing with other local cable providers such as Jones Intercable, TCI Cable and Falcon Cablevision.

Hummel was brought onto the scene to help GTE Video Services achieve its goal of expanding service to 125,000 homes by the end of 1998. Negotiations are underway between the company and the Port Hueneme City Council for a franchise agreement to serve that city. The first public hearings were held last week.

"Ventura County is a very good market from a cable operation standpoint," Hummel said. "The market has good demographics, and there's an appetite for video services as well as data services. The community is very progressive--they want to have access to these services not only from an educational aspect but from a lifestyle aspect."

Before coming to GTE Video Services, Hummel worked for 14 years at Cox Communications of San Diego, which serves about 500,000 homes. He joined the company in 1983 as vice president of finance and administration and over the years was involved with customer service.

Hummel said his role in Ventura County should have a similar focus.

"My responsibility is to oversee the build-out and the marketing of this operation as well as to make sure the customer service element of our business is there," he said.

One of the major challenges for Hummel and other officials at GTE Video Services will be to get a firm hold on a market already served by established cable operations.

"Certainly, this is one of the first truly head-to-head competitive markets in the industry, so we are learning as we go," Hummel said. "Our position is that we see ourselves as the provider of choice. That's not to say the existing operators haven't done a good job, but we just see ourselves as another choice."

Although GTE Video Services is affiliated with GTE Corp., Federal Communications Commission regulations require that it operate as a separate entity.

"We are a start-up organization," Hummel said. "It's nice to have stockholders with deep pockets, but we have to hold to our own budget. We have to prove we can make it on our own."

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