Small Cable TV Company in Alaska to Sunset Video Service in 2024

Dec 12, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband 

Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2023 – A small cable TV company in Alaska is planning to turn off video service starting late next year, giving customers sufficient time to transition to alternative video providers online and perhaps elsewhere.

Ketchikan Public Utilities (KPU) announced less than two weeks ago its decision to shut down cable TV on Sept. 15, 2024. Over the next 10 months, KPU will train technicians about streaming services and devices as part of a broad effort to ensure an easy transition for up to 1,200 cable TV customers who might need help finding a new way to watch TV.

“We have to take good care of our customers. That’s expected. We pride ourselves on taking good care of them.” KPU Telecommunications Division Manager Dan Lindgren said Tuesday. “We’re in a small, close-knit community. Everyone knows everybody else.”

Located in southeastern Alaska across from Canada’s British Columbia province, Ketchikan has about 6,000 households with access to KPU’s cable TV service, which launched in 2007. Municipally owned KPU has its roots in the telephone industry. It added Internet service before it entered cable TV, which has about 20% household penetration today.

With its focus on streaming services, KPU’s transition plan dovetails with its broadband Internet service. KPU’s ISP offers robust 1 gigabit speeds in both directions, Lindgren said.

KPU’s decision to exit cable TV was driven by the overwhelming popularity of national streaming services and the desire to avoid spending on new cable boxes compatible with its vendor’s new encryption technology, Lindgren said.

“It really kind of started when Netflix became a household name with streaming,” Lindgren said, adding Amazon Prime Video, Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV to the list. “You can’t compete in that space anymore with those large providers.”

Lindgren said about 75% of KPU’s deployed set-top boxes would no longer work after Oct. 1, 2024. By getting out of cable, KPU can avoid spending about $500,000 on new devices.

KPU is not accepting new cable TV customers. Current customers who move within KPU’s cable service area can keep their cable TV service at their new location. But KPU plans to discontinue courtesy transfers starting in February.

KPU is located about 300 miles from Juneau, which is the fourth-smallest TV market in the country. Lindgren said he’s confident that Ketchikan residents who want local TV stations can gain access from streaming services.

KPU will also continue to record local government meetings, high school sports, yoga classes and native cultural events – local access fare that has given cable TV systems a special identity for decades.

“We will continue to do that ultra-local content and that will be available on various streaming sites,” Lindgren said, adding KPU is developing an app as the access point for locally produced content.