Ahead of SCTE’s Cable and Technology Expo, Essentia’s Cable MSO President breaks down factors needed to close the digital divide
Pioneer. Visionary. Relationship builder.
Ron Vought has been in the telecommunication industry for over two decades. Over the years, both inside and outside the plant, he has experienced everything from deploying various high-speed data networks and launching the first internet service providers, to helping shape dial-up and the evolution of cable and broadband.
I sat down with Ron, one of the founding fathers of cable and high-speed internet, as he prepped for the upcoming SCTE cable show next week in Denver. Ron, who is the President of Essentia’s Cable MSO Division, will be a guest speaker this year at SCTE® a subsidiary of CableLabs®’s Cable-Tec Expo ’23. He will sit alongside longtime colleagues and industry leaders from Cox Communications and Precision Valley Communications to discuss what advancements are needed to place thousands of miles of new underground infrastructure.
Together we dive into some of the industry’s trending topics, in particular, the expansion of broadband in rural communities. It’s a subject he knows well not just because of his more than 25 years of industry experience — but because he’s a longtime resident of rural Pennsylvania who uniquely understands the challenges of bringing broadband to back yards like his across America.
In the interview that follows, he provides first-hand insight on what is needed in the industry to close the digital divide and how this will change the future of the cable industry.
Alex Gratereaux: “Tell us more about yourself and your career path. How did you get into cable and broadband? Why do you think you were selected to be a part of this panel at SCTE?”
Ron Vought: “My career has ranged over 25 years mainly in the cable industry. I started right out of school as a computer operator. I was running 3090 IBM mainframes and that was really cool.”
“One day I got a call from a small company in Pennsylvania that wanted to hire a Data Communications Manager. Back then I was thinking it was more in network, but it was really about standing up high-speed data in an ISP or Internet service provider environment.”
“At the time they had an Internet service provider called PenTeleData (PTD) and I worked for Blue Ridge Cable. I was asked to deploy this thing called high-speed data and this was like post dial-up service. It was 500 kilobits by directional. It was the new hot thing. Everybody in the cable industry was testing it. We went out and simply deployed. We rolled our sleeves up and just got it done. We had a New York Times crew come down and actually watch the deployment of the high-speed data and said we were the first company in the country to deploy high-speed data. That was pretty cool. Then we had a follow-up with USA Today in the Tech section and an article on us deploying this new high-speed data. So that’s where I started my career.”
“I rolled up my sleeves as an Office Manager, went out in the field with the guys and learned how this high-speed data worked. It was my job to work with the field techs and really learn how it worked so I could talk to the customers.”
“After that, I broadened my career and went to Adelphia Communications and worked for the corporate headquarters for quite a few years. It was very entrepreneurial when I showed up there. You just dug in and you got the job done. I helped them deploy their high-speed data network in Western New York… we were really breaking some ground and we were one of the first cable companies to deploy that as well.”
Alex Gratereaux: “What year did you start deploying high-speed data for these companies?”
Ron Vought: “It was the early and mid 90s. Everybody had AOL and everybody had dial-up service.”
Alex Gratereaux: “As time has gone by there seems to be increasingly more labor shortages. How does this impact the industry— in particular rural broadband? What can be done to fix this issue?”
Ron Vought: “The labor shortage is a major problem… to do outside plant work requires a lot. There are factors like the weather, the climate, the challenges of safety. A lot of the generation has moved on to other things like software and tech companies and doing less work outside.”
“Now, having said that, I think we can bring that back into alignment through several different ways. One way is to set up training programs. Companies actually, in my opinion, training young men and women to do this type of work.”
“The other side of it is we just have to pay people. In all honesty, we’re competing now with people—and there is nothing wrong with this— flipping burgers to do outside plant work. The two jobs are completely different. It’s very challenging to incentivize people to go out there and do that work. So, I would say there’s got to be some incentives and pay needs to be higher. I believe this is a real opportunity for companies to go out and actually do training.”
Alex Gratereaux: “Piggy backing off the previous question… what else (other than what you mentioned) in your opinion can be done to promote more training in the field?”
Ron Vought: “When I worked with Adelphia, let me give you an example of this, we would bring the young men and young women into Adelphia as technicians. They wanted to get in the cable industry and we would put them through weeks and weeks of training.”
“We had a mock house and poles and everything where they could be trained really to do installs. We were actually building our own teams of people without having to recruit.”
“We were bringing them in… we put them through different training programs and I really saw our efficiency on installation go through the roof. It was incredible.”
“It was really encouraging to see that and then we would promote up. We would take people who did well in the outside plant where they started out and we would promote them up into the nice office jobs because they had the experience. That’s key to incentivize people. Training people and then promoting them.”
Alex Gratereaux: “Soon we will be in Denver at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. Attending are some of your longtime colleagues in the industry. Which other panelists are you looking forward to connecting with?”
Ron Vought: “I want to catch up with our own team members, especially the new folks like yourself, being that we all work remotely. That’s key to me to meet everybody in person.”
“I’ve worked with a lot of great people in the cable industry at the senior level. They’re smart people and I want to meet up with them as well. We all started out at field level and worked our way into executive management. All the guys that I worked with years ago are now executives but I’ve got a lot of friends that are still in the field doing a great job.”
“Most importantly is building relationships with our existing customers, our friends and new customers along the line. It’s all about the relationships for me.”
“Also I’m looking forward to speaking candidly about the things that I see, how we scale up, what the challenges are and the challenges of getting people to do the work for you.
The Multiple Challenges of Broadband Expansion panel conference will take place Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023 from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM MDT in the Technical Training Theater (T3) room.
The full panelist line-up includes: Alan Gardiner—Executive Director of Construction Operations at Comcast; Kristin Keith— Director of Design at Comcast; Chad Clark— Director of National PMO Wireline at MasTec Network Solutions; Rick Suarez— President at MasTec Communications Group; Raul Moreira—AVP, OSP Engineering, Design and Support at Cox Communications; Barry Holt— VP of Global Cable Operations at Amphenol; Eric Warren— VP at Precision Valley Communications; Peter Odell— VP of Plant Regulatory, Strategy and Development at Charter Communications.
Make sure to swing by Essentia’s SCTE booth (#710) and chat with Ron and our other team members, as well as have a chance to win giveaways! While you’re there, discover how Essentia stokes productivity and provides a workforce multiplier effect with the innovative eSpeed Technology Platform.
About Essentia Inc.
At Essentia, we’ve assembled a team of trusted experts who design and build turnkey outdoor and indoor networks with unrivaled quality and record-setting cycle times. We know true breakthrough innovations are the ones that target real customer pain points, inefficiencies and error-prone processes. That’s why we’re delivering tech-enabled infrastructure services including drone data capture, engineering automations and machine learning – all powered by our proprietary eSpeed Technology Platform. Founded in 2003 and based in Charlotte, N.C., Essentia has planted roots across the country while supporting Telecom Carriers, Cable MSOs, on-the-move Enterprises and Critical Infrastructure / Utilities.
Questions? Comments? Reach out to Alex J. Gratereaux.