The History of Cable TV in San Bruno
San Bruno, as most other cities, first received feelers from potential cable television franchisees beginning in 1967. The City's initial response was to determine whether there was a need for a cable television system. A survey taken showed that many residents experienced good reception on some of the local broadcast television stations, but for a variety of reasons did not receive acceptable quality on most of the stations.
A market study was commissioned to further identify the community's interest. Just over 10,000 survey postcards were mailed to residences. Thirty seven (37%) percent of the postcards were returned. Results indicated that sixty (60%) percent would subscribe to a cable service if available and sixty four (64%) percent of those favored a city project.
In April of 1971, Jerrold Electronics was selected to design and build the first 46.7 miles of San Bruno's cable system. The 270 MHz system was completed on October 18, 1971. The original investment for the headend and first phase of construction was $565,000. During the first year the system grew to 2,200 subscribers, and construction planning for future expansion was started. A second phase of 15.3 miles and a third phase of 13.4 miles were completed by June of 1975. Cash reserves generated from operations financed each new phase of construction.
San Bruno's twelve (12) channel service comprising of only local broadcast stations was offered to subscribers for $4.75 per month. In 1977, the twelve (12) channel service was expanded to nineteen (19) channels. The expanded service also introduced the converter or set-top box to the system. In 1978, Home Box Office was added to the San Bruno Cable channel line-up. The addition resulted in an increase in gross revenues by fifty (50%) percent. Turner Broadcasting's WTBS from Atlanta, USA Network, ESPN and C-SPAN were added to the channel menu shortly thereafter. The monthly rate for basic service was $9.00 and the premium service rates for HBO and Showtime was $10.00 per service.
By 1983, the twenty-four (24) channel system had reached its full capacity. At the 12-year mark, plans to expand channel capacity had begun to meet the growing demand for satellite delivered programming. An upgrade to a 450 MHz infrastructure was undertaken and completed in late 1985. The new system was fully addressable and capable of delivering 60 channels of programming. Pay-Per-View (PPV) service was added as well. Cash reserves generated from operations financed the cable system upgrade valued at more than 2.2 million dollars.
In 1995, the need to provide diversified programming precipitated in the undertaking of yet another system upgrade. An independent study by Stanford Research Institute was commissioned to evaluate the then current state of operations and the cable system’s ability to effectively compete in the future. Based on the results of that study, a decision was made to proceed with a complete system rebuild featuring new Hybrid Fiber/Coax (HFC) technology.
Construction of the 750 MHz HFC system began in October of 1997 and was completed in 1999. Design for the system was different from that of most other cable systems. A decision had been made to deploy an interdiction system that eliminated the need for set-top boxes or converters for securing the services that were being delivered. The interdiction system rendered the system user-friendly, eliminated theft of services from the use of illegal decoders, and created operational efficiencies. The increased channel capacity also enabled the expansion of basic cable service to seventy eight (78) channels and the deployment of High Speed Internet service. The High Speed Internet service provided access to the Internet in megabits per second in comparison to kilobits per second speeds offered by the dial up service.
The nearly 7 million dollar investment in this new infrastructure was again financed using cash reserves generated from operations over the preceding 10-years. The system now had a capacity of 117 analog channels enabling the dedication of the first 78 channels for the delivery of core cable network programming.
Since the last major upgrade to 750 MHz, San Bruno Cable has made several additional network improvements. Digital cable service was added in 2002, High Definition Television service in 2004, Digital Video Recorders (DVR), Video on Demand and 10 Mbps Internet service in 2005, Wi-Fi hotspots in 2006, and digital phone service in 2007. Also in 2007, San Bruno Cable began its transition to an all-digital system by digitizing all of the analog basic channels and then simulcasting it in analog format to facilitate a gradual transition. 20,000 DCT-700 set-top boxes were purchased to equip every cable household in San Bruno with the use of two free digital set-top boxes. In January 2008, 92% of cable households had at least one digital set-top box. It is anticipated that by June 2008 the transition to an all-digital system will be completed and 100% of cable households in San Bruno will be enjoying digital quality audio and video services.
Today, San Bruno Cable’s system passes approximately 15,500 homes serving nearly 9,900 customers with Basic Cable service. Nearly 3,000 customers subscribe to Digital Cable service, and over 4,800 customers subscribe to High Speed Internet service. The recently added Digital Phone service is growing at a quick pace with nearly 150 new additions since the October 2007 launch.
Given the City’s intention to offer a value oriented service the product pricing favors the consumer. The current Expanded Basic service rate at $46.47 is nearly 20% below the market rate for comparable service. The current rate for the 10 Mbps Internet service is $29.95, which is unquestionably the best value in the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The current rate for the fully loaded Digital Phone service is $39.95, which includes unlimited local, unlimited long distance to anywhere in the U.S., a full set of calling features, and unlimited international calling to over 20 countries that are included in the plan. All of these services are available at further discounts when purchased through bundled packages of Cable, Internet and Phone services.
San Bruno Cable generates just over $9 million in revenues annually. The City's General Fund collects 5% of gross revenues in in-lieu franchise fees and an additional 10% in what is referred to as an "Equity Earnings Transfer." The decision made by the City of San Bruno in 1970 to operate it's own cable television system continues to be a success story for the community. Localism, customer service, and the City’s mission to offer a competitive and value oriented service is the key to the enterprise’s on-going success. The cable system’s ability to self sustain and be a source of revenue for the City’s General Fund for over 36 years makes it a valuable asset.