Cable One SVP of Technology: Networks Have Game Despite Pandemic Usage Spikes

The spike in broadband usage during COVID-19 has forced cable players to up their service game to Super Bowl levels—and on the pandemic playing field, Ken Johnson has become an MVP for cable operator Cable One.

Johnson not only guides Cable One’s product development roadmap; he also oversees information technology, network engineering and construction projects. It’s a daunting workload, but he recently found time to participate in a 4Front podcast to talk about his career—and the way the pandemic may have permanently altered it.

A rural Kansas native, Johnson started his telecommunications career while serving in the U.S. Air Force, working in military data cryptology. After leaving the service, he earned a computer science degree and started work as a coder. His interest lay not with ones and zeros but rather with using coding to solve business problems, so it didn’t take long for him to move to Everest Communications, a competitive telecom that was building fiber in the Kansas City, Kansas, market. Everest was eventually acquired by SureWest Communications, which in turn was acquired by Consolidated Communications.

From there, he joined a private equity firm that launched New Wave Communications, which Cable One acquired in 2017.

At Cable One, which concentrates on smaller markets, Johnson has found a place that echoes his rural childhood. But focusing on small markets doesn’t mean small ambitions! In the past year, the company began its first overbuild project, extending fiber to 35,000 locations in Longview, Texas. Cable One has also accomplished a series of acquisitions, most recently announcing a deal to buy South Carolina’s Hargray Communications.

If that wasn’t enough, Cable One has done all these things during a pandemic that has impacted every aspect of its business. Overall broadband data usage jumped in 2020, and daytime and weekend usage remains very high. The company has also seen high demand for upstream bandwidth.

“It was really more of a pull-forward than a new trend,” Johnson says. “We essentially saw an entire year’s worth of growth in the first half of the year, and then we saw lateral movement in the second half of the year. But 2020 was eye-opening!”

Cable One isn’t alone in observing these trends. According to the Internet & Television Association’s (NCTA’s) COVID-19 dashboard, downstream usage across cable networks remains elevated even as lockdowns are lifting. In the first three months of 2021, usage is still about 50 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels. Upstream usage also remains 30 percent higher than pre-pandemic rates.

Johnson says that despite these spikes, Cable One and the industry have risen to the challenge.

“The network had to hold up,” he says. “If this had happened in 2014, imagine the impact it would’ve had on people’s lives! We didn’t have the capacity on the network in 2014, and everybody was fighting network congestion issues. So it’s a real testament to the investment the industry has made in networks and in network planning and readiness.”

LISTEN TO KEN'S PODCAST NOW


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