It’s the classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ story, except David has gone on to thrive for 106 years after taking down his more gigantic competitors.
Playing the role of David is CityWest, the municipally-owned Internet, cable and communications company, led by CEO Don Holkestad.
Holkestad has been toppling giants for the over 30 years that he’s spent with the company, and it’s mainly because of one reason: innovation.
“You can’t be over 100 years old … without being innovative,” said Holkestad in his address to the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce in February at the organization’s luncheon.
“I think that’s what we are all the time and it’s one of the things we always want to be going forward.”
Taking the mic for his presentation and sharing multiple updates on the City of Prince Rupert-owned business, Holkestad outlined CityWest’s strengths as a smaller (but growing) communications company.
Having expanded from just Prince Rupert at one point, into territories like Terrace, Kitimat, Port Edward, Smithers, Telkwa, Houston, Metlakatla, Kispiox and Hazelton, CityWest is embracing new lands, new ideas, new technologies and new services – all in the name of their customers.
Netflix, for example, has become an increasing presence on data usage for CityWest’s customers, going from below 10 per cent of customers’ usage when it was first introduced years ago, to now accounting for approximately 55 per cent of CityWest’s customers’ Internet usage.
Of course, the online TV and movie streaming company represents competition to the cable packages that CityWest itself sells, but Holkestad was very emphatic that he and his company deliver what CityWest’s customers want all across the north.
“Why do I do it? Because you (the customer) want it. Being a local company, we understand that, so we’re giving you what you want, not what I want to sell you. So, we’re always looking at the customers’ needs. It’s a huge change,” said the CEO.
Another huge change is the sheer amount of Internet usage that the average Prince Rupert or northwest household consumes. What was once a single-sourced dial-up connection in a home, now may have as many as a dozen or more wireless devices connecting to the Internet.
“We’ve taken those customers and given them higher speeds. You need more bandwidth today, because you’re using more bandwidth … It’s a huge crunch on data that’s morphing all the time,” he said.
“To keep up to it, that’s a huge challenge for us, and we [perform upgrades] from 2 a.m. – 6 a.m. so we don’t interrupt your service.”
While introducing fiber-optic communication (replacing copper wire connections for faster, direct speeds) and direct fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) set-ups in other places in the northwest due to funding from grants, the technology will come to Prince Rupert in the near future, starting with new subdivisions, Holkestad explained.
“When we do get it, people will get the newest ones, because there’s new technologies,” he said.
CityWest has built a fiber-optic system all the way to Prince George and have even built a system that reaches Vancouver and Seattle.
“Why do we do that? So, once we get into Seattle, Washington, Google and Facebook and all those other huge companies are in the same room, so I’ll connect directly to them. It means faster service for you and less latency. The fact that we own and operate a system there is an amazing thing. For a small company and our technicians and employees, for them to make that happen is amazing. Our technicians have fixed Shaw’s problems for Shaw. We have great employees,” said Holkestad.
CityWest comprises 80-plus employees and does not receive any money from the City to operate. It’s given back a $400,000 distribution payment to the City of Prince Rupert, its sole shareholder for each of the past two years.
The CEO is also proud of the flexibility and adaptability of the company.
For LNG companies looking to settle in the Prince Rupert area, Holkestad explained that they are always quite surprised that the company can be able to deliver anything they could ask for.
“When you get very big, you become very pigeonholed – ‘This is what I have. Take it or leave it’. We are very much a ‘What do you want? We’ll build it for you’. It’s one of our powers and we can do it faster.
Attending the #BCTECH summit in Vancouver, Holkestad saw first-hand the holo-lens and 3D technology that will soon be capable in everyday homes and he was excited for the possibilities.
“The future’s going to be amazing. You’re going to be a part of it I’m going to be a part of it … and it’s our job to make sure we give you the ability to take all that and use it,” he said.