In this digital age, when streaming seems the way of the future, Charleston’s newest TV service provider is still going old school.
CAS Cable is building the guts of its service near the bottom of Watts Street, on Charleston’s West Side. That should answer the curiosity of anyone who has seen eight satellite dishes atop what used to be the Fastenal building.
The West Side location will be home to perhaps a dozen technicians and server operators, once the system is up and running later this year or early next. In January 2022, the city of Charleston approved a 15-year license with CAS to operate in the capital city. A glimpse of inside the building last week revealed offices still being drywalled and computer server racks ready for installation.
While competitors Optimum and Frontier are heavily pushing fiber optic service, CAS remains largely in coaxial cable country for providing TV and broadband. It doesn’t even require the standard set-top TV box, which decodes encrypted signals to display audio and video.
Not requiring a set-top box is a flashback to the 1990s, when a “cable ready” TV meant just that — the owner simply screwed a coaxial cable into the back of the set and received a watchable, but-grainy-by-today’s-standards, picture. The advent of high-definition displays required a high-definition box.
CAS employees Patrick Devaughn and Allen Yocum say most channels are broadcast in sufficiently high definition these days that the old boxes aren’t necessary. CAS still offers high-definition boxes, digital video recorder boxes and boxes for those who want premium channels. It delivers its internet by cable also.
CAS is not full throttle on fiber partly because of fiber’s strong points. Fiber optics refers to a delivery system that bundles hundreds of glass fibers together to create a fast, large-capacity system.
Of coaxial cable, “It still works,” said Devaughn, taking a short break on a sunny Monday from the Watts Street site. “And you can fix it easier.”
“When cable goes down, you might have 800 people without internet,” Yocum said. “With fiber it might be 2,000. And it’s hard to tell exactly where the problem is.”
CAS does intend to use fiber in the immediate West Side area, to carry the signal from the “headend” at Watts Street to certain “optical nodes,” boxes which translate the signal from fiber optic light beams to radio frequency, or RF. The RF signal is then taken by coaxial cable to individual residences. CAS shies away from giant, central “nodes” because of the complexity of knowing which bundle goes to which area.
CAS installs direct fiber, but mainly to hospitals, businesses, schools and the like, clients which need their upload and download speeds to be similar.
Yocum said at one time broadcasters were charging cable companies more for a high-definition signal, but those days are waning, making more high-definition signals available. That’s why CAS believes it can get by with a straight cable-to-TV hookup.
“There are not many left who do it like we still do it,” Devaughn said.
Art Cooper started CAS as Community Antenna Service in 1977 in Washington, West Virginia. According to the company website, it sold over-the-air broadcast channels to customers within sight of its antenna.
Customers received much better reception. They would have to wait another 15 years or so for dozens of channels — the way we think of TV today.