Service Electric

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio

Try to imagine your life without cable television. Now envision a day without telephone or Internet. It’s a dramatic change from the interactive, fully connected lives most of us live. These modern conveniences comprise the three primary service offerings by the Lehigh Valley’s only locally owned and operated cable communications company, Service Electric. Thousands of customers can attest to the value of being so connected.

Service Electric  celebrated its 63rd anniversary this year. A family-owned, family-run business, the multi-stream communications brand started out in Mahanoy City more than 50 years ago as a cable television provider in 1948. Service Electric’s founder, John M. Walson, Sr., is recognized by the U.S. Congress’ Congressional Record as the father of cable television. He invented cable in Mahanoy City and soon expanded cable’s offerings to Bethlehem, and then throughout the Lehigh Valley. Cable television started in Pennsylvania, spread throughout the United States, and eventually became a worldwide phenomenon.

A lot of hard work and ingenuity on the part of the founder brought Service Electric to where it is today; founder John M. Walson, Sr., invented his own amplifiers and when he needed a tool, he drew a picture and took it to the local tool and die shop to have it made. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into the company and its offerings over the years.

“It’s a lot of good, local people working very hard to build and maintain the communications system that we have,” says Director of Communications & Public Affairs Tim Himmelwright. “Now it’s far more than just cable, with voice, video, and data.”

Paid services like HBO became available in the 1970s. As the first provider to offer HBO, Service Electric added this programming to its lineup after Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  Service Electric then began offering Internet about 17 years ago, and finally telephone about 13 years ago. Internet service is currently the most in-demand offering for Service Electric, says Himmelwright.

“People’s appetite for more information has quickly grown, and so has demand for our Internet service,” he says. “Another thing highly in demand is our bundle, cable, modem, and telephone all together. Customers get bigger discounts for having all three services. Especially in this economy, people are looking to save money.”

Service Electric’s signals reach as far as nearly a quarter of a million homes in the area, as well others in the Wilkes-Barre area where they have expanded. The commercial side of the business spans from various police departments, firehouses, municipalities, and other offices and companies to the Valley’s major hospitals. The company provides data services for Lehigh Valley Hospital so doctors can check up on patients, have conversations, and read charts at their Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg campuses via teleradio and telemedicine services.

Advances in technology and exciting new features continue to propel the business forward. Over the last two years, Service Electric has rolled out the Video On Demand service, which allows viewers to watch a variety of movies and other programming whenever they want instead of waiting for something to start at the top of the hour. Himmelwright says the Video On Demand service is so user-friendly that even his three young children can put on their favorite programming with ease.

Service Electric also provides the only local origination programming in high-definition with its TV 2 lineup on channel 502. TV 2 shows exciting local sports like Reading Phillies’ and Iron Pigs’ games and area events like Musikfest in high-def. Service Electric also offers a full palette of local sports coverage, ranging from high school athletics to college level matches and competitions at Lehigh University, Moravian Academy, and Muhlenberg College. Much of the sports coverage centers on basketball, football, wrestling, District 11 soccer and volleyball, as well as conference championships and high school baseball playoffs. Service Electric also runs its daily sports show, Sports Scene, which plays Monday through Friday at 6:30 p.m., spotlighting other sports like field hockey, swimming, and tennis, which might not otherwise receive in-depth coverage.

“We’re excited to give our customers the option of seeing programming in high definition,” Himmelwright says. “There’s no additional cost for that. If someone rents a high-def box, there’s no charge to see local programming in high-def.”

As a special value for customers, the company offers 12 free features with the Triple Play bundle (calling, Internet, and cable TV). Digital voicemail was recently added to the list of freebies, which also includes three-way calling, caller ID, and call waiting, among others. Himmelwright notes that paying separately for these features typically amounts to an extra spend of $40 with competitors. With Service Electric, these goodies are part of a permanent promo that thousands of customers currently enjoy.

“Our customers are #1 in our mind,” Himmelwright shares. “Everything we do – all the new additions, tech advances – are with customers in mind. If you are just downloading emails and sending emails, you can get a slower speed that doesn’t cost as much. Everybody doesn’t need to buy 10mbps. We offer a wide range of speeds for Internet; we don’t force everybody into one Internet speed. We like to give our customers options and choices.”

As testament to the level of service and excellence, Service Electric has been awarded Who’s Who in Business in the Lehigh Valley for the past four years.

In addition to loyal customers, Service Electric boasts a  tenured staff. Himmelwright says more than half  has been with the company more than 15 years, while others have 25 years or more of tenure.

“We are committed to keeping the company local and family-owned,” he says. “We are a ‘family-owned company of families.’ I have two brothers working here. There are a number of employees with brothers, nephews, sons, or daughters who work for the company. Our owner, John E. Walson, lives  in the Lehigh Valley. He is the son of the founder, John Sr., so the company is owned by a second generation. His son John M. is the Executive Vice President, who will be the third generation.”

The level of service continues beyond cable communications service and customer service. Service Electric also engages in a tremendous amount of community service, ranging from charitable contributions to actually putting together its own events. Recent philanthropic contributions have touched everything from scholarships to fundraisers for the March of Dimes, Easter Seals, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boy Scouts, the American Heart Association, and research for childhood autism, to name just a few.

“It all goes back to our heart for the community,” Himmelwright says. “It’s where we live; it’s where we give back to. These are things we care about and we believe everybody ought to care about. We try to foster giving back to the community, and many companies in the Valley feel the same way.”

“Pride of Place” celebrates businesses that have been serving the Lehigh Valley for at least 25 years.

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