Patricia Jo Boyers
Interviewer: Lela Cocoros
Interview Date: July 30, 2019
Interview Location: Chicago, Ill, USA
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Project
Lela Cocoros: Hello. I'm Lela Cocoros for the Cable Center. It's July 30, 2019, and we are in Chicago at the Independent Show. This is the oral history of Patty Boyers. She's president of Boycom Cablevision and she is chairman of ACA Connects. This oral history is part of the Hauser Oral History Program. So Patty, welcome.
Patricia Jo Boyers: Welcome, thank you very much.
Cocoros: So let's start with your early life and where you were born and what your background is—education, early childhood—just give us a sense of where you grew up.
Boyers: I'm a farm girl. I was raised on a farm in southeast Missouri, rural Dunklin County and Butler County. My father and my mother were married in 1934 so my sister and my brother and I are all Depression parents’ children. They even had all us kids when they were in their 40s. So I was raised by literal Depression parents. That’s had a big impact on my work ethic and in all, about how I view the world and folks and interactions with people. So to say that, I lived in a rural town all my life. Steve and I married in 1979. He was an underground contractor and so that’s what we did until 1992, whenever we decided we wanted cable at our house. Of course we were out in the sticks. The local cable company said not only no, but “Hell, no. We’ll never come out there.” So we were building underground systems for a company called Triax USA. We’d been burying some of the first fiber optics in Michigan, 1991-92. And we just decided we would just look around our particular area and see how many homes there were. So Steve started counting houses. And before you know it, Boycom was born. We incorporated in the fall of 1992 and hit the ground running. We had about 400 subs by September of 1993. We’re a first generation.
Cocoros: And it’s grown from there.
Boyers: Yes, it has.
Cocoros: That’s great. So tell us a little bit about Boycom today and kind of where you're at in terms of how many subscribers and what your focus is and some of the background on the company.
Boyers: Naturally in 1992, when we started out, we were just video, just one leg.
Cocoros: 1992 was a particularly interesting year for the industry.
Boyers: A lot of people have said, “What in the hell were you thinking?” When we started on the tail skirts of the 1992 Cable Act it was all doom and gloom. We went to the very first—it was the NCTC show back then in those days. We went to Squaw Valley in Nevada and we thought we were at a wake or something. Like somebody at the funeral home, someone had died like the cable industry. They all thought the phone industry would be the winner in this footrace that was going on. And as it turned out, the cable industry had the best vehicle as it's all spun out, and then of course, we’ve had the deployment of fiber optics. But my husband is an entrepreneur. We’ve been in the mobile home business; we own mobile home parks, rental homes. We have two apartment complexes and we raise cattle. So all of these things—he likes to get things started and then he puts them in my lap to run them. The cattle are just a hobby. We’ve got about 125 head.
Cocoros: That’s quite a hobby.
Boyers: We raise beef cattle. You know, all these different things just to keep the wolves away. Because we’re so small, we don’t attract the big capital financiers. We get all of our money from local and regional banks. So those relationships are important to us, but we've also grown hand in hand with them in the same areas. So Steve has always been able to see the big picture. He’s always been able to see the bottom of the page. Me, I live thirty days to thirty days. Well, I've made that payment, it’s mine again for thirty more days. So we work really well. I've always said that.
Boyers: Sometimes not so complementary. But you know, his head has always been in the clouds and I've been on the ground hanging on to his feet. So if it hadn’t been for him and his forethought and his dreams and always wanting to do something bigger and better just like the state fair. You want to be bigger and better every year. We’re the American story, we really are. I do not have a degree from college, but I did attend the University of Missouri in law and business. Then my father got very ill. I came home to run our family farm and then I married a plumber. That’s what Steve really is. He's a master plumber. The rest of it all is just history. We've just shoulder to the plow and side by side and we built this little business of ours, but he's always had the ability to keep up with the trends, keep up with what’s going on. Immediately, when the opportunity came, we thought, oh, let’s try this Internet thing, we’ll try this broadband thing.
Cocoros: So what attracted you to the industry or the business of cable and broadband?
Boyers: We didn’t have cable at my house.
Cocoros: That was just it.
Boyers: We were contractors. We were underground contractors. We started out in the phone business, burying phone cables. Then we got the opportunity to have a master contract with Triax USA, which owned lots of properties, cable properties, all over the country. And at the end we became an underground contractor for them. And as that became more competitive, we had a division where we did solid rock bores for gas mains, and so let's blow a hole in solid rock with dynamite and then you augur out underneath the road for pipes…and that type of thing. And we did that right alongside our underground business. So we were very familiar with the business from a construction side. We even had done a lot of aerial, but we would bring alongside some sub-contractors to finish out a job for us. We might have had a string of poles that we needed that we couldn’t get to underground. Generally, you get into the business from the content side and then you work your way, and you think “I don’t know anything about construction.” Well we were just the opposite. We could build it. Of course, business is business. So you want to always, at the end of the day, have more in your pocket than you pay out. So we knew that concept, so going forward, we've been pretty frugal. The business itself has been very good to us, but it's a very changing business and you have to stay on the cusp of it.
Cocoros: You bet.
Boyers: Even little, and even rural like we are. We have had the luxury, you know, when you drop that stone in the middle of a pond and it takes a long time for that ripple to get to the edge, well, Boycom is on the edge. We wait for the big guys to test out the new technology and tell us…
Cocoros: How things are going.
Boyers: Sure, and by the time it becomes 25 cents on the dollar, we’re ready to invest in that. Our particular systems are in incredibly impoverished counties. Missouri has fourteen, what do they call it, “perpetually impoverished counties,” and that means they just simply are, have been below the federal poverty level, median household income since the 1960 census. We serve in five of those fourteen counties. We have a specific need there, folks that economically can't pay. Then we also have transport issues. We have all kinds of issues because we are bordered by the Mark Twain National Forest, the Irish Wilderness. We have lots of state parks. And the Ozark Mountains. Then to the south of us is the Arkansas Delta. We have lots of—you know, some wireless things we can do, but when you get in the mountains and the trees, there's not a lot of wireless point-to-point, those kind of things you can do. So it's—we’re lean, and we’re mean, and we’ve been able to adapt over the years and stay in this business. We've been in business for this business 26 years.
Cocoros: That’s an amazing story.
Boyers: With the same name.
Cocoros: Well, that’s excellent. How many subscribers do you have now?
Boyers: Today, as of the billing we did last week, we had 3,986.
Boyers: So who knows what's going to happen between now and next week.
Cocoros: That’s excellent. So let's talk more specifically about regulation. Recently you testified in front of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, asking them to intervene in the retransmission consent issue with broadcasters. What is it that you want them to do to help small independent operators like yours?
Boyers: I'm not entrepreneurially minded like Steve is. To the point, my passion is for the government to get out of my business and let me run it the best way I know how. And the best way I know how is to provide a good product, to supply our customers, to make them happy, to keep them satisfied and to turn a profit so I can feed my family, contribute to my church and pay my mortgage. Now that’s real simple. That’s what everybody truly wants. But when you have to have office space in your building dedicated just to the federal freaking government—they’ve constantly got all these rules and these regulations and all these policies and all these things that just layer on and on and on like an onion—you almost have to have your own governmental affairs person. I only have 17 employees. That’s counting my husband and I. Some weeks we don’t get paid. Lots of time we would say, “Well, we’ll be all right. We’ll just make sure the payroll clears for our folks.”
So I'm encouraged by the work ACA Connects is doing, but they're not just doing it today. They’ve been doing it for 25 years. Steve and I have been a member of this back when it was the Small Cable Operator’s Business Association—SCU, whatever it was. We've been partners with them and then they changed their name to ACA. And then we moved into the new ACA Connects. But all those years, they have consistently displayed integrity, common sense, bipartisanship, and real Main Street solutions to a lot of these issues that a lot of times legislators don’t get, they don’t understand what the effect is going to be from all this crap they're passing up there.
Cocoros: It’s different between the large cable companies and the small providers.
Cocoros: Very different.
Boyers: Very different. Plus the profit margins are different. I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate in 2015, the Senate Commerce Committee, the Subcommittee on Telecommunications. They're doling out all these grants and reverse auctions and all this money. They are attempting to pump in to what they call the “great divide”—which is for everybody in the whole country to be able to receive broadband at a reasonable consistent speed. And a lot of times, that money gets into the hands of someone who just overbuilds you instead of…
Cocoros: Actually helping the people it was intended to help.
Boyers: So the ACA Connects represents about 712 companies that are baby companies like me. Now you don’t think Mediacom is a baby company, but Mediacom is a whole bunch of babies like us. They serve in some semi-metropolitan areas, but primarily—
Boyers: They're all rural. They’ve got lots of different headends out there. Cable ONE out of Phoenix, they’ve got lots of different headends. We still have three headends. We have been able to collapse and put fiber and closed that gap. But we are those folks who are out there with those fifteen homes per mile passed. Where Comcast wouldn’t look at you unless you had a hundred homes per mile passed. And they want to send you 3% penetration of that before they're even going to look to do that fiber-to-the-home project. We’re out there. And that’s what I told them on the Hill. In some of my areas you’ve got to have your own tomcat if you want kittens, buddy. If you want to get back off there in the woods, that’s where you have to know that person’s name, know who their kids are, and can we put a tower up where we can do a point-to-point and hit you? Because you're out here and there's no way we’ll get a return on any investment running into this hill part of this holler. So we’re those folks that are out there on that front line. That’s what I was trying to tell the legislators. Of course the specific issue for us is the STELAR renewal—which is the Satellite Television Extension Legislative Act Renewal. In it—it was not specifically having anything to do with us, it’s just over the years, every five years when they have to renew it, we've been able to get some relief retransmission consent. Which is not part of STELAR, but it is now, over the years. And we just didn’t want them to sunset it and leave us without a horse to ride on.
Cocoros: You don’t have any protections or anything.
Boyers: None. No good faith negotiations, no nothing. And one of my favorite quotes—and I wrote it down and brought it with me, it's the only thing I filled out in you-all’s form. One of my favorite quotes is from Plato. It says, “if you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.” And that’s the fact. I mean, everybody asks me, “Patty, you know you-all got 4,000 subscribers. 17 employees. You're from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, population 16,790. Hee-haw, salute!” We've got 42,000 people in our county. That’s it. Our whole county. One of our counties, 6,900—Carter County. Ozark National Scenic Riverways runs all the way through. We have two systems on the Current. And they say, “What in the world makes you think that you can have a voice in Washington, DC?” Well, number one, I open my mouth. And number two, I’ve hitched my wagon to a train that will listen to me and has been developed just for us, and that’s ACA Connects. So that at least they're going to hear our voice collectively because of the good work that Matt Polka’s done, Rod Shaw’s done, the Alpine Group, all these guys consistently marching to the same tune for 25 years. Now we might actually get to see some fruition from all this hard work.
Cocoros: So what are your plans for the next couple of years? How long is the term for?
Boyers: Well, my term right now is only for a year because I'm fulfilling—Bob Gessner retired and so I was vice-chair and I've been vice-chair under him for two and a half terms. Then he retired so I will fulfill his term for one year. Then we’ll see what happens.
Cocoros: OK, but over the next year, what are you looking at in terms of the organization? These issues obviously continue on, right?
Boyers: Absolutely. STELAR’s deadline, which is a sunset piece of legislation, is the end of the year. So that is a—Washington, DC, only does anything when it has two things: crisis and consensus. And if they don’t have both, they don’t do anything. Well, there is a crisis because it sunsets and they have to do something. Or they have to make a decision to let it sunset. Or they have to have a consensus and so we didn’t really have a consensus. But now, we do. Believe it or not, this little old country girl, farm girl, had a little bit of a difference, made a difference, in the minds of some of those legislators where they said, “I think we’ve got to help this little gal. We've got to help this little lady.” So I actually had that told to me, that the staffers were saying, their legislators were saying, “You know what? I had a different idea coming into this hearing, but you know, I think I want to help that lady, I want to help that little lady.”
Cocoros: That doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Boyers: And I appreciate that because I need their help. We all need their help. Because they're the ones who have made this mess in the first place, and they're the only ones that can undo it. We’ve been living with it—we've absolutely done everything we've done despite the federal government being involved. I do appreciate this FCC, and I do appreciate the rolling back of this administration of a lot of stifling regulations, especially in the taxing area and allowing the corporations to—because even my company is a corporation when you think about your corporate taxes going down. Hey, that helped; that helped little old me. I mean it just didn’t help Boeing, it helped Boycom. So all these things trickle down and help me and I can pay my folks more money. And they can buy another car from Blackwell or Baldwin down the street. That’s the way the economy works. The government cannot make your money for you. If they just step aside and let good folks run their businesses, that’s what this country’s built on and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Cocoros: So in your community, since you're so embedded in your own community, and you live and breathe where you serve, basically, tell me a little bit about what Boycom is doing within the community. Just as a neighbor, as well as a company…
Boyers: You won't see any kid running around town from age 5 to almost 50 by now without a T-shirt of some kid that’s got “Boycom” on the back of it. Every soccer league—you know, we do soccer, we do powder-puff football, we do pee-wee football, we do baseball, we do girls’ softball—our name is on the back of every T-shirt, every wrestling—you name it, we’re out there, every annual. Whenever we had the flood in 2019, catastrophic 500-year flood on the Current, we were the only Wi-Fi hotspot in the Doniphan, Missouri, area. Century Link was underwater, AT&T was underwater. There was no cell service at all. Boycom was up.
Cocoros: That’s essential.
Boyers: And we were able to have a hotspot in the town square, and it really is a town square. Town triangle. We had a hotspot free for those folks to come in. Those people haven’t forgotten that because they were trying to get a hold of their families in Chicago or St. Louis or wherever to let them know, “hey, we haven’t drowned down here.” So it was essential to do—that’s just a real recent one—but we have always supported every sporting event. We provide free to our local middle school and the kindergarten center and in three of the towns we serve in, we provide free to the schools.
Cocoros: The story is about these companies that really are part of the community and they're just—I'm always very impressed by them…
Boyers: Harvest festivals. We buy two truckloads of pumpkins. Every year we've got this lady, lives in Fairdale, Missouri, has a truck patch. She raises all these cute little white pumpkins, they're white, but they're little. And we give them away to the kids in Carter County on Harvest Days—not Carter County, sorry, in Wayne County because Piedmont, Missouri, has a big Harvest Day festival. And we give these little pumpkins away to these little kids. Now this is the county where the annual household median income—that’s both parents working, if they're working—is $19,000 a year.
Boyers: 2017. That’s the latest information. Can you imagine that? We have these little kids coming up there, they can't wait to get to the Boycom booth to get themselves pumpkins. My cost is $400-500 for a couple loads of pumpkins.
Cocoros: And it means so much.
Boyers: Shoot—are you kidding me? Those kids can't wait to get there and get those pumpkins.
Cocoros: That’s great.
Boyers: So those are most of the kind of things that we do. Anytime there's a crisis, we’re there with a truckload full of cleaning supplies. We did that for the courthouse in Carter County when it was underwater. We brought buckets and Dawn dishwashing liquid and mops and rubber gloves and trash bags. So we could just hand them out of the back of the bucket truck for folks.
Cocoros: That’s amazing. It really is.
So you're a member of the Cable Pioneers.
Boyers: Yes, I am. One of those few women…
Cocoros: That brings me to my next question. Obviously on the programming side, there’s always been more women, it's been more of a balance, I guess. And in operations it's getting a little better. But what from your perspective have you seen in terms of women taking leadership roles on the operations side of the business?
Boyers: It's a long time coming. But I'm going to tell you, for me growing up, I graduated from high school in 1977. And lived in Poplar Bluff, went to Poplar Bluff High School, graduated from there. I never in my life have I ever felt like I was disadvantaged because I was a woman. Just didn’t. That’s because I got up when I was a kid, and I had a work ethic. I went to the field with my dad. My sister went to the garden with my mother and pitching hay. We didn’t chop any cotton, but we chopped soybeans because we were too far north for cotton. But my dad believed in hoe. He believed in the ability to start a job and to finish a job. And if you start it, you don’t stop until it's finished. And if you don’t think you can finish it, you better not start it, little girl. Because you're going to finish it whether you want to or not. That’s the way I was raised. And there's one thing you need to know when you learn how to hoe. And that’s to keep your hoe sharp. To this day, and I raise a big garden, I just canned 73 quarts of tomato juice before I came here, because my tomatoes are all coming up. But you keep your hoe sharp. You keep it greased, you keep it sharp. And you learn how to file it. I have a file. I carry it in my back pocket just like my dad did when I was a kid growing up. You learn how to keep your hoe sharp, you keep your powder dry, and you're always ready for whatever comes at you. So that’s kind of an analogy that’s kind of stuck with me all my life.
I'm incredibly religious, was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. That’s a staple in the South. But I have never felt like I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do. Drive a stick shift by the time I was twelve years old. The woman thing, it's always kind of perplexed me. I can talk about it all day long. I know that my husband is the one with the ideas, but by God, he couldn’t have done a damn thing without me. Now that I do know. So I could put the feet and the wings to whatever he came up with.
Cocoros: Right. You make it real.
Boyers: I made it work. Some of them didn’t work very well. And some of them, we fell flat on our face. But then he was off looking for something else to do. So I've never felt like—and so for women—that’s why I try to—we have three granddaughters. We have one son, one child, that’s all we have. And he's an Airborne Army Ranger, Special Ops. He's been deployed seven times. But he has three girls, 8, 4 and 10 months. The 8-year old? She's learning what a hoe is. Because I think those are the most important things to empower women. Get away from this thinking it's a glass ceiling. Get out there and make your own way. This is America. It's still America and we can do anything we set our minds to. The best thing women don’t have are egos. And that way you can work around, you can go around, you can go under, you can go over, you can figure out a different way. And then, let them get the credit for it. I don’t care. Just as long as it gets done and we get to move forward. That’s the best thing about women is that we don’t—I don’t have to have the accolades for it. I've had folks come up to me: “Boy, isn’t it cool, everything, everybody’s talking about you?” I don’t care. Two bucks, a cup of coffee at McDonald’s. This is what I can contribute now. There’s all kinds of wonderful folks out there. Y’all at the Cable Center, this entire organization, there's all kinds of people whose shoulders we’re standing on.
Cocoros: So that brings me to ask you, are there people in the industry who’ve influenced you or have been particularly helpful or inspiring?
Boyers: Oh, I don’t know. I've got to tell you that the NCTC was our first—when Steve decided, he said, we’re going to build a cable company. So OK, we've got some business cards printed. Well, the ink was still wet when we went to our first co-op meeting. And they weren’t really crazy about letting in a new member who didn’t have any subs. But they let us come to the first meeting and we met Frank Hughes and his wife, Tess. And that was back when his hair was the color of yours. He came up alongside us and said, “You know, these are some things you might want to look at, and these are some things you might want to do. Yeah, we’ll give you a contract for some programming and some hardware.” So they kind of took our hand and helped us along. But we weren’t feeding our family with the cable industry at that time. We were still burying cable, we were still doing solid rock bores across the state of Arkansas, and we've always raised cattle. So we had a ranch and farm. It was not necessarily a hobby for Steve, but that’s really what he wanted to do. He really wanted that to be his dream. So over the years we managed to get that done. We've had a lot of good bankers help us along the way. People that believe in you. If they can see that you're committed and your work ethic and your integrity, then they’ll get on a ride with you for a while.
Cocoros: That’s great. What do you think the future holds for the industry?
Boyers: The sky’s the limit for this industry. Like I said, back in 1992, our first NCTC meeting, it was doom and gloom. Everybody was wearing black; it was pitiful. Because they all thought the industry as they knew it would disappear. And they were pretty right. It did. But we got to be the catalysts for it, not trying to catch up with what traditional copper delivery was going to do. That’s what everybody thought. The phone company was going to take over. Now they're the ones as we see, have spun out. They're the ones that have scrambled…they’ve got a DSL product…
Cocoros: DSL. Right.
Boyers: The copper just isn’t the conduit that they need. Coax at the time, and then fiber. Of course, they still haven’t found the lifespan of a piece of fiber. They used to call it “25-plus” and then they went to “35 years-plus” and now they're at “55 years-plus.” Big study in the state of Nevada for property tax assessment purposes. They're at “65 years-plus,” what they think a piece of fiber, the life of a fiber is. So those of us companies that are fiber-rich—you know, he who owns the pot, wins in this industry. Lots of wireless things coming out. Still, there is nothing to compare to the capacity and the speed of a wired service product.
Cocoros: And the dependence of everyone on all these different new applications.
Boyers: Oh, absolutely. Everything.
Cocoros: I mean, currently, there's a lot of applications, but then you know what's coming is even more in the areas of health…maintenance…
Boyers: Oh, absolutely. Telemedicine, especially in our area. We've had five hospitals close. And that’s another subject altogether about the condition of the health care industry. We've had five small rural hospitals close, and what that means to those folks.
Cocoros: They're out there and they need—
Boyers: They have like food trucks that travel to them once a week. These medical mammogram buses. It's like stepping back 25 years in time. But they’ve got to have access, those folks do. And so, they go into a lot of the communities where we allow a free hotspot for them. It's a challenge, because they're all economically stressed.
And the other thing that we learned, we’re working with our regional planning zoning commission, which is a seven-county footprint in southeast Missouri, they tell us that all of her counties, all seven counties, have a declining population except one, which is Butler. But it's level. They’ve lost 41% of their population in the last 20 years. People are leaving. So that’s another issue. We thought that folks would come to the rivers if we could build the cable to them and they would come there, and they would either retire or maybe they would just work remotely. And we have seen some of that. Poplar Bluff is growing. But our system area, we don’t serve in the entire county. Those were some demographics to look at. This digital divide is real, and the solutions are becoming more and more creative to help those folks.
Cocoros: But you do feel that they're starting at least in Washington to start to hear this story a little bit more, and it resonates a little bit more.
Boyers: They are, they are. I believe that, and I think we've got a little momentum going. I look for and I've been told there will be at least two or three more hearings on STELAR between now and when they make their decision. I'm hoping I get to be included in those as well. To be asked by Senator Doyle, which he told me—
Cocoros: Something tells me you will be asked back.
Boyers: He said I could come back and testify in his hearing anytime I wanted to.
Cocoros: There you go.
Is there anything else you want to add about your career or your company?
Boyers: Oh, I don’t know. One of the most exciting things is that Steve and I have got to live where we wanted to live. We wanted to stay home. A lot of the people we graduated from high school with left, and they're still gone. Their folks might still live there; maybe their folks have passed. But we looked around and there weren’t any people dying on the side of the street from starvation. I mean, Poplar Bluff, we don’t feel the great gusts of the economic splurges and we don’t feel the deep-down depressions either. We’re still tied enough to agriculture that we don’t suffer terribly. So we’re just kind of a rural little town. School districts could be better. The tax bases could always be better. But we’re proud of where we’re from. I'm proud of the way I was brought up. I'm proud of my farming background and my agriculture background. And honestly, I'm proud to be a woman. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of stuff we can't do if we set our mind to it. That’s just the way I've tried to live my life.
Cocoros: That’s excellent. So, Patty, thank you very much for sharing your story.
Boyers: You're welcome.
END OF INTERVIEW