Highland Telephone Cooperative (HTC) serves an area northwest of Knoxville in an economically distressed region of Tennessee. Based in Sunbright, HTC provides phone, digital TV and internet service in the rural areas of Scott and Morgan counties, which include cities like Oneida, Wartburg and Huntsville. The cooperative also crosses into the Bluegrass State to provide service in McCreary County, Kentucky. All of these areas are miles from major interstate access, and most of them consists of rugged mountains like those in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area and Frozen Head State Park.
So when the cooperative made the pages of some of Tennessee’s largest newspapers in recent weeks with stories about the availability of a gig-capable network, it made CEO and General Manager Mark Patterson proud.
“Our area lacks interstates and many economic advantages that other communities enjoy, and we’ve suffered through some extremely high unemployment in recent years,” Patterson says. “An asset like a gigabit-capable network can be our competitive edge when it comes to bringing in industry and growing existing businesses.”
At the time HTC was awarded a grant in 2010, the internet speeds were among the lowest in the state at about 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps). But with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, HTC was able to upgrade about 2,700 miles of a copper network to an all-new fiber optic network.
The $67 million federal grant was awarded to HTC, which obtained a loan for 25 percent of the grant — $17 million to be paid over a 25-year period.
HTC was certified in October as a Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.
“This gigabit certification caps off years of careful planning, investing and building a brand-new fiber network for our area,” Patterson says. “All along, we knew our commitment was worth the effort so that our neighbors in this area could keep their rural lifestyle without sacrificing world-class connectivity.”
The $67 million investment is already improving the region’s quality of life, health care options, educational opportunities and economic outlook.
Now, HTC’s customers have internet speeds much higher than what is available in some of the largest metropolitan areas in the state.
While HTC has seen the benefits of technology, a tradition of a strong work ethic and dedication are still important. One of the original employees worked until 2011, retiring after working 56 years at the cooperative.
It’s that type of dedicated employee that has helped make HTC successful, able to compete and now provide some of the most up-to-date technology, Patterson says.
A cooperative the size of HTC would never have been able to make the upgrades without the grant. “It’s just too expensive for a company this size,” he says.
HTC can now offer fiber access, ranging from 15 Mbps to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), and it is already making a difference for schools, health care and businesses growing their services and for residents who want to use some of the latest technology to stream movies and music.
“We’re helping to make a difference in people’s lives, and that is important to us,” Patterson says.