By 1968, TCT’s service area had grown to include many rural communities and the founder’s ambitions of building a fully buried communications network was starting to materialize. On February 5th, 1968, the 5th Annual Meeting was held. Updates were given to attendees about engineering plans and the construction of the corporation’s headquarters. Membership applications for service continued to roll in throughout the rest of the winter and into the spring of that year.
The Board, General Manager and Staff kept busy dealing with ever-changing engineering plans, navigating the requirements of the Kansas Corporation Commission, conducting feasibility studies, and of course providing quality services. Plans were being finalized for buildings in Hope, Woodbine, Lincolnville, Lost Springs, Ramona, Navarre, and Carlton that would hold centralized equipment for the new network, and allow space needed to house future technologies.
As the 1960’s ended, TCT’s new headquarters were completed. The Cooperative added additional employees and slowly began building their service vehicle fleet. The 1970’s brought new technologies like digital switching and satellites. Although the mobile phone had been around since 1947, it was not a mainstream service accessible to most consumers. Engineers had been working to make mobile phones more accessible. In 1973 TCT allocated funding to add Improved Mobile Telephone Service at the Delavan exchange through Motorola Communications Inc. It took until August of 1975 for the system to be installed. General Manager, Carroll Schraeder, stated, “The system was a great big box (3 feetX2 feet) that would go in a vehicle but was like a party line because others could always be listening.” In early fall of 1973, the Board decided to join National Telephone Cooperative Association (NTCA). NTCA was an organization advocating for rural telecoms in the federal and commercial spaces, thus allowing smaller telecoms to work together to leverage opportunities for purchasing equipment and services, as well as gain access to capital. Realizing that attracting and keeping good employees would be key to the Cooperative’s success, the Board began exploring how they might offer benefits, like health insurance and savings plans. The Cooperative’s membership in NTCA would help then offer these benefits.
After the introduction of computer-led network operation in the late 1970s, and great strides in mobile communications, the telecommunications industry was in for even bigger changes. The 1980s ushered in enormous changes in technology, industry structure, policy, and regulation. On January 8th, 1982, the federal government mandated the breakup of the Bell “monopoly” and split it into several separate companies. In 1985 TCT joined the Kansas Independent Telephone Companies Partnership, which brought together many of the independent telephone companies in the state of Kansas, in order to keep up and comply with regulations. In 1989 a lottery was conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to select two licensed applicants to provide cellular telephone service in each of 15 geographical areas throughout Kansas. TCT announced that it had joined forces with 29 other independent companies in the area to offer “state of the art” cellular service through the Kansas Independent Network (KIN). In December of 1989 the Board chose to meet a minimum commitment to be equal partners in Liberty Cellular, Inc. “It worked out great for us,” said General Manager, Carroll Schraeder. “It was a great company that gave us a lot of profit.” In August 1990 the Board of Directors voted to start on the Fiber Optic Network, part of the Kansas Cellular backbone in an effort to obtain towers, which would allow for the connectivity of traffic.
The 1990’s would bring even more growth, changes, and upgrades for the Cooperative. TCT began upgrading more of the network’s infrastructure with fiber optic cable to keep up with digital technologies. The Board understood that the future of communications would require fiber to bring faster and more reliable service to subscribers. Dick Claypool, Outside Technician with TCT for 23 years and Max Wendell, Outside Plant Technician from 1968-2004, both said the upgrade to the digital equipment was one of the biggest changes they saw during their time at TCT. “It was a really big change for us,” Claypool recalled. “In a way it was like starting my job all over again. I felt like I was relearning the job from scratch.”
TCT’s network was not the only big project underway. Additions to and remolding of the headquarters building started in July of 1990 to accommodate office space for more employees and storage needs. While the renovation was taking place new carpet was also installed. In 1992 TCT build a larger warehouse in Hope, and by 1993, three cell phone tower sites were under construction in the Woodbine, Lincolnville and Wilsey areas.
Always a supporter of education, in 1995 TCT worked with the Hope and White City Schools to build fiber cable and electronic equipment for the district’s ITV project. TCT provided equipment in the schools making it possible for teachers to hold class at both schools without physically being in one of the classrooms. In 1995 the Board also launched a scholarship program, which offered five $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors, whose parent or legal guardian was a member of the association and planned on attending any four-year college, university, community college or trade school. Scholarships would be awarded to one graduate in each of the four districts and one “at-large” scholarship.
When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed it allowed rural telephone companies to offer the same services as metropolitan companies. The act promoted competition and reduced regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers. Doing this encouraged the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies and allowed smaller companies, like TCT to get DSL and fiber to the home. In January of 1996, TCT started offering DSL. According to General Manager Carroll Schraeder, the most difficult part was making sure that there was enough availability for the added traffic. “To do this we had to add a lot of circuits because people were tying up the phone lines more often and for longer periods of time.”, stated Schraeder.
TCT’s 35th Annual Meeting was held on March 23, 1998. General Manager Carroll Schraeder announced that for the first time in the history of TCT, the business had a $1 million profit margin. Schraeder also announced his plans to retire within the next 16-18 months. The Board began the process of selecting the next General Manager. Dan Emig was the Vice President of the Board at the time. “We took our time and didn’t rush. At times it was a lot of stress, but we found what we were looking for and that made it worth it.”, said Emig. On April 5, 1999, Dale Jones accepted the position as General Manager and began his duties on July 1 that year.