Dale Jones had been hired as the General Manager of Tri-county Telephone Association, Inc., with a start date of July 1st, 1999. Jones came to TCT from S&T Telephone Company in Brewster, Kansas, where he started as a technician. In his 13 years at S&T, he’d risen in the company to become the marketing manager, and the plant director, before becoming the assistant to the General Manager. TCT had been in negotiations to purchase Council Grove Telephone Company (CG Teleco ) and on February 1st, 2000, CG Teleco was officially turned over to TCT. In less than one year from starting at the cooperative, Mr. Jones was responsible for the overseeing double the number of access lines. According to LeRoy Sharp, who worked forCG Teleco and then for TCT, CG Teleco ’s plant was not in the same condition as TCT’s and most of the infrastructure had not been upgraded for a very long time. “The City of Council Grove was still on party lines when TCT bought the company and many of the wires were not up to standard. This made it difficult for people to use their dialup internet because it tied up the phone line, which others wanted to use.”, said Sharpe.
In March of 2000 TCT formed the Marketing Department and started working on a marketing plan. A mission statement was approved in January of 2001. In March that same year a new logo was adapted to be used for promotional ads and company image campaigns. “I was really excited about developing a marketing department,” said Bill Marston, former Board member. “We already had a sales department and by adding a marketing department we were able to get out in the communities and show them what we had to offer!”. In late fall of 2002, the company had once again outgrown the space at the headquarters, so the company undertook another expansion and remodel. An open house was held in April of 2003 to allow members observe the updates, which included the CEO’s office boardroom, and HR area on the lower level. The garage area was remodeled into a lobby and the roof and parking lot was redone. “It was a very busy time.”, said Jones. “Everyone was doubled up and in each other’s space. It was a pain while we were doing it, but it was worth it in the end, that [renovation] allowed us to expand into what we are today.”
Between 2004 and 2007 TCT added several more departments to better serve members, retain employees and grow the company. Human Resources (HR) and Information Technology (IT) were created. TCT also started the subsidiary company, TC Wireless, to offer high speed internet in rural areas that were not in TCT’s incumbent area. In December of 2007 the Board voted to buy the Council Grove Television Service. “We felt this was the right time to buy the system.”, said Mr. Jones. At the time TCT had been looking into and testing a lot of different systems, and the Internet Protocol Television System (IPTV) seemed like the best option for TCT’s network. “IPTV was still cutting-edge technology at the time.”, said Jones.
TCT continued its pattern of growth in 2008 and at the 45th Annual Meeting of Members in March, the membership voted to bring Council Grove into the cooperative. In June a Special Meeting of Members was held at the Council Grove High School. The meeting resulted in the addition of two new Directors that would represent District 5. The new district’s boundaries would encompass the City of Council Grove and a few miles surrounding the town. In July 2008 the Board voted to make TCT’s network a 100% buried, fiber to the premise system. Fiber would allow more bandwidth to the homes, improve patrons’ services, and help TCT prepare for advancement in future technologies. “At the time we started upgrading the network to 100% fiber to the premise, we considered 25M/5M to be a high bandwidth user. Today many of our customers are using GIG speeds.”, said Jones.
The Board, leadership and employees had a lot to be proud of, they had a plan in place to make the network 100% buried fiber to the premise, which would be important to the future of the rural communities they served. The project’s construction would take several years to complete and require constant communication with customers, to make sure they understood why crews were in their community and needed access to their property. Most of the fiber to the premise project was completed by 2015. However, a network does not depend on fiber alone. Equipment and software must continue to be upgraded. In the years between 2015, when TCT’s fiber network was completed, to present day, the cooperative upgraded almost every piece of equipment, including the Set Top Boxes that deliver video to subscribers, and the Optical Network Terminals (ONTs) that are placed on customer’s homes. When COVID 19 hit, and so much depended on internet connectivity, TCT’s network was tested. TCT increased everyone’s internet speed to 50M, at no charge for a period of four months, so people were able to work and attend classes from home with no issue.
TCT has expanded its network over the years building service to the Herington Airport Industrial Park and east of Herington, as well as building service to Alta Vista, Hillsboro, and sections of Abilene. TCT continues to look at opportunities to grow the network through partnerships and grants. “Our build to Hillsboro is a perfect example of how a partnership between a community and a telecom can be successful.”, said CEO, Dale Jones. Hillsboro wanted to be a GIG Community. They had seen what TCT offers other Marion County Communities and we worked together to make Hillsboro a GIG Certified, Smarty Rural Community!” Diversification and investments are also a key strategy in keeping the cooperative financially healthy. “We have been diligent in making smart, strategically sound decisions in acquisitions and investments.”, said Jones. TCT’s investment in Nex-Tech Wireless and the Kansas Fiber Network have resulted in additional financial security for the cooperative. As TCT begins its 60th year as a cooperative, the board and leadership continue to look for opportunities that will grow the network, and financially strengthen the position of the cooperative for many years to come.