Just as the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought power and lights to rural homes, an amendment in 1949 was passed “to assure the availability of adequate telephone service” bridging the way for rural families and friends to hear one another across lines for the very first time. Of course a lot of work ensued to make that happen.
While cities and towns had already established those lines, in the early 1950s, eight telephone cooperatives were formed to provide modern, dependable service to approximately 25,906 access lines in all or parts of 25 Illinois counties. Those eight make up the Illinois Telephone Cooperative Association (ITCA).
Today’s challenges for telephone cooperatives mirror in number many of the obstacles faced in those early days. With landline telephones giving way to cell phones and the need for fast computer connections growing every day, telephone cooperatives are making a fundamental shift in operations to become true telecommunications providers.
Restructuring the backbone of the operation is costly and funds are limited. What was once communication by copper line, which uses sound waves to transmit, is slowly being replaced by fiber optic (transmission by light) lines and towers in order to enhance speed of service.
The fundamental shift is vital to keeping cooperatives viable. Bill Buchanan of McDonough Telephone in Colchester speaks to the changes.
“Our world has changed significantly in the past few years. With those changes, the rural telecommunications cooperatives have changed too. We are now full service companies that not only connect folks by voice, but also through broadband and video,” Buchanan says.
“Our investments in fiber networks give rural consumers the speed and quality they need to live and work in any community. We are committed to continuing to evolve to meet our members needs for a broadband future.”
The cooperatives represented in the ITCA include: Adams Telephone Co-Operative, Golden; Egyptian Telephone Cooperative Association, Steeleville; Flat Rock Telephone Co-Op, Inc., Flat Rock; Hamilton County Telephone Co-op., Dahlgren; McDonough Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Colchester; Mid Century Telephone Co-operative, Fairview; Oneida Telephone Exchange, Oneida and Wabash Telephone Cooperative, Inc., Louisville.
In celebrating the International Year of the Cooperative, we want to show our support for the cooperative model. Please join us each month as we continue to feature a different cooperative that you may recognize or might also be a member.