Enhancing lives with fiber optic technology
High-speed internet has the power to shape lives because fast, reliable broadband can provide entertainment, generate jobs, educate students and far more.
HCTC continues to make big investments to expand a high-speed, fiber optic network throughout 14 counties across the Texas Hill Country. The network includes competitive markets in Mason, Kerrville, Fredericksburg and Junction.
“There’s no doubt it’s an economic engine, like highways, electricity and water,” says Alan Link, chief executive officer at HCTC. “In this day and age, we operate our lives with the expectancy of digital connectivity.” While most residential and commercial needs can currently be met with a combination of fiber and copper networks, modern high-tech tasks increasingly require speeds available only through fiber optics. A fiber network uses cables made of tiny strands of pure glass — each about the diameter of a human hair — to transmit beams of light over great distances. The
beams are capable of carrying high-quality data for fast internet speeds up to 1 Gbps to homes and businesses. Technology has come a long way since 1951 when a group of five men formed the cooperative to bring telephone service to the rural areas of the Texas Hill Country. For years, regulations limited the area where the cooperative could provide service. But recent regulatory changes permit service in competitive markets. HCTC has telephone service to more than 12,000 lines, but the business has heavily expanded into broadband. Link says many people don’t realize cellular data, particularly in HCTC’s rural areas, hinges on fiber networks. “The expansion of cellular service is highly dependent on fiber optic technology,” he says. “Fiber is the landline backbone to cell towers across the Hill Country.” Fiber is also enhancing lives because people work from home, watch movies, play games, shop and do their banking. It’s also making a difference in public safety, schools and businesses.
Fiber internet is important for the banking industry, says Jeff Rhea, senior vice president at Community First National Bank in Kerrville, an HCTC customer. “Everything we do now is based around the internet,” he says. “It’s at the core of processing all of our accounting measures, and it’s important for our customers who utilize our online services.” Fiber internet has paved the way for advanced online banking options because it is capable of providing a secure connection. “Security is the driving force in our business, and fiber makes that possible,” Rhea says. “Without it, as a business, we wouldn’t be able to operate.”
WHERE WE STARTED
Fiber optic transport has been used between central office locations for many years. In 2009, HCTC started its first local loop broadband driven fiber project, which was completed in 2012. Additional funding acquired under the Rural Utilities Service Broadband Initiatives Program in 2013 allowed HCTC to continue fiber construction. Completion of this additional project enabled broadband to reach a cumulative milestone of 86 percent of its customer base. Today, about 97 percent of HCTC’s customers have access to some level of broadband with over 80 percent of locations capable of 10 Mbps and nearly 40 percent can attain speeds of 25-35 Mbps. The cooperative is moving forward with additional fiber projects, including incorporating fiber with the existing copper lines to access as many homes and businesses as possible. “Fiber optic is clearly the first choice for new construction,” Link says. Now, HCTC’s Board and Management Team are looking ahead to the next
investment phase beginning in 2018 to expand the capability to serve their customer base with at least 25 Mbps. By next year, HCTC will have made a $50 million investment. “It’s a challenge to be excellent stewards with limited funds,” Link says. “But we’re dedicated to get where we need to be.” To compete in a rural economy, it’s vital to bring fiber to students, businesses, medical facilities, government, educational institutions and homes. “If the cooperative doesn’t take care of it, nobody else will,” Link says. “It’s a struggle to level the playing field in communities to achieve economic success, but fiber will do that.”