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Thanksgiving Thoughts

It has occurred to me that the calendar places our Thanksgiving holiday at just the right point to allow us to pause a bit to reflect and focus upon the many blessings we enjoy. Thanksgiving also provides us time to assess our accomplishments, both personal ones and our HCTC business activities.

I know I’m thankful we live in a country where we can put so much energy into things like holidays, get-togethers with family and friends, business activities, and the general pursuit of happiness without being overwhelmed by unmet basic needs like much of our world. Our country may not be perfect, but I’d certainly rather be here than anywhere else.

When I think about where we are, I’m thankful for our communities and surrounding areas here in the Hill Country. I’ve lived in several other places and appreciate the scenic beauty of our area and the genuine, hard working and caring people who make up the backbone of the cooperative we serve.

Which leads me to how very thankful I am for the team we, and you, have at HCTC and the work they do every day to serve you the best way we can. This year, in particular, I am thankful for the progress our team has made to continue the upgrade of HCTC’s several thousand miles of network to bring you improved and robust broadband services while continuing our legacy of quality universal voice services.

It is satisfying to us that the modern broadband services we provide enable economic development, improved health care, security and education, as well as more leisure or convenience items such as video streaming, running a smart home or connecting with a loved one hundreds of miles away. Past generations could not have imagined the technology we have before us today.

But, we still suffer the need to better address the urban/rural digital broadband divide. While it’s true many communities in rural America suffer from slow broadband speeds as the result of neglect from big corporate internet providers or isolated terrain, the fiber optic connections we offer are world-class. More of these are nearer your home or immediately available than ever before. Looking forward to 2019, we plan to more than double our fiber-to-the- home availability.
Broadband has become essential for modern life. At HCTC, we believe people should not have to sacrifice a connected world to live in a rural area like ours.

And so, I am thankful to have the clarity of our mission and your board’s enablement of resources to move ahead — to connect you with the best technology available today and for the future.

Alan Link, CEO

Gig Certified

HCTC receives national recognition as Certified Gig-Capable Provider

Because of HCTC’s commitment to building a world-class broadband network, residents and businesses of Comfort, Texas have access to gigabit internet speeds — among the fastest connections in the country. Recently, HCTC was recognized by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association as a Certified Gig-Capable Provider.

NTCA is the premier industry association representing nearly 900 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America.

As a Certified Gig-Capable Provider, HCTC joins a national campaign to build awareness and industry recognition of community-based telecom providers. These providers have built communication networks capable of delivering internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is 100 times faster than those currently available in many U.S. households.

Cooperatives Carry a Remarkable Legacy

Imagine the headlines if this happened today — a group of rural Texas residents raise money to build their own internet network because corporate internet providers determined their area didn’t deserve coverage.

Such a story would get coverage from coast to coast and go viral on social media. Internet service has become essential to modern life, and recent media trends emphasize grassroots efforts to fill in where investor-controlled corporations fall short.

But that seemingly sensational situation is how Hill Country Telephone Cooperative (HCTC) got started decades ago with the technology of the day. It’s tough to get more grassroots than the story of our founding, and we’re proud to have built on that legacy to continue serving you today.

October is National Cooperative Month, supported by the National Cooperative Business Association and recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That designation always leads me to reflect on our remarkable story. When this company was founded, the ranchers, merchants, teachers, doctors and other community members knew this area needed a telephone network capable of keeping up with the rest of the country. For reasons of safety, economic growth and convenience, they wanted phone service, and they took it upon themselves to make it happen. Meanwhile, the big phone companies wouldn’t build here because it wasn’t profitable enough.

Creating a cooperative wasn’t easy. Each founding member pledged money upfront and then provided continued support in order for the new cooperative to get started. Each individual took a risk — but it was a risk worth taking because they knew they needed a modern communications network.

Today, broadband is the dominant communications need for our area, and HCTC has evolved to deliver that modern connection to meet the sophisticated requirements of the Texas Hill Country.

Our history and structure as a cooperative business make us different from other companies. Like the more than 40,000 other cooperative businesses in the U.S., we are member-owned. That means the people we serve are more than just customers — they are invested in our company in the same way we are invested in the communities we share. While most other telecom and cable providers exist to enrich their corporate investors or owners, we are fundamentally different. Our purpose is to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve — and to ensure we can do that today and in the future.

We’ve built our networks in areas so difficult to reach or so sparsely populated that no other provider would think of connecting. We’re here because we carry the legacy of our founders and our members.

COOPERATIVE FACTS:

  • There are 40,000 cooperative businesses with 343 million members in the United States.
  • Cooperatives generate $514 billion in revenue and more than $25 billion in wages.
  • National Cooperative Month has been a nationally recognized celebration since 1964.
  • Agricultural cooperatives are the most common type of cooperative in the U.S., but there
    are also cooperatives specializing in housing, electrical distribution, retail and, of course,
    Telecommunications.

Internet Connected Devices: Are You Well Connected?

Stop and count with me for a moment. How many internet-connected devices do you have in your home?

For many of us, smartphones and computers are the first internet-connected devices that come to mind, but what other devices are there? How about tablets? Are there any smart TVs or streaming boxes, such as Roku or Amazon Fire TV, in your home? If you have children at home, what about their game systems, computers and other devices? Maybe you’ve gotten into smart home technology and have installed “smart” bulbs, security cameras or outlets.

When you think about all of the things we regularly use that depend on the internet, the numbers can grow quickly. It is projected that the connected home device count will grow from today’s average of ve to 10 to as many as 50 devices in less than five years.

Whatever your number of connected devices happens to be, know this: HCTC is continuing to invest millions of dollars to ensure the broadband capacity and capability needed to serve our membership will be there.

The Cooperative’s more densely populated areas, such as Comfort and Ingram, already have extensive fiber deployment, and our progress continues. While our new investments are focused on bringing fiber optics ever closer to the customer premise, many homes and businesses can be adequately served by our remaining, but upgraded, copper networks – if the customers are equipped with appropriate packages. Allow me to explain.

While we often talk about an internet connection speed, we usually reference the download speed. The bits and bytes arrive at our network at the same speed no matter your connection, but it’s the capacity — how many bits and bytes can pass through each second — that matters.

I often tell people to think of internet service like plumbing. Each file you try to download is like water filling up a bathtub. The bits of data that make up the file flow through your modem and router, just like water into a tub. Filling a tub from the spout is much faster than filling it with a sink sprayer because the spout has more capacity to let more water through. Similarly, a smaller connection is going to limit the amount of data that can pass through quickly when compared to a bigger connection.

To follow that analogy, it’s also important to consider how may faucets, or connected devices, you’re going to use at the same time. If you open all of your faucets, the water pressure is going to dip significantly, and it’s going to take a lot longer to fill each tub or sink. For broadband, the same thing happens when multiple devices are on a network. If you have three tablets, a game system, two computers, four phones and a streaming TV using your connection, each one is going to be slower — unless you have a high-capacity connection.

It might surprise you to know that even though we are working to displace our remaining copper network with fiber, the existing retained copper in most cases can now provide a much larger “pipe” than what most members subscribe to. In fact, over 80 percent of our current subscribers could upgrade their broadband packages right now.

As we continue to improve our network, we’re looking down the road to the future. We see families in our area continuing to add the latest technology to their homes, which drives up the demand for broadband capacity. I assure you that whatever the future requires and whatever mix of technology is needed, HCTC fully intends to be there for you.

Tech-spertise: HCTC Technology Expert

Keeping up with the latest in technology can be frustrating. Luckily, HCTC has Systems Administrator Kris LeMeilleur to help figure all that out.

“Primarily, I help our employees with their technology needs,” says LeMeilleur, who has worked at HCTC for about seven years. “From computers to servers and smartphones to tablets, our company requires a wide variety of updates, repairs, modifications and education to keep things running smoothly.”

Whether he’s fixing a problem or preventing one, LeMeilleur, 33, is a force behind the technological inner workings of HCTC. He often works on a solution to a problem or tries to make things easier, faster or better for the cooperative’s employees and customers.

GROWING INTEREST

Computer work comes naturally to LeMeilleur, who has been fascinated by the machines since age 4.

“I would watch over my dad’s shoulder as he worked on the computer,” he says. “As I got older, I liked to play around with them. The internet was a cheap and easy way for me to learn new things, including computer programming.”

APP-Y DAYS

LeMeilleur still finds learning about technology exciting. In his spare time, he enjoys designing and programming Android apps for his own use, building board games online and playing computer games that involve strategy and knowledge.

“I once made a note-taking app that was specially tailored to let me take notes while simultaneously recording Bible Scriptures,” he says. “I hadn’t planned on designing the app, but what I needed just didn’t exist. I couldn’t find anything like it, so I made it.”

Playing around with programming is a little like building with Legos, he says. “You pull the blocks out and put them together, and you end up with something really cool,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s satisfying. Then you can tear it down and see what else you can make with it.”

His app designs and computer programming, however, are just hobbies, he says. His real joy comes from learning and helping others.

“I like helping people, and I love when I can fix a problem permanently that’s been a burden to someone,” he says. “It’s a rewarding experience to hear how much time, money or energy it has saved them. That’s what technology has always been about.”

Counting on Small Businesses

Have you ever thought about what our community would be like without small businesses?

For starters, half of us would be out of work because small businesses employ 48 percent of U.S. employees, according to the Small Business Administration.

On a national scale, without small businesses the economy would grow stagnant. According to estimates, 64 percent of new private sector jobs come from small businesses.

The downtown areas of our communities would certainly look very different if they were completely shuttered, as small businesses make up the heart of most business communities.

And while it may not be so obvious, think of the sports teams, community events and charitable organizations that count on donations and sponsorships from our small-business community.

I would even argue that many small businesses, such as HCTC, are what help give our communities their identities.

In short, we need our small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration has declared April 29-May 5 as National Small Business Week. It is a designation that goes back to 1963, aiming at celebrating small businesses locally and around the nation. Please join me in supporting them and commending them for the long hours, dedication and commitment to their customers that have made them a part of the fabric of our communities.

At HCTC, we’re proud to be one of those small businesses, but we’re also proud to support many small businesses throughout our region with our advanced broadband network.

As you’ve seen in the pages of recent magazines, there are plenty of examples where local small businesses rely on a broadband connection to place orders, send emails, interact with customers on social media, improve efficiency in their operation and stay competitive regionally and globally.

Broadband helps make the world a smaller place, which helps small businesses. Did you know that 98 percent of the companies that export products overseas are small businesses? In fact, according to the Department of Commerce, one-third of U.S. merchandise exports are from small and mid-sized businesses. I think it’s safe to assume that when small businesses communicate with customers or suppliers overseas, they aren’t sending letters — they’re using their broadband connection from providers like HCTC.

A recent report revealed small businesses that access global markets over the internet have a 30 percent higher survival rate than similar businesses that aren’t connected.

We live in an exciting time when a small startup company or even a longtime family business has access to a local, regional, national and even global market because of broadband.

Our community counts on small businesses, and small businesses count on HCTC. We are proud to support them with the technology needed to thrive in today’s economy.

Alan Link 
Chief Executive Officer