News Archives - HCTC

HCTC

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.

Keeping Our Part of the ‘Net’ Neutral

It’s very rare that telecommunications policy grabs headlines, dominates social media feeds, and leads the news broadcasts. But that’s exactly what we saw after the FCC’s decision on net neutrality.

It’s encouraging to see people around the country take stock, realize how important their broadband service is to their daily lives, and take action to protect it. Concerns over net neutrality have caused some of our members to email, call or message us on social media. I’m proud that our members are tuned in to the issues and willing to communicate with us about the future of their service. The term “net neutrality” refers to policy that would prevent internet providers from interfering with selective forms of internet traffic through blocking or slowing down certain services or websites.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about how the regulations and the FCC changes to the rules will a affect broadband, but I wanted to set the record straight for HCTC customers. Our No. 1 concern has been and will always be delivering to you the best online experience possible. We do not throttle, prioritize or block any legal internet traffic and have no plans to do so in the future. Essentially, we are keeping our members’ connections net neutral.

I understand that many people have concerns about this ruling, but please know that HCTC has no intention of making changes to our service based on the FCC’s decision.

I can’t speak for what other corporate telecommunications providers may do, but we have been net neutral and will stay that way because it’s the right thing to do for our members.

The only thing the FCC’s decision will change for us will be reducing the amount of regulatory paperwork we have to keep. Representatives from NTCA– The Rural Broadband Association — which represents 850 small, rural, community-based member companies like ours — testified to this before congressional committees.

For small telcos like ours, the so-called net neutrality rules implemented in 2015 required extensive reporting that took time and effort from our team. That’s time and effort we’d rather

spend on growing and improving our network and customer service features.

NTCA Senior Vice President Michael Romano told Congress the 2015 rule’s “heavy-handed

regulatory burdens can be distracting at best or devastating at worst.”

In summary, some experts would have us believe that the removal of net neutrality rules is a

threat to the internet as we know it. But here at HCTC, we’re going to keep your internet service open and free as you enjoy it today — and will work hard to make it even better tomorrow.

OUR PLEDGE: HCTC does not throttle, prioritize or block any legal internet traffic, and we have no plans to do so in the future.

At Your Service

HCTC’s Technology Solutions does it all

Computer, network and Wi-Fi issues can plague even the most tech savvy among us, but HCTC’s Technology Solutions can help. And, you don’t have to be an HCTC customer to benefit.

Technology Solutions is another service that HCTC began offering about eight years ago. Services include everything from basic computer fixes to installing and monitoring comprehensive network solutions, security and surveillance equipment, as well as data backup for businesses of all sizes.

GROWTH CHART

Technology Solutions began as a way for HCTC to diversify, says Randy Henckel, manager of eld operations and business services. “HCTC acquired a locally- owned, two person computer repair business,” he says. “We started out with the name iFix.”

In the early days of the operation, the focus was on repairing computers, installing routers
for small businesses, and other basics. en HCTC added personnel certified in various technologies and experienced in systems integration. “We started layering on staff and skill sets,” Henckel says. “Over time, we were able to build up to where we could handle just about any IT design, implementation or maintenance scenario you could come up with.” The team has completed large- scale wireless deployments, and they’ve set up security alarm systems for large businesses and school systems, he says. But anyone can bring a computer into the team’s location
in Kerrville for data transfers, hardware replacement, system cleanup, performance tuneups and more. Most projects can be done on a at-rate basis. HCTC can also dispatch employees to work on small business systems for cooperative members as well as nonmembers.

MAKING IT HAPPEN FOR THE HILL COUNTRY AND BEYOND

The Technology Solutions department is an important asset for HCTC because it serves customers in a way that many tele-communications cooperatives and companies simply cannot. “We provide a service on
a scale that exceeds typical computer repair and technology shops,” Henckel says. “It’s exciting that we can do that. When our customers have a problem, we can respond quickly. We
have a very sophisticated and experienced staff, so resolution is generally received within a short period of time.” Performance and responsiveness is a point of pride for HCTC. “It’s just very exciting for us to be able to provide that type of service to our customer base,” he says.

INTERESTED IN TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS?

Need a computer repair, tuneup or system clean-up? Or maybe your company or organization needs help with a larger network project? Check out HCTC’s Technology Solutions. For more information call 800.292.5457 or visit us at hctc.net.

A Future With Fiber

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.”