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Attention Seniors!

HCTC is accepting applications for the 2020 HCTC scholarships available to graduating seniors who will attend a college or a technical school during the 2020-2021 school year. Above-average grades are not mandatory. A student’s leadership qualities, community involvement, extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations will be considered.

“HCTC believes the rural economic development of communities is dependent upon the education of our youth,” HCTC CEO Craig Cook says. As many as 20 area seniors may be awarded a $1,500 scholarship, representing an annual $30,000 commitment to the future of the Hill Country community.

Students may obtain an application online at hctc.net.
Applications are due Feb. 28.

We’ve Arrived in the Future

CRAIG COOK Chief Executive Officer
CRAIG COOK
Chief Executive Officer

Welcome to 2020! I sincerely hope you and those close to you had a superb holiday season and that this new year is off to a wonderful start.

Something about beginning not only a new year but also a new decade makes 2020 feel like a year full of promise. For so long, the 2020s have seemed like the distant future. Now, we have arrived!

For those of us at HCTC, it’s rewarding to know our network is what brings the future to our part of Texas. Whether it’s our broadband service at your home or our network providing vital infrastructure to businesses, we’re right at the heart of all of this futuristic technology. We worked hard to make that network and our company even better in 2019. It was certainly a year of meaningful accomplishments and noteworthy milestones.

2019 was one of the most productive years on record at HCTC. We invested nearly $12 million in our engineering and construction activities, deploying an additional 200 miles of fiber and improving the broadband capabilities for our members.

HCTC took a renewed focus on its customer service in 2019. We truly view you as part of the cooperative family! We want to ensure we’re treating you like family in all of our interactions. So, when you come into one of our offices, call us on the phone, or choose to do business with us online, we want your interaction with us to be second to none. We want you to feel as though you are speaking with a family member who just happens to work for the cooperative.

2019 has also seen a focus on providing improved services and pricing. As with our customer service, HCTC prides itself on providing quality services at affordable rates. However, we don’t think that is good enough. That is why you have seen us providing new service offerings, such as our broadband-only service, at extremely competitive rates.

HCTC also began a comprehensive review of our service delivery processes in 2019 in an effort to provide you with the service you want when you want them. This is why we have introduced our “white glove service.” We want to make sure that when you order a service from HCTC that you’re receiving what you ordered. Once the initial installation of your broadband service is complete, one of our technicians will stay with you to make sure that the level of broadband service you’ve ordered is delivered, as well as making sure all of your devices are connecting to your broadband network. We want to make sure that when we leave your home or business that you are completely satisfied with your service.

Turning the page to 2020, HCTC will continue to aggressively invest in construction and the expansion of our broadband network. We understand the importance of broadband in our communities and appreciate the role that we play to deliver this much-needed service to you. In fact, we believe broadband is the lifeblood of our rural communities. At HCTC, we want to make sure all of our members stand on equal footing with their counterparts in larger metropolitan areas. We want to make sure our business customers can compete globally, as we truly are living in a global society. Likewise, we will remain committed to improving our services, pricing, customer service and service delivery to our members

A Good Way to Start the New Year

NTCA members make a real difference in their communities, and in the lives of the people they serve. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when the Foundation for Rural Service announced it had awarded $100,000 in FRS Community Grants to groups throughout the U.S. FRS is the nonprofit arm of NTCA that supports rural telecom companies, consumers and policymakers with educational information, products and programming.

Each year, community organizations apply for FRS grants to help them tackle challenges ranging from accessing technology and improving educational offerings to providing telemedicine and first-responder services to rural areas. Applications are sponsored by their local telco.

It was also exciting to see the USDA award several ReConnect grants and loans to NTCA members toward the end of the year. This program represents yet another option for rural broadband funding, as well as an example of public/private partnerships at work to extend broadband to unserved communities.

After all, investments by federal and state agencies, coupled with the commitment of rural broadband providers, are key to our nation’s progress in connecting the millions of citizens still without access to fast, reliable internet service. These programs, as well as the engagement we saw among policymakers at our Telecom Executive Policy Summit in November, provide a strong start to 2020 and give me great hope for a strong new year for rural broadband.

2019 SERVICE RECOGNITION

We would like to thank our dedicated employees for their years of excellent service to the cooperative and to our members.

Pictured (Left to Right):
Steve Shavers – 5 years
Samantha Rathke – 5 years
Joe Kinnison – 5 years
Marc Hess – 10 years
Patrick Tinley – 10 years
Rose Petmecky – 10 years
Nisha Robson – 10 years
Kerry Sutton – 10 years
Bob Harris – 10 years
Donna Brock – 15 years
John Ivy – 20 years
Margie Dominguez – 20 years
Newell Stewart – 20 years
Denise Salter – 25 years
Dean Oates – 35 years
Bernice Fischer – 40 years
Not Pictured:
Shawn Hulce – 5 years
Bridget McKiddie – 5 years
Norman Jackson – 15 years
Chris Lindemann – 40 years

Like Nintendo, We Go Beyond Technology

CRAIG COOK Chief Executive Officer
CRAIG COOK
Chief Executive Officer

At first glance, HCTC and Nintendo don’t have a lot in common. Nintendo is a video game giant based in Japan, and we are a small broadband provider in rural Texas.

But a quote I ran across recently made me realize we may have more in common than you’d think.

In the pages of this issue, you’ll see a focus on gamers. And though I’m not much of a gamer myself, I know there are hundreds or even thousands of our members who enjoy playing video games on our network. Gaming has certainly become mainstream — to the point where there are college scholarships for team gamers.

For decades now, one brand has been synonymous with gaming: Nintendo. It’s a company with an interesting history. Like HCTC, it evolved over the years to meet customer demand. In fact, many people don’t know that Nintendo started off in 1889 as a small manufacturer of playing cards. Nearly a century and a half later, it’s changed the world with its electronic gaming systems, handhelds and characters like Mario.

Similar to the way Nintendo developed, we’ve evolved from party line phone systems to lightning-fast broadband. But a quote from former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata drove home another similarity our two companies share.

In discussing his company’s success, the late Mr. Iwata stated that in order to be successful, Nintendo had to look beyond the hardware and software it developed. “Please understand, I am not saying that technology is unimportant,” he told an interviewer. “But if we are just focusing on technology … we will not succeed.”

In order to succeed, Nintendo had to focus not on the processors, electronics and equipment driving its games but instead on what the games did for people. Similarly at HCTC, we constantly remind ourselves that the technology our business provides is only part of the equation. What matters most is how our members use that technology and the ways their lives are improved because of it.

Maybe it’s when a young adult can enroll in distance learning classes because of our network. Maybe it’s when an entrepreneur connects to markets around the world through our services. Or maybe it’s simply when a customer gets to play a video game online with friends.

Just like with Nintendo, the bits and bytes of our business are secondary. Our primary focus is on the difference that technology can make for you.

New Game IN TOWN: Schreiner U Building Esports Program

In late summer, Ryan Lucich was still unpacking boxes at his new office at Schreiner University, where he had recently joined the staff to lead the school’s relatively new esports team.

It is both new and familiar territory for Lucich. Just a year removed from his career as a player at Texas Tech, he is coaching a Schreiner program that, in its third year of existence, is part of a growing number of competitive teams of collegiate video gamers, some of whom have qualified for scholarships just like their counterparts in traditional sports.

“In terms of growth, it’s just really exploded,” Lucich says of collegiate esports. “I think the first varsity program was Robert Morris University back in 2014, and now, just about five years later, there’s over 150. It’s really crazy how fast it’s happened.”

Most of those programs, including Schreiner’s, are part of the growing National Association of Collegiate Esports, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association recognizes some of them. Schools embracing esports range in size and stature from the likes of Union Community College in New Jersey to major universities such as Boise State University and The Ohio State University.

VIRTUAL MOUNTAINEERS

Schreiner sophomore psychology major Matthew Mize is one of around 35 students who are part of the Mountaineers esports team. He participates in Overwatch, which is among the games Schreiner’s team plays. Others are League of Legends, Fortnite and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

Mize is also among a wave of students in colleges and universities across the country who are eligible to receive scholarship money for their video gaming abilities. Lucich said he has about $40,000 he can offer to his players and other students who fill auxiliary roles, such as internet streamers and “shoutcasters” for live online broadcasts.

For Mize, a Lakehills native, the recruiting process was pretty simple. He knew Schreiner’s former coach, and after a tryout he joined the Overwatch team as a freshman. “A lot of schools are going through things where they’re trying to identify kids and trying to find out the avenues where, what and who they can recruit,” Mize says. “It’s definitely growing.”

Like the popular Fortnite and League of Legends, Overwatch is a cooperative game with teammates working together. “It’s a team-based game, and I play a healer,” Mize says. “That’s what I mostly like about it — I can help my teammates do better if I do well.”

Lucich says the spirit of teamwork is the same as with traditional collegiate team sports like soccer, football or basketball, and he believes the communication skills his players use — and those he gained as a player — will help the participants in their lives and careers.

“In terms of the team play itself, I think esports requires a lot more vocal communication,” Lucich says. “Whereas in football you might have hand signals, esports requires a lot more talking to be successful, especially in some of these really complex games. As far as competing, some of the esports titles are a lot more complicated and harder to get into, which means it takes a lot more time to develop strategies.”

There are other similarities as well. “With each of our teams, we have one day a week dedicated to just meeting for half of it,” Lucich says. “It’s like a video review. Then the other half is a discussion over strategy. We might scout our opponents, so in a sense, it’s very similar to traditional sports and kind of what I did in football in high school.”

As its third year of esports competition begins, the Schreiner team is moving from its former gaming facility, “The Bunker,” into a brand-new arena where the team now practices and competes. This past April, Schreiner hosted the inaugural SCAC Showdown, welcoming other esports teams from the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in connection with the school’s annual Pop Con pop culture convention.

In a press release leading up to the event, SCAC Commissioner Dwayne Hanberry says that “although esports is not yet considered a varsity sport, we are excited to utilize the conference umbrella to provide another extracurricular opportunity for SCAC students to compete. Our goal at the conference office is to assist our membership in creating memorable experiences for students. We believe this event is another avenue to do that and with a segment of students who perhaps don’t get that opportunity in what would be considered the traditional athletic arena.”

Daniel De Jesus is a member of the Schreiner University esports team.

CONNECTION IS EVERYTHING

Lucich began his coaching career by working with high school players looking for the same opportunities Mize and his teammates have at Schreiner.

Like members of NACE, high schools around the country are also starting esports teams, giving gamers a chance to compete together. Regardless of whether the players are college or high school students, casual gamers or professionals, they all rely on fast and reliable internet connectivity.

“Connection is everything,” Lucich says. “It’s one of the most important things both in practice and even more so in matches, because if you’re practicing on unreliable internet, you don’t get the correct environment that will better prepare you for your matches.”

The growing collegiate esports landscape, which is reflective of a growing culture of video gamers, gave Lucich an unexpected career path as well as lifelong friends. He says he is hoping his players have experiences similar to those he had as a player at Texas Tech. “I really loved it,” he says. “I’ve always been an extremely competitive person, but I was also very shy. Going into college, I was really nervous about making new friends.”

The League of Legends game provided Lucich a competitive and social outlet. He made the Texas Tech team along with three other sophomores. The roster stayed essentially the same for three years, he says. “It was a really great experience” Lucich recalls. “We all became very close. Playing on that team, it really did feel like family. To this day, they’re still probably my best friends. We talk and play games together pretty much every day.”