During its 68 years of service, Scott County Telephone Coop (SCTC) has seen a lot of firsts – first telephone coop to purchase a cable television company; first to bring fiber optic to its customers; and one of the few telephone companies in the country to partner with an electric cooperative to provide broadband service to an underserved rural region¬ – just to cite a few firsts.
According to SCTC CEO Bill Franklin, the cooperative was chartered on September 10, 1951 through the State Corporation Commission. A cooperative is owned by its customers who elect a 10-member board of directors to set policy for the organization. Any Scott County Telephone Cooperative member can serve on the board of directors, which has term limits of three years. As CEO, Franklin is charged with implementing policies determined by the board and hiring employees to provide service to members/customers.
Initially, the non-profit organization was to provide telephone service only to 420 square miles of Scott County, Virginia, and 15 square miles of Hancock County, Tennessee. Today, the goal is to create the infrastructure to provide voice, video and broadband services to meet customer needs which will promote economic development and provide a better quality of life to the residents of the rural region.
From that humble beginning, SCTC has grown to become a total communications provider.
Today, SCTC’s Virginia service area spans Scott, Russell, Wise, Dickenson and Lee counties. It also includes the city of Norton, Virginia. In Tennessee, the coop serves Hancock and Hawkins counties. Services go far beyond high-quality phone plans. Today, the coop offers video, high-speed broadband internet and a complete network to meet the needs of high-demand business users.
In 1987, SCTC became the first cooperative to purchase a cable television system, Scott County Cablevision in Gate City, thus providing television programming services to its customers. Later, SCTC formed its internet company, MountaiNet, which for the last 18 years has been the sole provider of internet service to East Tennessee State University along with many other customers in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.
In 2010, the Broadband Stimulus Grant Program enabled SCTC to provide fiber-optic network for high-speed internet service to 500 square miles of Scott County, plus portions of Russell County. Most recently, SCTC won a bid to construct the fiber to allow Verizon Wireless to upgrade their network to a 4G upgrade. The goal is to provide fiber to the home to enhance SCTC’s high-speed broadband coverage to all locations in Scott County within the next three to five years.
Franklin explained SCTC works with a large network of internet providers through resources like IRIS, LIT, Level 3, and Hurricane Electric. With these partnerships, SCTC rural customers have access to sophisticated networking systems that provide unparalleled service. “Our rural customers might experience a momentary glitch in service if one of the networks should go down but then their service is immediately re-routed to another provider, so service is not interrupted,” Franklin explained.
As a rural cooperative, SCTC has been able to secure millions of dollars in federal funds to provide bandwidth up to 400 gigabytes. This is extremely beneficial for economic development recruitment in the region, Franklin stated. Within the last six months, SCTC has received requests from business customers requesting 100 gigabytes of service.
He explained this could be a data service company sending “massive files to a backup storage facility” on a repetitive daily basis. Home-based customers also have the same option of requesting upgraded bandwidth service to accommodate their personal needs.
Franklin explained most home users average use of bandwidth is around 50 megabytes, which includes three televisions, one telephone line, and four or five additional devices drawing bandwidth from the home. “If for some reason, they need more bandwidth at home, personal consumers have the option of purchasing up to 10 gigs of service where we have installed fiber to the home.” Most home users will never need that much coverage, but that option will become available once we have extended our fiber network throughout the county.
Along with phone, cable television and internet services, SCTC also offers home security systems, whole home PVR, medical alert monitoring and TV everywhere. And since, SCTC’s focus is on rural service, these services can be offered at more affordable prices than most other competitors.
Even with all the recent upgrades and services, SCTC still remains true to its initial mission of providing service to underserved areas. Most recently, the cooperative became one of the few cooperatives in the country to enter into a partnership with an electric cooperative to provide broadband services in underserved areas.
SCTC and Powell Valley Electric Coop have entered into an agreement to provide service to portions of Lee and Wise counties in Virginia and serve Powell Valley Electric’s Tennessee customers.
“Our footprints overlap, so it made good business sense to partner with them to serve those customers,” Franklin said.
Franklin is optimistic about Scott County Telephone Cooperative’s future. “We continue to remain committed to our original mission of providing quality telecommunication services at the most reasonable rates. We’ve been blessed to have received a large number of Federal and State grants to provide state-of-the-art, uninterrupted communications services at reasonable rates to our rural communities.”
Within the next five years, all of Scott County will have fiber optic to the home and SCTC will continue to look at new and better ways to serve its customers.
Community contributor Pam Cox is the director of tourism for Scott County, Virginia.