Panhandle Telephone Cooperative, Inc. has come a long way since its inception in the early 1950s when a representative of the Rural Electrification Administration in Washington, D.C. met in the Beaver County Farm Bureau facilities with some 35 individuals who were intent upon acquiring telephone service for themselves and their neighbors.
Delegates from Beaver, Cimarron, Ellis, Harper, Texas, and Woodward counties were present at the many meetings which followed. Many obstacles had to be overcome, including getting a statute passed that would permit telephone cooperatives to operate in the State of Oklahoma.
The original board of trustees consisted of Carlyle Brown, Carl Cline, W.A.Colvin, W.M. Deck, Royce Mires, Marion Peters, and Wesley Sanders, who were all members of the original group of individuals who helped form the cooperative. The first manager was Earl Alden, who retired in 1959 due to ill health. In 1956, the cooperative acquired its first REA loan in the amount of $515,000 for improvement of service to 506 subscribers, including 266 new members. Two years later, the cooperative cut over service to its first four exchanges: Adams, Balko/Bryans Corner, Floris, and Tyrone, with about 600 subscribers.
Robert Jeffries was hired as manager in 1960. In the winter of 1960 and early 1961, 485 subscribers were added to service with the acquisition of four more exchanges: Hardesty, Eva, Griggs, and Felt-Wheeless. The Logan exchange in southern Beaver County followed in April of 1962, and in January of 1963, the Kenton exchange was added.
Continued growth and expansion of facilities made it necessary in 1962 to raise money for the new installation and the construction of a headquarters building. This building was located at 603 S. Main Street, Guymon, Oklahoma, and continues to serve as the cooperative’s headquarters to this date.
In 1967, the cooperative secured a loan from REA in the amount of $1,640,000 to upgrade service from an eight-party system to a four-party system, extending and replacing old lines with buried cable.
In 1970, the cooperative borrowed an additional $490,000 from REA to complete current projects, rearrange toll facilities, provide for new subscribers, and offer direct distance dialing (DDD) service.
1973 marked the beginning of two major projects for improvement of quality service to PTCI’s subscribers: 1) The conversion of subscriber billing to a computer system, and 2) The upgrade of all exchanges to one-party service using all buried cable.
In 1973, the cooperative purchased the Turpin area from Southwestern Bell Telephone Company with approximately 185 main stations. Also in 1973, the cooperative made a decision to sign a toll cost study agreement with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. This study helped the cooperative realize a more equitable toll settlement agreement which substantially increased revenue. This much-needed revenue provided for improved local and toll service to subscribers.
Gary Kennedy, who had worked for the company since 1958, was chosen to succeed Robert Jeffries as manager in 1979. Gary started out as the bookkeeper and moved up through the ranks to assistant manager before being promoted to general manager. He was very involved in the state and national arena in telephone issues and served on the board of several organizations including OTA, NTCA, and OPASTCO.
1980 marked the completion of the upgrade of all exchanges to one-party service using all buried cable.
In September 1983, the cooperative purchased the exchanges of Hooker and Forgan from Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. This acquisition increased subscriber number by 52% with 4,156 total subscribers in all exchanges. By May 1984, all of the Hooker subscribers enjoyed completely buried cable and private line service, and by June 1984, Forgan also had totally buried private line service completed.
In an attempt to deal with the FCC’s decision to deregulate the telephone industry, the cooperative formed a subsidiary early in 1983. Panhandle Telecommunication Systems, Inc. (PTSI) afforded the cooperative competitive avenues to sell business telephone systems, paging systems, and other associated telephone equipment.
In 1985, PTSI purchased Telefast Answering Service, which proved to be a very successful business. Since PTSI’s incorporation in 1985, it has continued to expand by offering such services as television, answering service, internet, paging, and cellular.
In 1985, all PTCI exchanges were upgraded to digital switches allowing for enhanced features like Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail. In 1987, the PTCI network completely converted to digital technology.
In 1988, PTSI designed and built a digital video network for the Beaver County schools. The “Panhandle Shar-Ed Video Network of Beaver County” (PSVN) as it was called, provided full video-audio interaction between the four Beaver County high schools. It was one of the very first teaching systems of its kind in the United States utilizing fully digital facilities via fiber optic cable. PSVN eventually served most of the area high schools.
On June 1, 1989, PTSI began carrying all of AT&T’s long distance toll traffic out of the Oklahoma Panhandle. PTSI negotiated a five-year contract with AT&T to carry all their toll traffic via fiber optic cable to Amarillo, Texas, in conjunction with XIT Telephone Cooperative, which met PTSI’s facilities at the Oklahoma-Texas state line.
In June of 1989 PTSI entered the cellular telephone business. PTSI was one of three partners who were awarded RSA 2 in the Texas Panhandle. In August of 1989, PTSI was awarded RSA 1, becoming the primary cellular service provider in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
In October 1989 the cooperative provided equal access of long distance carriers to all its subscribers. This was just another step in providing telecommunications services to our subscribers like those available to telephone users in metropolitan areas of the country.
In 1994, PTCI acquired eight new exchange areas from GTE. Seven of the acquired exchanges became a part of PTCI. At this same time, EagleNet, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of PTCI, was formed. EagleNet, Inc. was a commercial telephone company serving the City of Guymon with over 6,500 customers. The combined customer base of PTCI and EagleNet, Inc. was in excess of 16,500. Investment for facilities in the two companies exceeded $80 million.
Panhandle Telecommunication Systems, Inc., (PTSI), offered deregulated telecommunications services to the Oklahoma Panhandle, North Texas Panhandle, and Southwest Kansas.
PTSI was the primary cellular service provider for RSA #1 of Oklahoma, serving over 5,500 cellular customers throughout the Oklahoma Panhandle. PTSI also provided internet, paging, DBS (DIRECTV) service, PTSI Long Distance, and a 24-hour answering service. Internet and DIRECTV had over 1,500 customers each.
The Panhandle Shar-Ed Video Network (PSVN) for the Panhandle area’s high schools and local university was one of the first interactive teaching systems to join the State of Oklahoma’s OneNet system. This system connected all universities, colleges, vocational-technical schools and eventually school districts throughout Oklahoma.
PTSI also provided interexchange toll transport via its Western Fiber Toll Network and through a regional partnership called Forte. This fiber-based network provided redundant toll transport for interexchange carriers south from El Paso, north to Colorado Springs, west to Albuquerque, and east to Dallas-Fort Worth.
In December 1994, Gary Kennedy retired and Ron Strecker became the Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Strecker has been actively involved in the telephone industry and with PTCI since 1975. He has served on numerous state and national telephone industry boards and committees. These include the Rural Cellular Association (RCA) Board, Communications Supply Services Association (CSSA) Board, RCA’s Marketing Committee, several OPASTCO committees including ROSS-7 Committee, MFJ/Infrastructure Committee, Radio, Cellular, BETR’s and PCN Committee, the Southwestern Bell Regional Planning Committee, and the OPASTCO Board of Directors.
In April of 1999, PTCI/EagleNet introduced a state-of-the-art service. Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line, or ADSL, brought access to expanded capabilities to many of the companies’ customers. The product, marketed under the name JETNET ADSL, provides a constant, high-speed Internet connection, with the future capability of delivering video for business and entertainment.
2000 to 2009
One of the effects of deregulation became a reality in the year 2000. In April of the millennium year, Intra-LATA Equal Access was instituted in the PTCI service area. The change allowed customers to dial directly to the long distance company of their choice for calls originating and terminating within the LATA.
In 2004, the decision was made to market all services offered by PTCI and its subsidiary, PTSI, under the one name ‘PTCI’ in order to eliminate customer confusion.
PTCI established competitive telecommunications service in Perryton, Texas in 2001, offering local, long distance, dial-up Internet and ADSL high-speed Internet access, along with the latest in telephone features and services. In April 2004, PTCI expanded its competitive telecommunications services to include Spearman, Texas, providing voice and data via fiber optics.
In January 2002, PTCI rolled out Digital Interactive Television (DITV) to Guymon subscribers. By July 2004, DITV was also available to 16 communities in the Oklahoma Panhandle as well as the town of Perryton, Texas. DITV offered high quality digital picture and sound using the same phone line that delivered voice service and high-speed internet access. Continued upgrades were made to the DITV system and channel lineup. A full-time DITV video production technician was hired in 2006 to improve and expand local television content.
PTCI acquired Cebridge cable television properties in 2005 and began servicing customers in Beaver, Boise City, Forgan, Hardesty, Hooker, and Laverne in the Oklahoma Panhandle. At the same time, PTCI acquired Cebridge properties of Booker, Darrouzett, Follett, and Spearman in the Texas Panhandle, bringing approximately 2500 cable customers with acquired Cebridge properties. In 2006, PTCI purchased Texhoma cable television property.
By 2006, PTCI had 26 cell sites in the Oklahoma Panhandle with more planned for the future. In the third quarter of 2007, PTCI expanded its basic cellular home area into the upper Texas Panhandle by placing four cell sites in Sherman County, Texas.
TDMA and analog technology was turned off the Gate cell site in May 2007 in efforts to improve the CDMA service there. This was the beginning of a move toward eliminating TDMA and analog equipment from PTCI cellular towers, with the final shut down designated as February 2008.
Cellular short message service (SMS) was offered in 2006 and new cellular data plans were created in 2007 that included picture, video, internet access, and unlimited MMS.
In 2007, plans were in place to roll out Evolution-Data Optimized (EVDO), also referred to as 3G, at 16 cell sites in Phase 1 of the cellular upgrade to enable wireless Internet access using broadband radio frequencies. EVDO service was turned up in 2008.
PTCI management continued to listen to their customers and monitored the industry trends. As a result, the Nationwide and USA Select cellular plans were established and later enhanced to include more minutes and free mobile-to-mobile, and cellular rates were further reduced. In the third quarter 2007, myCustom Pak was rolled out which enabled subscribers to customize the content of their bundled services and save money at the same time. PTCI also increased the speed of JETNET high-speed Internet while reducing the rates.
In 2006, PTCI began to utilize 700 MHz wireless spectrum to deliver high-speed Internet to rural customers in the Oklahoma Panhandle who could not receive the service from PTCI otherwise. In 2007, the same spectrum was utilized in Spearman and Perryton.
In 2007, five cell sites were added (Keyes, Yarbrough, Forgan, rural Gate, and Slapout) and in 2008 Elmwood, Cimarron, and Liberal were added. In 2009 Felt town was added.
In 2009, in efforts to improve broadband outside the towns, PTCI began to lay fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) to the most densely populated areas that have high subscription to existing broadband. A Business Solutions Specialists was hired to focus on business networks and other services.
2010 to present
2010- Several marketing and awareness campaigns debut in 2010. Don’t be a Thumbskull debuted in April to address the hazards of texting and driving at area schools and health and safety fairs. The “Refer a Friend” program debuted in May.
VOD (Video on Demand) was made available to portions of PTCI’s service area.
PTCI added several more cell sites; one in Texas (Stevens),Tyrone, Ponderosa, Mocane, Gate and Jeffus. Additional sectors were added on the Guymon South tower, Goodwell, and Hooker Town sites. Lightning struck the Kenton repeater in November 2010 and a new cell site in Kenton was installed in January 2011, providing coverage better than the old repeater. In addition to these cell sites, a portable cellular tower on a trailer was set up in Tyrone bringing the total cell sites to 39, which included four in Sherman County, Texas, and one in Liberal, Kansas. The portable trailer was moved to Optima.
E911 service became available for our cellular customers in the counties that have E911.
Each year PTCI adds more FTTH locations around the area which allows customers higher speed broadband as well as digital TV (IPTV).
All Cebridge cable systems were decommissioned and upgraded in all those locations other than Darrouzett and Follett which we no longer serve.
VDSL services rolled out in Perryton.
With ADSL, VDSL, FTTH, and LTE deployments PTCI is reaching as many customers as we can to meet the National Broadband plan requirements.
PTCI partnered with NetAmerica for 700 MHz LTE Network. July 2011, Expanded the Local calling area to the entire PTCI calling area in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The website received an extreme makeover.
September 2011, received Cable Fax Magazine Independent Community Service Award.
PTCI continued in 2012 to bring cutting edge technology to the Panhandles. PTCI utilized 700 MHz wireless spectrum by implementing a 4G LTE (long-term evolution) network to rural customers in the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles. The Laverne store was relocated in Laverne. Bob Squad Tech Support rolled out in March to provide customers with complete installation of entertainment devices as well as computer services to go along with PTCI’s newest full line of computer products. In June PTCI went “Google” offering Google Apps™ Suite. PTCI launched a new classified ads site www.ptciclassifieds.com. PTCI partnered with an area electric coop to provide 2012 International Year of Cooperatives celebration events. 700MHz spectrum was purchased from Verizon in the Texas Panhandle (RSA Texas 2) to offer fixed broadband to more rural residents. PTCI continues to support and promote education by implementing the Honor Roll t-shirt program for area schools in PTCI service areas. Ron Strecker, CEO, retired after 38 years with PTCI on December 17, 2012. Shawn Hanson, began December 18, 2012, as General Manager and CEO of PTCI.
In 2014, PTCI formed a strategic network sharing agreement with AT&T and deployed a new 4G LTE cellular network. The new network provides better geographic coverage than the old 3G network. By the end of 2014, the new network consisted of 33 cell towers with plans for four more in 2015. PTCI also negotiated an agreement with Apple and launched the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ models in November 2014. In June of 2015, PTCI began offering Broadband as a patronage service in response to the declining landline service subscribership. Broadband has become an essential service, so bringing it into the Cooperative moves PTCI into the 21st Century.
PTCI initiated a five-to-seven-year plan to bring fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) infrastructure to all of the exchanges in the Oklahoma Panhandle with construction beginning in 2015. The decision to build out FTTH in the remaining communities of the Oklahoma panhandle lacking this technology will ensure PTCI has advanced telecommunications infrastructure for decades to come. FTTH is capable of supporting Internet speeds of up to a gigabit of information per second. In 2016, fiber construction and customer conversions in Beaver, Forgan, and Phase I of Guymon were completed.
PTCI refreshed its brand in January 2017 with a new logo. The rebranding represented a successful and continuing transition to a company well beyond its humble beginnings as a landline-only service provider. On April 14, 2017, PTCI became Oklahoma’s first Gig Certified internet provider—receiving special accolades from NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association. Also in April 2017, PTCI launched Unlimited Cellular Data plans and Skinny TV, a 14-channel TV lineup viewed by streaming content over the internet. To help area small businesses combat cybersecurity threats, PTCI introduced Managed Services in May. Reflective of the shift in technology and changing communications methods, July 2017 marked the date PTCI reached more broadband customers than landline customers. In August, PTCI reached another milestone of 8,000 cellular customers. September brought more honors as PTCI was named a recipient of NTCA’s Smart Rural Community Certification. Later that year in December, PTCI was selected as a Smart Rural Community Showcase Award Winner. Also during 2017, Phases II and III of Guymon were converted to fiber.
In January 2018, PTCI was awarded 600 MHz spectrum by the FCC, through auction, to bolster the cellular network. PTCI introduced a new service in March of 2018 to help customers transition from traditional TV service to internet-based streaming services with Streaming Care, which provides home and phone support for subscribing customers. Being one of a few rural partners, PTCI helped construct FirstNet— the first nationwide public safety broadband network to provide first responders the advanced communication and collaboration technologies they need to help them do their jobs safely and effectively. PTCI’s first FirstNet site went live in August, 2018 with completion of all sites in September. In October 2018, PTCI began fiber construction to deliver high-speed internet to Lipscomb, Glazier, and Canadian, TX. Fiber construction and customer conversions in Laverne were also completed in 2018.
In January 2019, PTCI announced that it would be discontinuing TV business on June 30, 2020, due to the steep rise in cost of programming. PTCI began offering TechHome and TechOffice technology solutions that offer antivirus, cloud backup, password protection, and more in April 2019. Customers in Hooker were converted to fiber in 2019. Also in 2019 began a 5-7 year “Rural Surge” project, extending fiber to all the farms and ranches within our serving territory. The “Rural Surge” project replaces over 2,000 miles of outdated cable and provides high-speed internet to customers in remote locations.