In an ongoing effort to help drive economic growth, Santa Rosa Communications has been aggressively building fiber networks to bring high-speed broadband to rural Texas for the past 20 years.
“If a business is looking to move out to rural area they want to know: Do you have broadband? Do you have fast Internet,’’ said Kirk Petty, CEO and general manager of Santa Rosa Communications. “Years ago, what were they looking for? Do you have railroads? Do you have highways?”
Santa Rosa Communications – which includes Santa Rosa Telephone Cooperative and Santa Rosa Communications LTD – operates as an incumbent local exchange carrier and a competitive local exchange carrier serving an immense 4,500 square-mile rural service territory in North Central Texas including Childress, areas around Wichita Falls as well as South Central Oklahoma.
For Santa Rosa, fiber technologies to support high-speed Internet connectivity for consumers and businesses are key to driving economic development in rural Texas, Petty said.
“People are moving back into Childress and opening up businesses – training centers and call centers – because they have the bandwidth to do it,’’ Petty said.
Santa Rosa, based in Vernon with offices in Haskell, Seymour and Childress, provides local and long distance voice services as well as high-speed Internet to support Internet Protocol television (IPTV) and streaming video for about 5,800 residential and business customers.
While about 90 percent of Santa Rosa customers are residential, the company also serves business and government customers including 13 schools, three hospitals, three wind farms, a solar farm and a coal-fired power plant throughout the sprawling service territory.
Still, it remains a challenge to build out networks and deliver services to customers spread out across a large region. “We have approximately 1.16 customers per route mile of cable,’’ Petty said.
With 55 employees, Santa Rosa was founded in 1951 to provide a vital lifeline to rural Texans. At the time, telephone service was typically available only in towns or along major highways.
With support from the federal Rural Electrification Administration (now the Rural Utilities Service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and made possible by passage of the federal Rural Telephone Act in 1949, Santa Rosa introduced local voice service with the installation of eight party lines.
Much has changed since those early days. In 1998, Santa Rosa began deploying fiber near the home technologies to serve consumers and businesses. Santa Rosa has continued providing fiber-to-the-home technology with speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to support voice, high speed Internet and IPTV with plenty of additional bandwidth for future applications. About 90 percent of the company’s local phone service territory is served by fiber technologies.
“My rural customers are getting the same thing that AT&T’s urban customers are getting,’’ Petty said. ”Does everybody in Austin have fiber to the home?”
Since 1998, Santa Rosa has invested nearly $53 million in deploying fiber and technology upgrades, largely funded by federal loans to encourage development of telecommunications services in rural areas. The company also has built redundancy into the network so that if there is a fiber cut customer traffic can be rerouted. Santa Rosa has installed more than 5,000 miles – or about 26 million feet – of fiber throughout its service area.
Access to voice and high-speed Internet is essential in Santa Rosa’s service territory as mobile phone service is spotty. “I have board members who have to stand on top of their tractors to talk to me on their cellphone,’’ Petty said.
Looking forward, Petty sees Santa Rosa continuing to grow by adding new services such as “smart home’’ applications and managed services. Serving rural areas remains challenging as it is costly to deploy network facilities to customer locations in rural less-populated areas – areas that traditionally have received support from the universal service fund (USF).
“Fiber deployment allows us to offer our rural customers the same services that are available in many urban areas,’’ Petty said. “If you are going to be able to serve customers in rural areas, you are going to have to continue to have the universal service fund. Without USF, customers in the rural parts of Texas couldn’t afford these services.”