With an eye on the future, West Texas Rural Telephone Cooperative has been rapidly deploying fiber networks to serve a diverse customer base of businesses and consumers in the Texas Panhandle.
West Texas Rural Telephone Cooperative – or WTRT – currently serves a vast 2,300-square-mile area spanning Deaf Smith and Parmer Counties and portions of Oldham, Castro and Bailey counties.
“We have less than one person per square mile,’’ said Amy Linzey, chief executive officer of West Texas Rural Telephone Cooperative.
WTRT, with about 55 employees, provides high-speed Internet, TV, broadband, and voice communications services to consumers and a mix of business customers including state, federal and local government agencies, school districts, dairies, feedlots, meat packing plants, international corporate customers and large industrial users. Through WTRT’s subsidiary, WT Services , the company provides voice communications, broadband internet, two-way radio services, computer services and security services.
“We are a growing, thriving, evolving and energetic company,’’ Linzey said.
When Linzey assumed the helm of WTRT in 2012, the cooperative was facing financial and technological challenges as well as changes within the industry.
Under her watch, the cooperative has seen change and growth with widespread upgrades to the network – including voice, video and high-speed broadband – to serve the growing demands of consumers and businesses.
“One of the things that had become really obvious to me was I had to upgrade nearly every piece of network,’’ Linzey said.
Since 2012, WTRT has invested some $16 million in deploying fiber and technology upgrades. WTRT has installed more than 315 miles – or 1.6 million feet – of fiber throughout the cooperative service area. When the fiber project is completed, WTRT will have installed nearly 1,000 miles of fiber.
Like many telephone cooperatives, West Texas Rural Telephone Cooperative has a long history of providing a lifeline to rural consumers through voice communications services. WTRT was formed in 1950 after the large commercial telephone companies declined to offer service to the area because of the massive capital investment required to serve such sparsely populated rural communities as well as farms and ranches.
WTRT traces its roots to the passage of the Rural Telephone Act in 1949 which provided low-interest loans from the Rural Electrification Administration (now the Rural Utilities Service under the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Just as the administration had helped illuminate and power rural United States, the availability of low-interest loans led to a new era of growth for rural telecommunications with the availability of quality telephone service to improve the quality of life of rural Texans.
WTRT today supports local communities. Each year, WTRT and WT Services awards about $10,000 in scholarships to local high school students as well as cash and in-kind charitable donations to local communities.
As WTRT deploys new networks and technologies, Linzey continues to listen closely to the demands of consumer and business customers.
“We don’t hold on to the old ways of thinking. We’ve come a long way in six years,’’ Linzey said.
Looking forward, Linzey said rural telecommunications providers must plan for the demands of the future. Demand for high-speed Internet access is growing exponentially’ to support streaming video and other applications, Linzey said.
“The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 was put in place before the big demand for bandwidth,’’ she said. “Our industry is facing a huge disruption from competition and rural companies need to prepare for it.”