Area telecom co-op celebrates 60 years
It pursues state-of-the-art service
The year was 1961. Presidents of five telephone exchanges in Morris County were afraid that their rural exchanges would be swallowed up by a larger company.
They had a vision to merge small, local exchanges into one cooperative that would include exchanges in Morris, Dickinson, and Marion counties. Together, they decided, they would have the resources to develop a member-owned network, much like rural electric cooperatives.
After many community meetings to garner support, Tri-County Telephone Association was formed in June 1961, and board members were elected. Today it is known as TCT.
The company was incorporated and formally established by 1963. Arrangements were made to purchase small telephone companies.
At their first annual meeting in February 1964, board members hired a young engineer to help them build a technically advanced network to provide quality of service.
Lines were buried, systems were upgraded, and a headquarters was built in Council Grove.
From 1965 to 1967, Lost Springs, Pilsen, Tampa, Burdick, Lincolnville, and Ramona were added, along with communities in Dickinson County.
The company purchased existing toll lines and negotiated an annual fee to extend service to Abilene and Herington.
The 1960s ended with the company divided into four districts and a new headquarters.
In the late ’70s, new technologies such as digital switching and satellite service were embraced. The company worked on making mobile phones more accessible.
In the late 70s, computers for operating the network were introduced.
The 1980s saw big changes in technology, industry structure, policy, and regulations.
After the federal government split up the Bell Telephone System, Tri-County joined Kansas Independent Telephone Companies Partnership for help in keeping up with regulations.
In 1989, TCT seized the opportunity to offer cellular service, combining with Liberty Cellular.
In the 1990s, the company installed a fiber optic network. Cell phone towers were constructed at Woodbine, Lincolnville, and Wilsey.
In March 1998, the company announced a $1 million profit margin.
In 2000, TCT took over management of Council Grove Telephone system. Council Grove still was on party lines at the time and needed upgrades. It joined TCT in 2008.
TCT started a subsidiary company, TCWireless, to offer high speed internet in rural areas beyond its own network.
All lines were buried and extended to customers’ premises. By 2015, the network was complete.
The headquarters was expanded several times, and new departments such as marketing, human relations, and information technology were added.
TCT got into the television business when it bought the Council Grove Television Service.
It continued to expand, providing set-top boxes for video service. During C0VID-19, internet speed was increased to 50 megabits per second at no charge for four months so people were able to work and attend classes from home with no issues. Today many customers are using gigabit speeds.
Service was expanded to other areas including Hillsboro and sections of Abilene.
“Hillsboro wanted to be a gig community,” general manager Dale Jones said. “They had seen what TCT offers other Marion County communities, and we worked together to make Hillsboro a gig-certified, smart rural community.”
The company now is advancing from set-top boxes for video service to offering a NuGen streaming app.