As the second decade of the 21st Century comes to a close, we may take time to ponder over the changes of the last 10 years and get ready to make New Year’s Resolutions for 2020, or perhaps even the next decade.
In an interview with Matt Friesen, manager of Mainstay Communications, we discussed both the past and the future. Many changes have taken place at Mainstay over the last decade and indeed over the past 51 years since its inception. Henderson’s current telecommunications company, Mainstay Communications, began as a consolidation of two local telephone companies: the Henderson Town Telephone Company and the Farmers Cooperative Company. The first order of business following the merger was to upgrade the office building and switch to a single-party line system with touch tone dialing.
Over the years, Mainstay has provided excellent telephone service, and, as they branched into a telecommunications company, added television and internet service as well. The most exciting change implemented by Mainstay during the past twenty years was to provide fiber technology to their entire customer base. This new technology superseded the old by replacing the copper cables providing internet access for each home and business with fiber-optic cables.
A three-phase plan was implemented to install fiber-optic cables all customers’ homes:
Phase one: Install fiber cables to hubs within 12,000 feet of each rural home in the Henderson exchange (2002).
Phase two: Trench in fiber cables to each home in town (2008).
Phase three: Replace the copper cables that had originally connected each rural home with the nearest fiber hub with fiber cables (2012).
“The Mainstay Communications Board did a great job of looking into the future and being willing to provide all of our customers with what was needed,” said Friesen. Fiber-optic cables are glass cables encased in plastic, which allow for almost instantaneous data transfer as the internet signal is carried on lightwaves within the fiber cables. In the old copper cables, data was carried via electrical pulses, which is much slower than the lightwave technology.
Fiber also offers a large number of frequencies to transmit various services allowing Mainstay to offer phone, internet and internet protocol television (Cobalt) via the fiber technology. Cobalt is different than cable TV as it travels over the fiber cables and is therefore much faster and more reliable than the former satellite option.
This was not an inexpensive decision as the board voted to borrow $6.5 million dollars to complete this project. Government funds through “The Universal Service Fund” are available to help telecommunications companies with this expense based on area and cost. However, not all phone and internet companies opted to use the money in this way. Many companies in Nebraska opted to spend the money providing fiber connectivity in densely populated or urban areas only, ignoring their rural customers in the process.
This has recently become a large topic in legislature across the country as many who dwell in rural areas are frustrated with their internet connection. In a recent article reprinted by the Lincoln Journal Star on November 11, 2019, it was reported that there is a definite lack of affordable high-speed internet access in many rural areas of the state. While 63% of rural Nebraska struggles with low speed or no internet, Mainstay Communications provides high speed internet coverage fiber to 100% of its rural customers.
What does this mean for Henderson and the surrounding area? By installing fiber cables to each home and business, Henderson area residents are able to have high speed internet and television for their own enjoyment, but also for their businesses. “Without access to reliable and high speed internet, many companies would not be able to function world-wide as they do now.” said Friesen. “This also allows for people to work from home running their own businesses as well as having the option to work for larger companies in other cities via our instantaneous internet connection.”
In another progressive move, Mainstay Communication pursued and received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. This money allows Mainstay to offer low interest loans for economic development projects. Through this grant, Henderson Health Care has been able to borrow over $1 million since 2002 for their construction and equipment needs.
Mainstay Communications is committed to providing the best serves to their customers. They continue to stay abreast of new technology. So what’s in store for the future of Mainstay? In the words of manager Matt Friesen, “By staying ahead of the game and paying attention to current technology, we’ve already done the future.” And for those of us who live in rural Nebraska, we are thankful.
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