KC Sheperd, Farm Director, is visiting with the general manager of Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Blake Callaham, about increasing broadband access for Oklahomans and innovations in connectivity.
The Pioneer Telephone Cooperative began in 1953, Callaham said, as an electric cooperative.
“Over the last 70 years, we have really taken pride in connecting what matters for our members and all of western Oklahoma, as a matter of fact,” Callaham said. “With that, it has really evolved over the past 70 years, and our main mission has remained the same.”
The main mission, Callaham said, is to connect what matters.
“We believe that path, today, is through fiber internet,” Callaham said. “That is where we are headed, and we are proud of our history.”
In many parts of rural Oklahoma, Callaham said there would not be connectivity if it wasn’t for cooperatives such as Pioneer Telephone taking the initiative to serve in those places that are harder to reach.
“As a cooperative, we take great pride in connecting those members and those customers to what matters most,” Callaham said. “After all, rural America deserves exactly what urban America can receive as well.”
Callaham talked about the part Pioneer Telephone Cooperative is playing in Oklahoma’s goal to provide 100 percent of the state with access to broadband in the next five years.
“We don’t necessarily have the rules for that just yet, but we are looking forward to working with the state to achieve that mission,” Callaham said. “As far as pioneer, we have been one of the most aggressive fiber builds since, I would say, probably the early 2000s, but really ramped it up since about 2016. So, we are currently around 70 percent fiber available to all of our membership and very proud of that number.”
Working to help rural American gain access to connectivity, Callaham said, is important for a number of reasons as virtual learning, remote working, and even virtual doctors and health checkups have become more common.
“We are wanting to laser focus on getting fiber to those communities in western Oklahoma,” Callahan said.
A new department is being developed within Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Callaham said, called the Innovation Development and Transformation department. As technology changes, Callaham said, this department will focus on future evolution.
“This new department will be tasked to develop four new products, features or services per year,” Callaham said. “The reason we are doing that is because we know that today is broadband. Today is broadband internet.”
As fiber is the future, Callaham said the goal of Pioneer Telephone Cooperative is to continually innovate as technology changes.
“Fiber is a foundation,” Callaham said. “It is a very solid foundation for our future.”
Callaham also talked about Pioneer Telephone Cooperative’s annual event coming up on May 2 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. The cooperative has launched a new cookbook that has been popular among members, he added, and they will now be giving away new 70th-anniversary cookbooks to celebrate.
“The past 70 years, Pioneer has meant a lot to western Oklahoma, and we are here for another 70 years,” Callaham said. “Although our goals and our technology changes, we are still here, and we are going to be here, and we are looking forward to seeing each and every one of our members at our annual meeting in May.”