Member Spotlight: Oneida County Rural Telephone

Oneida County Rural Telephone’s Jim McCarthy talks about his company’s central New York FTTH expansion and the challenges inherent in regulatory uncertainty.

Tell us about Oneida County Rural Telephone Co.
Oneida County Rural Telephone Company (OCRT) is a third-generation family owned business, founded in 1905, serving approximately 125 square miles in Central New York. Today we have 1,200 access lines as well as 1,300 Internet subscribers. More than 900 of our subscribers are FTTH customers and we anticipate our fiber served customers to exceed 1,000 by the end of the year.

We also own and operate a CLEC, Northland Communications ( ) that provides business communications services and equipment to the Mohawk Valley, Utica, Syracuse and surrounding communities. Northland has built and maintains a redundant fiber optic network of over 500 miles, built into 1,600 unique buildings throughout Central New York to support its growing customer base.

What’s your biggest or most recent corporate accomplishment?
Oneida County Rural Telephone is very grateful to have been awarded a $3.2m grant from the NYS Broadband Program office in support of Governor Cuomo’s initiative to bring broadband to all residents of New York State. To date, we have constructed approximately 140 miles of fiber passing 600 otherwise unserved homes, defined as not being able to access broadband speeds of 25mbps in the most rural portions of our service territory. The network will pass an additional 1,000 homes, which will allow us to compete with the national VoIP and CATV providers.

When you think about your company’s future, what, if anything, keeps you up at night?
Although there are many regulatory uncertainties from both state and federal perspectives, there is a new level of excitement around our company, both internally with our team members, as well as within our community. Much of that excitement is centered on our new FTTH network that is enabling us to provide the type of speeds our customers are expecting today, living in a digital world, as well as enabling us to better compete in the industry. Our newly expanded network is enabling us to win-back customers after years of declining subscriber counts.

Understanding the impact new technologies such as 5G will have on our organization is also something we have been giving a lot of thought. Is it a threat, is it an opportunity, or is it both?

What unique challenges does your company face while serving rural communities across the state?
I don’t know that our challenges are unique to other rural service providers. We live in a world of regulatory uncertainty. We compete against lightly to non-regulated competitors and even with grant programs the business model to provide the communities we serve with broadband is very challenging.  In order to win back customers from our CATV competitors we also have to educate a portion of our customers on not only the benefits of cutting the cord, but how to do it. To accomplish this, we have a held a series of educational “Cut the Cord” lunch and learn events that have been very well received.

What are two websites that you can’t get through the day without checking?