March 27, 2019
Mark Gailey, President & G.M. of Totah Communications, talks about the history and evolution of the company—from switch boards to fiber—that has connected the Ochelata, Oklahoma community since 1954.
Tell us about Totah.
Totah is a family company through and through. It was started by E.R. and Lela Belle Gailey and Mr. Ray League in 1954 as was the Ochelata Telephone company, but my grandparents changed it to Totah Telephone Co., Inc. We then changed the name to Totah Communications, Inc. in 2004. Like most other companies, we have followed technology changes through the years. Back in the day, switch boards were operated originally by Lela Belle, and then by Jesse (my dad) and Barbara (my aunt), who were still teenagers at the time. We then migrated to step switches, then digital, and now soft switches. We went from number please, to direct dial party lines, to one party lines in 1978. We now offer voice, broadband, and LD services along with WISP services outside our certificates areas. My father came back to Totah as GM in 1966 and then when my grandparents retired, my father became the President and GM. My journey mirrored my father’s as I took the helm as GM in 1996 and then became President and GM when he retired in 1998, when he became Chairman of the Board until he passed away in 2012. Today Totah is entirely owned by the direct descendants of E.R and Lela Belle including an aunt, an uncle, two brothers, three cousins, and myself.
What’s your most recent corporate accomplishment?
We were recently awarded a grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) with the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). This was a huge help to our company that we are confident will help us bring new opportunities to the community.
When you think about your company’s future, what, if anything, keeps you up at night?
Keeping Totah a viable business for the next generation of Gaileys, our employees, and retirees. We have several employees who are second-generation members of Totah as well. Our company operates in many ways as a family, even if folks are not literally related, so I have always felt a big responsibility to our employees.
What unique challenges does your company face while serving rural communities across the state?
The regulatory environment continues to be challenging. Due to geographic conditions, we spend a lot of money to deploy fiber so folks have access to the services they want and should have. We hope to find adequate opportunities to recover costs so we can continue providing the community the way we have for generations.
What are two websites that you can’t get through the day without checking?
My personal one stop shop: MSN online.