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Smithville Communications Inc.: A Local Company with Global Expertise
Technology never stops moving, and since 1922 neither has Smithville Communications Inc. (Smithville). The company started out as a communications provider linking quarries across Indiana’s Monroe County and now provides services to much of the southernmost two-thirds of the state. The telephone company evolved over time to add Internet, television, security and video conferencing to its menu of services, and it remains Indiana’s largest independent, privately held telecommunications broadband provider.
Though it is still a family-owned and -operated entity almost 100 years after being founded, Smithville is no average mom-and-pop operation. The multidimensional data transport provider, which is headquartered in Ellettsville, Ind., employs over 200 professionals led by CEO Darby A. McCarty, and together the team maintains a network of telecommunications infrastructure that stretches across a web of cities as far north as Lafayette, Ind., and as far south as Evansville, Ind. The company proudly owns, operates and maintains the fiber cabling stretching across its service region and completes most new construction activities with in-house labor, relying on trusted subcontractors only for the odd specialty (such as aerial installation, drilling and trenching) or to supply extra manpower.
Smithville headquarters are centrally located, and the company serves both residential and commercial customers through divisions for television, telephony, as well as data and networking services. Behind all three focus areas lies a unified commitment to supporting and serving Smithville’s loyal client base in both urban and rural areas. Technical support centers offer help close to home with Indiana locations, and the company also maintains two retail locations and a web of service centers, from which Smithville assembles and deploys teams to maintain and restore service.
Throughout its expansion Smithville has channeled its efforts toward utilizing technology to the benefit of the community. The company installed the fiber optic network necessary to allow the Indiana University Bloomington Health system to adopt a secure electronic medical record sharing system. In another case, Smithville developed a network allowing behavioral healthcare specialists at Centerstone in Bloomington, Ind., to remotely evaluate prisoners at the Monroe County Jail, eliminating the need for assigning police escorts to see prison patients safely to and from appointments.
Smithville also lent its expertise to connect the German language programs at Edgewood High School in Monroe County and Eastern High School in Greene County. These Indiana schools received the state’s first interactive, full-motion distance-learning connection that allowed both schools’ German language students to be taught simultaneously.
“Smithville has made a number of transitions throughout its history in order to offer a wider variety of service, but possibly the biggest move we have ever undertaken was launching our Fiber to the Home project several years ago,” expands Dave Brodin, CTO at Smithville. The $90 million project will see that the majority of copper wiring in the Smithville system is replaced with a Quantum Fiber Network capable of providing a reliable, high-speed connection to every home it serves.
The company announced the upgrade project, which costs nothing for subscribers, in April 2008 and took the unusual move to focus on connecting Indiana’s rural communities first. Not only that, but the high-speed broadband network installed yields Internet speeds close to that of the speed of light in a vacuum, allowing Smithville to offer Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second. The move came at a time when no other Internet service provider in the state offered speeds greater than 50 megabits per second.
In more practical terms, Smithville’s investment translates to the difference between waiting three hours or more for a full-length movie to download on a typical digital subscriber line (DSL) connection, waiting roughly half that time using a digital cable connection, or waiting mere minutes for the same file to download on a fiber connection. Plus, fiber-optic connections don’t suffer from the same connectivity issues and delays as DSL connections, and because fiber optic cabling is nonconductive it won’t be slowed down or trigger an outage because of rain or if lightning strikes.
Raising the Bar
Data connections of such high speeds have historically only been offered to major bandwidth users like banks, hospitals, and government/military entities, and investing in a system-wide upgrade insures bandwidth-hungry urban centers and rural businesses can compete globally. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services division helped facilitate part of the financing through long-term loans as part of its larger effort to bring infrastructural development into rural areas.
The fiber-optic upgrade also makes way for Smithville to extend its high-definition Internet protocol TV (IPTV) services, video conferencing services and high-end security services to rural customers. Brodin expects the upgrades to reach over 50 percent of the 29,000 Smithville customers in 17 Indiana counties sometime in early 2013, just under five years since it began.
“It’s a constant struggle to stay ahead of bandwidth needs, especially because customers are very upset when their data, TV and telephone connections don’t work,” admits Brodin. “But we’re entirely focused on technology and innovation these days, especially because we feel the great opportunities lie in data delivery.”
The next few years will see Smithville customers settle into truly high-speed bandwidth service, and the company’s $90 million investment helps future-proof its system for tomorrow’s technology needs. Propelled by its proactive operations, Smithville managed to land amongst the nation’s Top 100 Broadband Companies for the fourth year in a row, as ranked by Broadband Communities magazine (the acknowledgment honors companies working toward technological innovations with a high impact on real-world users). Working constantly to strengthen its strong ties to the community and their needs, Smithville Communications Inc. will continue to set a high standard for telecommunications companies that will surely garner the company far more acclaim in the future.