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100 years of Farmers Telephone: From bean farmers to the Wi-Fi age

Company pushes centennial celebration to next year
The Farmers Telephone Museum in Pleasant View is housed in the building where the company originally launched in 1920.

A local company that was started by a group of pinto bean farmers and from a desire to stay connected to rural neighbors in 1920 is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Farmers Telephone, a telecommunications company in Pleasant View and Cortez, offers phone, internet and web services.

“In rural America, 100 years ago, you had to rely on your neighbors and that communication was pretty critical,” said Terry Hinds, general manager of Farmers Telephone.

The group of farmers and neighbors pooled their resources and sold shares, at $25 each, to finance the operation and pay for the infrastructure. They worked to run the telephone lines together, and families had to set their own telephone poles. It was a community effort, Hinds said.

The focus on community and connection has not changed in the last 100 years, according to the company. Hinds said its one of the company’s assets and one of the reasons it has been a staple in Southwest Colorado for a century.

After schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and left many students without internet, Hinds said the company installed three Wi-Fi hot spots in Cortez so students could access them and finish their school year.

While the company originally planned to celebrate with a gathering of 250 to 300 people, live music and games, it has decided to postpone the festivities until next year to follow public health advice and social-distancing requirements related to the coronavirus.

“We put the kibosh on doing anything big,” Hinds said. “We want to be able to celebrate with our customers and give back to them, too.”

Although the company might not be celebrating its 100th anniversary with a party this year, Hinds announced it an expansion of internet services to Dolores and Lewis. He said there has been interest from those communities because residents want “more robust access to internet.”

Earlier this year, the company also expanded to the Dove Creek community, which “had limited access to high speed internet,” Hinds said.

The push to expand internet access to rural communities is a statewide effort. The Colorado Office of Broadband, which hopes to expand internet coverage to all of rural Colorado, estimates not much has changed in the past year.

By the end of May, 87.1% of rural communities in Colorado had access to broadband, up from 86% in May 2019. In the past year, the state has awarded $20 million in grants to private internet providers and local governments to increase internet service to rural communities, according to a report in The Colorado Sun.

Farmers Telephone plans to continue its expansion while touting its 100-year legacy.

The company has the Farmers Telephone Museum housed in the original building where the company launched in 1920 in Pleasant View. The museum has photographs, equipment and memorabilia collected in the past century, including vintage switchboards and telephones.

The company, which started with a switchboard and an operator, moved to direct dial in the late 1950s and began offering dial-up internet service and email in 1997.

“We’re a rural partner,” Hinds said. “That’s our strength.”

lweber@durangoherald.com

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