The History of KCTC
In 1905 the Kalona Mutual Switchboard Company was founded to provide organized switching services to independently operated farm lines, as well as to the town and surrounding county lines. The eight-member board of directors was comprised of four directors from Kalona and the president of each of the four farm lines. The cord board, the current technology for connecting customers, was run by an operator who was on duty 24 hours a day. Although the system may seem primitive in this age of advanced calling features and wireless communications, they had caller ID (the operator knew everyone in town and who was calling), conference calling (party lines), distinctive ringing, and call forwarding (the operators always knew how to find the doctor and veterinarian, and typically a lot of other people as well).
In 1930, the Kalona Independent Telephone Company came into existence. It handled the rural lines, each of which had its own officers. Annual switching dues for each of the 186 customers were $7.00. In 1946, the two companies merged to form the Kalona Cooperative Switchboard Company. Membership dues were $10 per year per main phone number. Each customer of the cooperative became a shareholder with one vote. This system is still in place today and keeps KCTC a local interest company.
In 1950 a new office building was constructed at 510 B avenue, and in 1951 a new automatic drop switchboard was installed that eliminated the need for customers to crank their phone to connect. Ten years later, an automatic dial system was installed, and the old multi-party rural lines were replaced by metallic eight-party lines. These new lines replaced the need for batteries in phones due to a 48 VDC power output from the office to the customer. In 1976 the company completed its evolution from eight-party metallic lines to single party service, with completely buried outside plant. Having the entire network of service lines underground reduced maintenance by nearly 80%. That same year KCTC bought all long distance access lines from Bell Telephone System. This meant that KCTC owned the rights to all lines going in and out of its switch, bringing a new level of self-sufficiency and revenue control, as well marking the company’s first steps into global telecommunications.
By 1979 KCTC had become the most advanced telephone company in the area, which included Northwestern Bell, General Telephone, Continental Telephone, as well as independent companies. It offered many new services to its customers: answer and transfer, answer record and transfer with remote control, call diverters, automatic dialers, hands-free speaker phones, decorator phones, and paging systems.
A new era for the Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company began in 1980 with the construction of a new $250,000 facility at 510 B. Ave. The 8,000 square foot building more than doubled the size of the existing facility, and today it still houses expanded office space, a service garage, warehousing space, a conference room, and retail services. A new DCO Stromberg-Carlson switch was installed in May of the next year to replace the old step-switch technology. This digital/analog combination switch allowed KCTC customers access to many new custom calling features, including call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, 30 number speed dial and many others. Also installed was a new IBM computerized records management system, the first of its kind installed in a small Iowa telephone company. These new features required an increase in the local resident rate to $7.50 per month.
The buzzword in the industry in the late 80’s was convergence: the merging of telecommunications with multimedia formats. General manager Ray Marner, working closely with the board of directors, researched applications for convergence in Kalona. To that end, many avenues of integrated multimedia were explored, along with ever-changing telephone technologies.
In 1991 the board of directors approved a progressive 10-year plan to move the company toward an all-fiber network and interactive video service delivery. Other services, such as video-on-demand, home shopping, high speed data, and home banking were also discussed. KCTC received a cable TV franchise from the town of Kalona. KCTC’s also installed a mobile phone system utilizing Business Band radio with direct phone dialing capability, the precursor of cell phones.
In 1993 the Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company constructed a new building adjacent to the existing facility to meet some pressing needs of the community. The 5,600 square foot building was built to be fully handicapped accessible, with a large lobby area, an office for the Kalona Chamber of Commerce, rental offices, large public rest rooms, and a 100-person capacity multipurpose room. The rear of the building has 3 garage stalls, one vehicle wash room and an equipment repair room that is used by KCTC.
In recognition of the library’s vital role in the community, KCTC donated $4,000 to the Kalona Public Library for the purchase of new technology in 1993.
Early 1995 saw another major change for KCTC when the board approved an ambitious 5-year plan to bring Kalona to the cutting edge of technology with fiber optic service for all customers. While national companies were beginning to talk about provided high speed fiber service in urban areas, Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company’s plans would bring fiber to its mostly rural customers much sooner.
Installation of backbone fiber for optical network units (ONU) sites began in 1996, and soon all toll traffic was routed over the new redundant fiber route.
In 1997 testing was completed on a new Siemens Stromberg-Carlson EWSD central office switch. This system allowed KCTC customers access to advanced calling features such as Name & Number Caller ID, and enabled a host of new services such as video conferencing, ISDN, and high-speed data transfer. The new switch also allowed KCTC to become an independent ISP (internet service provider), bringing Internet Services to the local area and surrounding communities.
1997 also saw the installation of a telephone system and wiring at MP Elementary, including 23,000 ft. of wire, most of which was donated by KCTC. Work then began at Mid Prairie Middle School on data and telephone networks. KCTC also donated money to the Kalona Public Library to purchase additional terminals. Internet classes taught by KCTC staff members began at the Kalona Library free of charge to all of the Kalona community and surrounding areas.
Iowa Wireless Services announced its partnership with the Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company in 1999, bringing digital wireless service to the area. Built-in features of the service would allow customers to send and receive e-mail, voice mail and text messaging all in one unit. KCTC replaced outdated copper lines to Wellman and to Sharon Center/Hills exchanges with fiber optic cable, and continued to deploy fiber in other areas throughout the exchange.
In July of 2000 a PCS tower was completed to include the town of Washington in KCTC’s expanding digital wireless coverage. KCTC partnered with three established local business in Washington to support the growing PCS customer base in that area.
By 2005, KCTC was serving all customers with a hybrid fiber/copper model that provided high-speed (by the standards of the day) internet as well as digital television service over the same copper lines that provided telephone service. The increasing data demands and aging of the copper plant necessitated the final move to Fiber-To-The-Home. This project connected every KCTC customer with state-of-the-art fiber optics for a future-proof network.
Having completed upgrading the Kalona serving area, in 2017 the KCTC Board chose to begin providing the same services to the Washington area in response to pleas from numerous Washington area business customers. By 2022, the entire Washington area will have the choice of Gigabit ready fiber optic service-a service which was shown essential in the pandemic of 2021.
From its small beginnings in 1905, the Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company has grown into one of the most advanced telecommunications companies in the state. In a rural Iowa town known for its 19th century charm, KCTC has positioned itself as a progressive provider of affordable, quality services as well as the latest advanced technology.