Each customer is more than a number.
For the Hancock Telephone Company with 1,300 customers the ten-employee Company treats every customer like a neighbor. And the company is family, run by the Wrighter family, Bob, Rob and Mike Wrighter. The Wrighters’ family history is closely aligned with the early founders of the small rural telephone company. Founded in 1898 The Hancock Telephone company was one of thousands of small rural telephone companies across America, founded mostly by local farmers needing a way to communicate with each other after the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell. And that is how the Hancock Telephone Company expanded from the Town and Village of Hancock to Winterdale, Pa. when a group of farmers in the early 1900’s asked the phone company to extend service there.
Over the years many of these rural companies merged with “Ma Bell” (AT&T) or other regional telephone companies. Today there are only about 16 local rural telephone companies in New York State. “We stayed under the radar and were never approached by a buyer. We wanted it that way, to stay independent. We had some tough years but we have been able to weather the storm”, says Bob Wrighter, Sr. President and CEO of Hancock Telephone.
“We are profitable and are giving our customers the best service we can but we are not getting rich running this business,” added Rob Wrighter, Bob Wrighter’s son and Hancock Telephone Company vice president and general manager. Rob and his brother Mike, who serves as outside plant supervisor speak proudly of the recent near-completion of a fiber-optic rebuild of the entire Hancock Telephone plant allowing for high-speed broadband and enhanced TV/video and phone service. Like many rural phone companies Hancock Telephone Company relies on state grants and loans to help keep plant and equipment updated. Such support is needed since it would be uneconomical in rural markets such as Hancock to upgrade miles of plant and equipment passing few households, explains Rob Wrighter. “I can’t thank the state enough for its support which is a life-line for us. We could not give our customers the upgraded services they deserve without it,” he adds. The $6.2 million system rebuild in New York passing some 1,500 homes was financed 80 percent by a state grant with the balance paid for by the phone company. The company, at its sole expense, is in the process of adding fiber-optic cable to its 300-home service area in Winterdale, Pa. That rebuild should be complete within two to three years, says Rob Wrighter.
Independent contractors were hired for the fiber-optic rebuild and Hancock Telephone Company outsources most routine maintenance work but Rob Wrighter credits his in-house team of dedicated employees with “playing a major part in the continued success of the business. They are key to our success.”
Much of Hancock Telephone Company’s service area abuts areas served by Verizon which has not provided fiber-optic upgrades to many customers for economic reasons. Hancock Telephone would like to provide fiber-optic and broadband services to underserved Verizon customers in areas such as Callicoon and Starlight, Pa. but adequate grant money needed to do the job is not available to make such a plant build-out economical.
The current Covid-19 pandemic, according to Rob Wrighter, has increased Hancock Telephone’s broad-band customers by some 10 percent as second homeowners settle in the area during the virus scare to escape the close-quarters of New York City and its suburbs.
Asked about the future of Hancock Telephone and the challenges of ever-changing new technology and competition in the telecommunications and video world, Bob Wrighter who first started working for the company as a summer helper in 1964 before joining fulltime climbing poles and installing telephone lines says with a touch of humor “ I have no idea what the future holds. I won’t be around that long and my boys will have to worry about that.”
And the boys are up for the challenge- the Wrighter family which has held a firm hand on the reins of their family company for more than 100 years will likely find ways to navigate forward through any future storms or headwinds blowing across those new fiber-optic lines that stretch for many miles across a rural landscape.