Thank you to everyone that attended the annual meeting this past Saturday, May 6th. For those of you that did not stay for the meeting portion of the annual meeting, the following people were reelected this year: Merrill Brown – Bethune Exchange Donald Plyler – Jefferson Exchange Norman Caldwell – Pageland Exchange Below is the manager’s report given this weekend: 2017 Annual Meeting Manager’s Report
Welcome to this year’s 56th annual meeting and thank you for coming to learn more about the Cooperative today. It takes a tremendous amount of preparation work for a meeting this size, and I would like to personally thank all of the employees here at Sandhill that make this possible. Each year this meeting provides us with an opportunity to meet with many of our members and provide direct access to information about the state of the Cooperative.
This year marks the fifth year that I’ve had the pleasure of providing you with this report and I thought it would be fitting to address some of the highlights that we have accomplished in that timeframe as well as where Sandhill plans to go over the next five years.
I would like to start by stating where we were in 2012. For internet connectivity, the average customer could receive speeds of 1.5Mbps. The maximum speeds offered was 5Mbps and about a third of all customers were not capable of obtaining these types of speeds on a consistent basis. When it came to television, the only choices available to most of the county was either an old-style antenna to obtain local only stations or some type of satellite service that was not reliable during bad weather. For wireless, our area was still on 3G from the major carriers and many areas did not have access to any wireless service at their homes. Security systems were only for doors and windows as a means of protection. Lastly, the telephone system was one technology that had not made any major improvements in almost 20 years.
As technology was rapidly changing, Sandhill had to rapidly change as well to keep current. We invested in a state of the art Voice over IP switch to replace our existing telephone system, offering many new features required by businesses today. On security, we began offering total home connectivity with more video options and more automation for things around the home as the push to make homes smarter got underway. On wireless, we worked with both major carriers in our area to provide fiber connectivity to all wireless towers in our area to improve services to 4G levels and allow for better coverage. Without the fiber we installed over the past five years, wireless services in our area would be lagging behind other areas nearby. With television, we began offering a package that met the needs of our Members and provided reliability regardless of the weather conditions.
Finally, we began investing heavily in fiber connectivity throughout the territory. Much like the highway system can be broken down to interstates, state roads, and county roads, our network can be broken down to connectivity to the outside world, our main core internet highway around our area, and connectivity from there to your homes. We first began by expanding our internal network to one that now offers speeds from 10Mb to 40Mb for homes and even more for businesses and high usage customers. This meant spending almost 3 years building a new fiber ring to replace our previous one and getting equipment that would offer up to 20 times faster connectivity. We worked with other phone companies to build alternate routes to the rest of the world so that our traffic would be protected no matter what. Lastly we doubled the number of equipment locations in our territory from 47 to almost 100 so that our members would be closer to the equipment needed for reliable internet service. These extra 50 locations were all rural locations to try and push the same level of connectivity outside of towns that we have inside of the towns. We realize that we still have pockets of our community that are in need and that is why we are continuing to invest in these extra equipment locations.
These fiber and equipment additions to our network resulted in almost $18 Million dollars invested in our community for better services in just the past 5 years. In addition to this investment, we also were able to distribute back almost $17 Million dollars in capital credits to our membership as well providing a major economic development impact in our community.
While we have understood that we needed to strike a balance between these two ways of reinvesting back into our community, we have also understood that technology is continuing to change yet again at an even faster pace than before. Homes that once had only a couple of devices connected to the internet now have almost 20 on average with that number expected to double again in just the next five years. That is why for the past year and a half we have been actively working on the next evolution of technology for our area – fiber to the home.
This year we are starting with the town of Chesterfield, with McBee and Pageland planning underway. We are yet again expanding our main network equipment to allow for speeds that are ten times what we can offer today. Without the groundwork that we have been doing over the past five years, the work Sandhill is doing today would have been impossible. This final phase will take years to complete throughout our area, but we are committed to doing so for our membership. While we are working on fiber to the home in our main areas, we will also be adding about 15 more cabinets on top of the almost 50 we have already in more rural areas. This means that even though we have to start in the towns to branch out from there, we are not forgetting about the rest of the area in the process.
Our board and the employees here will continue to work to make sure that your Cooperative stays strong well into the future. Through constantly investing in new technology, working with state and federal officials to make sure that we can provide services at reasonable rates, and strengthening our existing plant, we are working to ensure that all members throughout our territory are taken care of regardless of where they live.
In addition to the information provided to you today at this meeting, Sandhill continues to inform the membership about what is happening through our bimonthly magazine, bill statement information and other mailers, our website, our television channel, and our social media outreach. We hope that you continue to stay informed as we add more fiber and services to our growing network.
If you have any questions about the services we offer, please feel free to contact any of our offices and we will be happy to help in any way we can. It continues to be our goal to not only make your cooperative successful, but help contribute to the communities in which we all live. Sandhill is proud to be a local company and active in all of our towns.
Thank you again for being an active member of the cooperative and participating today.
Lee Chambers CEO / General Manager