History of Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Assoc., Inc.

TIME: March 13, 1950

PLACE: Headquarters Offices, Mountain View Electric Association, Limon, Colorado

PROBLEM: A major portion of the rural areas of eastern Colorado were either without telephone service or had such service in limited quantity and quality.

Solving the Problems of Rural Telephone Service

Such was the situation on March 13, 1950, when the Board of Directors of Mountain View Electric Association agreed to organize a corporation for the purpose of obtaining a loan from the Rural Electrification Administration, specifically to build telephone facilities within their service areas. The name of the corporation, temporarily formed, was Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association, Inc.

The original loan application was very broad in scope and included areas in El Paso, Elbert, Lincoln, Pueblo, Douglas, Arapahoe and Washington counties. No definite commitment was made to any area, but first consideration was given to providing service to Elbert, Genoa, and Arriba.

Mr. Ralph McMillan, manager of Mountain View, began actively soliciting applications for future telephone service, and by July of 1951, 370 applications were on file, and an option had been obtained for purchase of the Elbert telephone exchange.

The original Certificate of Incorporation of Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association, Inc. was filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on January 22, 1952. By this time, Eastern Slope had reached a point-of-no-return, and they were soon to become an operating telephone company.

Purchase was made of the exchanges at Genoa and Arriba in July, 1953, and the first income for Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association occurred during the month of August, 1953. A loan application was made to REA in November, 1953 for $343,000, the funding intended to provide service for approximately 500 subscribers, the first project being the urban and rural areas of Genoa and Arriba. Plans were completed to acquire the Cherry Creek Telephone Company at Parker, the Kiowa telephone exchange, and the Elbert Mutual Telephone Association; this was done early in 1954.

1955 was a very busy year; contracts were let for the outside plant construction, building, and the central office equipment necessary to serve Genoa and Arriba. In December of that year, the Board of Directors approved the REA loan for the “B” section in the amount of $239,000, these funds to be used for construction in Kiowa, Elbert, and Parker.

Dial service within the Genoa and Arriba exchanges became a reality in September 1956. During the months of June and July 1957, dial service was provided in the exchanges of Elbert, Kiowa, and Parker, and in September of that year, an agreement was reached to purchase the property of the Peyton Rural Telephone Association.

Founding a New Service

Early in 1958, it became apparent that Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Assn., Inc. would need to be kicked from the nest of Mountain View Electric, and in March of that year, the by-laws of the association were modified whereby it would require that a director be elected from each operating exchange of the Association. At this meeting, the temporary Board of Directors resigned, and were replaced by representatives of the exchanges of Kiowa, Peyton, Genoa, Arriba, Elbert, and Parker. At the April meeting, Mr. Lawrence Davis, representing the Arriba exchange, was elected to membership on the Board of Directors. Mr. F.L. Fisher, representing the Genoa exchange, continued to serve on the Board for the next 18 years, resigning at the annual meeting in 1976.

A special stockholder-members meeting of the Association, held for telephone members only, was conducted in April, 1958. At the commencement of the meeting, only 15 members qualified in the corporation; at the end of the meeting, total membership had increased to 678.

In September and October of 1958, the Board of Directors purchased the Peyton Rural Telephone Association, signed documents for their third loan in the amount of $137,000, and let contracts for construction of all facilities in the Peyton exchange, including outside plant, building, and switching equipment.

During 1959, Eastern Slope moved to their own office location, the Dickie Building in Limon. Mr. Philip C. Esler became the General Manager and in 1960 the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company line north of Limon was purchased to provide a better degree of service to that rural area, and Eastern Slope essentially became a “switcher” of Mountain States in the Limon exchange.

The September 1960 meeting of the Board of Directors was attended by Mr. E.R. Thruston, representing the Karval area. Mr. Thruston requested that the Karval exchange be annexed to the total service area. The request was granted, and during the following month, at the members-stockholder meeting, Mr. Thruston was elected to the Board of Directors and served until 1982.

Construction contracts for a headquarters office building to be located in Limon were let in August of 1961. Dial service became a reality in Karval in November. It was at this meeting that first consideration was given to providing service in the Haswell exchange. Only one phone then existed in Haswell.

Mr. Phil Esler was replaced by Mr. Wayne Kaufman, effective August 1, 1963. Shortly thereafter, construction contracts were executed for plant facilities at Haswell. Meetings were held between Eastern Slope and Mountain States Telephone Company concerning a possible trade of properties. Mt. States was interested in trading Eads, Hugo, Kit Carson and Flagler for Parker, Peyton, Kiowa, and Elbert. This was before the metro area had expanded, and so this would be a net increase in access lines for Eastern Slope.

At a special meeting of the stockholder-members of Eastern Slope, held in October of 1965, the transfer of properties was approved. The actual transfer of properties became effective January 1, 1967. Four board members were elected to represent the new exchanges: Tom E. Kennedy (deceased) from Flagler, Clyde Crow (deceased) from Eads, Gene Theisen (deceased) from Hugo, and William Bledsoe from Kit Carson (retired in 2011 with 44 years of service). Some of the switcher companies that joined with Eastern Slope at that time included the Nebraska Telephone Company of Hugo, the Buffalo Basin Telephone Company of Hugo, the County Line Telephone Company of Flagler, the Mt. Pearl Telephone Company at Kit Carson, the South Beaver Telephone Company at Woodrow, and the Prairie Queen Telephone Company at Eads. The headquarters were moved to Hugo in the building that had served as the office and operators’ quarters for Mountain States as early as 1927.

Mr. Willis Bassett became the fourth manager of Eastern Slope in November 1970. Shortly thereafter, negotiations were completed whereby Eastern Slope would ultimately acquire the Bennett exchange from Mr. William Bordner. Upgrading the system to one party service was completed in 1976. The plant and office personnel moved into the new headquarters facilities in Hugo that same year.

Upgrading Equipment for Better Service

In 1978, General Manager Glen Razak made plans for digital switching equipment to be installed. These new switches, totaling $545,955, would later be installed in the Hugo and Flagler exchanges. Massive upgrades to the Bennett exchange were necessary, including a new digital switch and underground manholes within the city. Changes in management occurred in 1982, when Wally Stieg became the General Manager, and long-time board member Rod Thruston retired after 22 years of service.

The telephone industry was forever changed in 1984 with the Divesture of AT&T. Chuck Helgerson began his employment in 1985 and immediately began to plan further upgrades to Eastern Slope’s system by installing new switches in Eads and Kit Carson. A new REA loan was secured for $4,408,000. These funds would be used to install new switches in Genoa, Karval and Haswell, as well as replace 400 miles of aerial cable with buried cable in the Flagler, Arriba, Genoa, and Hugo exchanges.

Colorado Initiates Additional Area Codes

Colorado experienced an area code split in 1988 that created the new lata of 719. This prompted seven digit, and later, ten digit dialing. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the expansion of free calling areas in 1991 to communities of interest for each exchange, based on criteria such as calling patterns and frequency of calls. Eastern Slope joined with other telephone companies in the area, as well as BOCES, to create a fiber connection that could link local schools, courthouses and hospitals in an interactive network for distance learning in 1992.

Rapid growth in the Denver metro area resulted in two more area code splits for the 303 lata. Eastern Slope began to see this growth affect its Bennett exchange as early as 1992. The switch was upgraded, and later a remote switch was added to accommodate the new housing developments. The need for additional buried cable, fiber, and electronic equipment in excess of $1 million spurred large capital improvements within the Bennett exchange over the next nine years.

Eastern Slope continued to provide state of the art services to its customers by offering Class features (call waiting, call forwarding, etc.) in 1996 and voice messaging capabilities in 1997. Equal Access to long distance carriers was offered in 1999. Director Lynn Fisher (deceased) from Genoa, retired with 33 years of service in 2009. Also that year, Patricia L. White became the 9th General Manager of ESRTA and began implementing plans to rejuvenate its aging telecommunications plant. As traditional legacy switching was being phased out, the digital host switches in Bennett and Hugo were replaced in 2012 with VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) capable soft switches. Director Rod MacLennan (Bennett) retired in 2013 with 37 years of service.

With the rapidly changing landscape in telecommunications, it became apparent that the demand for new data services, including high speed internet access, was placing burdens on the existing telecommunications network. Starting with the Bennett and Hugo exchanges, ESRTA made the commitment to place fiber optics and electronics to enhance the availability of DSL to all ESRTA subscribers. In 2010, Eastern Slope applied for an $18.7 Million traditional loan from the USDA-RUS to complete the upgrade in the remaining 8 exchanges. The loan was approved and funds were released in 2012. In 2015, the upgrade will be complete, making high speed internet availability a reality for all Eastern Slope members. Seeing the need to market unregulated services, Eastern Slope Technologies, LLC was formed in 2014. This new entity is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association, Inc.

Proudly Serving Eastern Colorado

Residents of eastern Colorado owe a major debt of gratitude to the originators and perpetuators of Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association. Many thankless hours have been spent by the temporary and permanent directors of the Association, most without remuneration, to assure the strong and fruitful growth of this telephone utility. Service as provided by this company is second to none, and present and future management and staff can pay homage to our predecessors by assuring that the present high quality of service provided by Eastern Slope Rural Telephone Association will be maintained in the rapidly changing communications industry.