Broadband Access Critical to State’s Rural Areas

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Broadband Access Critical to State’s Rural Areas

By Tim Farley

Broadband access is a critical component for rural Oklahoma, which focuses in large part on food production for the rest of the state.

That’s the analogy Sam Sanchez uses when discussing the need to extend broadband availability and access to more remote rural areas such as southeastern Oklahoma.

“People who live in metro areas are highly dependent on many rural activities such as raising cattle, growing crops, sod farming, wastewater management and slaughter houses. The rural area provides these products and services that metro area residents couldn’t live without,” said Sanchez, operations manager of Cherokee Communications in Calera, OK.

In the same manner, rural residents and business owners – just like their metro counterparts – are just as dependent on the Internet or broadband access for a variety of reasons, including job creation and the ability to live and operate a cutting-edge business in remote areas.

“If we weren’t doing what we’re doing and you wanted something better in terms of broadband, you would have to move to a metro area,” Sanchez said.

However, the work of regional telephone and communication firms like Cherokee offer rural residents and businesses hope. A project to extend underground fiber along the State Highway 75 corridor began July 2013 and should be finished in three to four months. When complete, workers will have laid 120 miles of fiber optic cable giving 20,000 homes in a six county area access to high speed Internet.

The project extends from Calera to Durant, through Atoka and McAlester and into Hughes and Coal counties.

As Sanchez points out, the financial stability and recovery of rural America is dependent on this investment, which is being made by family-owned businesses such as Cherokee Communications.
“We are investing millions with this build out,” Sanchez said. “By putting in fiber, we are bringing limitless potential for expansion. This is Manhattan-quality fiber. Data centers don’t exist in these areas because they’ve never had access like this before. Now, this multi-home broadband will allow McAlester to go get a big manufacturing firm and that job creation will occur because of communications and its structure. Nobody (potential businesses) would look at these areas if not for this type of infrastructure.”

Moving Cherokee forward

Sanchez, who married into Cherokee Communications, views the current fiber project as a natural extension of the three-generation family business. W.O. Young started Cherokee Telephone Company in 1956 and was followed into the business by his son James O. Young, of Durant. Sanchez married Thomas Young’s daughter, Jenny.

“I’m from the IP world and this is a transition from old school legacy networks to new modern IP networks,” Sanchez said. “I was needed to make that transition because I was from the IP world. This company will last for generations because fiber is stabilizing it.”

Cherokee Communications is the leading telecommunications provider in southeast Oklahoma and continues to meet the evolving needs of customers.

“We’re committed to these towns,” Sanchez said.

Cherokee Communications, through its web site, currently invites Durant residents to sign up for the underground fiber so they can “Stop the Buffering.” The company web site touts technological advantages like “watching Duck Dynasty while you download Duck Dynasty” or “play Xbox while they watch Netflix.” The web site also promotes the idea that Durant residents will no longer need a satellite dish and they can download an HD movie in 10 seconds.

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