Sam Curtis and Specialty Telecommunications

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Sam Curtis and Specialty Telecommunications
Services brings broadband to rural Oklahoma

by Tim Farley

More than 15 million American households have limited or no access to the Internet, which is a fact that frustrates Samual Curtis.

Curtis, an engineer and owner of Specialty Telecommunications Services in Oklahoma City, is passionate about expanding the Internet, or broadband access, to the outer limits of the state’s rural areas where many people either are underserved or not served at all. Some remote areas lack the technological infrastructure that enables residents to reach out and touch anybody in the world, he said.

“In many cases, you might have dial-up, DSL, or no option at all,” said Curtis. “When someone is underserved, it’s like holding a chocolate bar in front of them and they just can’t get it. It’s almost worse than being unserved. If you’re unserved, you’re disconnected from today’s world.”
Having broadband access is considered a basic human right, according to the United Nations, and according to Curtis it’s also a business necessity.

“If you’re buying or selling a product, you need the Internet. If you don’t have access, it hinders your ability to get information. It’s like needing a car. You need an Internet connection,” he said.

As a result, Curtis remains on a mission to help his customers get their product to the end user, people at home looking to connect to Netflix, YouTube, the Web or their email. STS does that by developing telecommunications networks for telephone companies that ultimately deliver the broadband access to their customers.

“The real obstacle is the delivery of that access,” he said, referring to the lack of infrastructure in many parts of Oklahoma and the nation. “What we have found is that broadband technology doesn’t care if you’re rural or urban. People in all areas have the same Netflix or YouTube desires. Customers are making the adjustment from being told what they can watch (on traditional cable and network television) to having unlimited streaming choices. The Internet is enabling the end user to be choosy what they want (to watch).”

But that’s not all. Curtis is focused on the broadband access issue so school-age youngsters living in outlying areas can compete on a level playing field with their urban counterparts.

“All of these kids should be able to get on the computer, hit Wikipedia and do research. It makes everything even,” he said. “But in too many situations, high-speed broadband access is the advantage urban kids have over rural kids.”

Nationally, the urban-rural divide was approximately 12 percentage points in 2009, with 54 percent of rural households adopting broadband access compared to 66 percent in urban areas.

In Oklahoma, broadband availability in rural areas increased dramatically during a six-year study period from 2003 to 2009. In 2003, only 39 percent of rural households had Internet access compared to 81 percent in urban areas. Six years later, the divide dwindled substantially with 90 percent of rural households and 91 percent of their urban counterparts having broadband access.

In 2011, Oklahoma’s state government took a major step to improve its information highway by launching an interactive map pinpointing areas of the state that have broadband service. The $4.9 million project was part of the Oklahoma Broadband Initiative, which was under the direction of the Office of State Finance. The map showed several rural areas where broadband access was non-existent.

In August 2013, the state launched Oklahoma Community Anchor Network, which provides broadband access to 33 anchor sites in rural Oklahoma, such as colleges and universities, hospitals and CareerTech centers.
Yet, in some rural, remote areas, traditional methods of providing broadband access to individual households can be limiting. That’s why Curtis and STS use a variety of ways including fiber, wireless or a hybrid of fiber and wireless to build those networks.

STS also is expanding its customer base by serving oil and gas firms and power companies with specialty networks, Curtis said.

For example, oil and gas companies rely on accurate monitoring of data from its rigs, valves and pump stations in order to make operating decisions.

“They need to know if the flow meter is working and how much product is going through there at a particular time,” he said.

With Kiowa and Cherokee blood in his veins, Curtis has worked with Native American tribes in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico to develop business networks that help streamline operations.

Cell industry expansion

As the telecommunications industry expands, additional cell towers are needed, which is a staple of the STS business model.

“We help with the site acquisition and environmental issues, tower design and actual erection of the tower, radios and dishes” Curtis said.

On a smaller scale, Curtis and STS engineered the cell tower that was used at the Senior U.S. Open golf tournament at Oak Tree National in Edmond last month.

Working as a consultant for cell tower owners, Curtis has learned to deal with numerous federal agencies that focus on public safety, historical site issues and endangered species concerns. In some cases, tower construction must include bird diverters that keep the flying fowl from certain death. There are also potential wetlands disturbances and the protection of endangered species such as the American Burying Beatle, which got Curtis’ attention during a recent tower design in southeastern Oklahoma.

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