Welcome to Sandhill’s 57th annual meeting and thank you for coming. Today provides us with an opportunity to meet one on one with our Members to address what is going on with the Cooperative and provide updates on where we are heading in the future. Before I get started, I would like to thank all the employees that work hard to make this event possible for all of us.
Last year was a great year for Sandhill. We invested heavily in the future of the network, made major improvements to several of our services, and also were able to increase our capital credit refunds. Sandhill reached a turning point last year. The legacy plant network that has provided services to customers for the past 30 years will no longer be able to provide the amount of services required in the future. Over the years we have made equipment changes to increase speeds and add more services such as television. This has been done with a combination of fiber and copper lines going to homes.
Last year we began the process of completely rebuilding of our network throughout the territory. Much like the other utilities going into your homes, traditional phones lines have limitations. You cannot use multiple toasters and other appliances in the kitchen at one time without blowing a fuse. You cannot run all your showers and washing machine at the same time without losing water pressure. And with traditional phone lines, using several internet devices at the same time can present a problem unless you are close to one of our equipment locations.
In order for our area to grow by adding more jobs and businesses, infrastructure is a vital concern. Businesses and new housing developments need a quality highway system, sewage system, electric grid, and state of the art telecom services. That’s why for the past few years we have been tackling this problem here at Sandhill. For starters, we invested in equipment capable of carrying over 10 times the amount of internet traffic we used to provide. With a robust new core fiber network, we have since reached out to more rural communities with fiber fed equipment. We’ve added 15 such equipment locations within the past year to our more remote areas in the county such as the Brock’s Mill and Sowell Town communities.
We’ve also made great strides with fiber to the home by completely overbuilding the town of Chesterfield and making good progress so far this year in the town of Pageland. As we continue on with this year, we will start the groundwork for McBee and look at other areas as they make sense. Our goal to have fiber to every home in our territory ahead of schedule at this point.
The reason for the heavy investment in fiber optic cable and new equipment to support it is simple – homes are adding more internet connected devices than ever before. On top of computers and tablets, most people now have Smart TV’s, devices like Amazon Alexa, and some homes even have connected doorbells and security systems like the kinds we provide through our own security offerings. Homes that might have only needed limited internet access for a couple of hours a day a few years ago, now have multiple devices that stay active throughout the day and are requiring higher speeds than ever before.
All this talk about the future of technology means that Sandhill needs to stay ready to support all of our Member’s needs. By the year 2020, it is projected that there will be 10 times the amount of internet connected devices sold than there are today. Services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, that many of our Members use, will have even more choices for customers that will require even faster speeds.
In addition to improving the network for broadband, we are also making changes to our other services. Starting in July, new television packages will be offered giving customers the chance to view more channels than ever before. Features such as being able to watch your favorite programs from anywhere and watch a recording from any television you choose are coming as well. As we continue to fight for our Members over broadcast fees, we believe this will provide us with the best options for everyone.
Security continues to see improvements as well. In all of our offices, new security displays are up showing a wide range of the products we offer. We invite you to schedule a visit with one of our trained technicians to determine what solution works best for you. Being able to monitor your home while you are away is more than just protection of your property, it’s peace of mind.
Lastly, I would like to talk about our landline phone service. Many Members still ask why a landline is required to have access to other services. Through the assistance of State and Federal agencies, these phone lines allow us to provide the other services we offer at reasonable rates for our area. This shows up as the Universal Service Fund amount on your bills. Additional bill items such as E911 support the valuable people at our Emergency Management Services in the county. Without the assistance from Columbia and Washington, DC., we would be unable to provide the same quality of service at the same prices to all our Members without these phone lines. As your Cooperative, we continue to advocate for our Members at the State and Federal levels.
As always, we hope that this meeting is not the only time during the year that you receive information about all the services we offer. Whether it is through our bill messages, magazine, website, or social media presence, we are glad we can provide useful knowledge about the products you purchase from Sandhill. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to contact any of our offices and we will be happy to help. Sandhill is proud to serve our Membership and grateful that you choose us as your local provider.
Lee Chambers CEO / General Manager