10 Great Years in Eagle Mountain
February 2016, Eagle Mountain Utah- Direct Communications celebrates its 10 year anniversary in Eagle Mountain Utah.
Ten years ago, in February 2006, Direct Communications completed the purchase of the original city-owned Eagle Mountain Telecom. Since then, the company has spent the past 10 years steadily upgrading the old copper telephone network to an all new, state-of-the art, all-fiber network, ready to deliver whatever future technology applications come along.
Kip Wilson, General Manager, says: “We have made real progress over the past 10 years. It’s really amazing when you take a step back and reflect on how things have changed–we started in 2006 with a 45 Mb backbone, and had only that for several years, and today we are using a 10 Gig backbone with 10 Gig fiber loops to all the neighborhoods. We have had our setbacks and our struggles, but I feel like the long-term plan is really starting to come together. You can see it by our customer growth, and the change in how we are perceived in Eagle Mountain now compared to several years ago. Our fiber customers are really happy. Our DSL customers are understandably all really anxious to get fiber, but we are working on that. Besides our accelerated fiber upgrade schedule to older neighborhoods, one of the things I am most happy about is the better tech support we now provide. Last year we brought all of our tech support in-house, bypassed the traditional level-1 call center step, so everyone in Eagle Mountain can now talk directly to one of our own techs most of the time, and that has made a huge difference to how quickly we can fix to any problems and to overall customer satisfaction.”
When Direct Communications Cedar Valley began serving Eagle Mountain it was well and truly a start-up operation. While it had a very well-established corporate sister company in Idaho, the Utah company has always been operated independently and had to experience the challenges and growing pains of most start-ups. The first makeshift office was located behind the Fire Station in the City Center, where all employees had to share a single bathroom, which was very inconveniently situated right behind the reception desk.
One of the first positive steps Direct Communications took in bringing the local communications service in line with industry standards was to decrease broadband prices. The cost of building and maintaining the network would have driven the city steadily towards bankruptcy, and with no federal cost recovery structures in place, the city had to charge exorbitant prices to try recover costs on its network. Before Direct Communications bought the network in 2006, residents who wanted DSL had to pay the city a $250 install fee and 1.5 Meg DSL service was $100 a month. Direct Communications introduced a 256kb DSL package at a starting rate of $29.95 per month, with free installation. During the first year of Directcom service, 2006, DSL subscribership in Eagle Mountain more than doubled. Now, Eagle Mountain customers can order 1 Gigabit Internet service.
The most important change that has taken place since Direct Communications assumed ownership is the investment in new fiber technology, and investment in the local fiber optic network. Each year since 2006, Direct Communications has invested several millions of dollars into the network plant, with a total investment into Eagle Mountain network assets now around $28 million. Immediately after the sale, Direct Communications began laying Fiber-to-the-home to all new developments. With ongoing capital investment in fiber optic deployment to the customer’s premises, multiple new redundant fiber optic routes to connect to all the major carriers in Salt Lake City and ongoing upgrades to the fiber electronic equipment and core routers, Direct Communications was ensuring that no other Wasatch Front community could provide more reliable connectivity than Eagle Mountain residents and businesses now enjoy.
Cody Bailey, Inside Plant Manager reflects: “I have been with Direct Communications from the beginning and have been a part of the struggles and successes of the company. In the last ten years the customer demands of internet bandwidth have gone through the roof! I would have to say that it is truly a pleasure to work for a company that is focused on building a network that will not only meet those demands but will allow us to grow with them. I personally feel like I’m helping create a company and product that we can stand behind as these demands continue to increase.”
Gayleen Pierce, one of the original employees from Eagle Mountain Telecom who still works for a sister company of Direct Communications remembers that during the days of Eagle Mountain Telecom: “We used to print the statements in the office on one slow printer and stuff them ourselves. It was a whole day process for just the one office person and numerous paper cuts, even with the technicians helping out with it. We used to have cut lines weekly due to all the construction going on and we only had 1 or 2 technicians at the time.”
Kristy Ellers, who has lived in Eagle mountain since 2001, started as a part-time assistant in September 2002 working for the City telecom department, doing accounting bookkeeping and collections. She recalls: “We were just selling telephone service back then, but we didn’t even have a way to bill for long-distance, so people could use as much long distances they wanted, but we could never recover those charges. We didn’t have any features like caller ID or voicemail– it was just basic dial tone with free long-distance.
Our DSL Internet speeds were only about 100 kb- barely faster than dial-up and it was really expensive to sign up. We’ve come a long way.
When asked how things have changed since she started in the industry, she said: “Well, people don’t really use the telephone service anymore, but there are so many more options now with fiber broadband, especially all the different speeds you can choose from, and things you can do online with communications and entertainment. After Directcom took over, everything just became a lot more high tech, and we quickly changed from the telephone company to broadband Internet company.
When the city owned the network we didn’t have any funding to make any upgrades, but after DirectCom bought the network, we immediately had access to funding to improve our systems and capital equipment. We even eventually moved out of a teeny little closet at the fire station. It’s really quite amazing to think back on all the improvements made since DirectCom became involved in Eagle Mountain.
Ellers recalled an amusing story from her day to day office duties with the city: “Now of course with our billing system all of our payments received and processing is totally automated, but back in the day of Eagle Mountain Telecom we used to have to carry over big bags of checks to the city offices to be processed and deposited into the bank. One day, I was taking over a stack of checks from the fire station to the little city offices in the old modular building, and it was a really windy day, and the wind blew all my checks away across the parking lot and into the sagebrush. I was just devastated, running around trying to gather them all up. Dan Valentine came and helped me, and we went clear across the street gathering up checks, but afterward we verified and we didn’t lose a single one. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it’s funny to think back on those days.”
We have seen so many changes; good people have come and gone who been so much fun to work with; there aren’t many of us left from the Eagle Mountain Telecom days but we’ve really enjoyed working with all the Direct Communications people. I have enjoyed meeting so many great friends and customers here in Eagle mountain over the years, and enjoyed getting to know our customers. My favorite part of my job is definitely the interaction with people– I enjoys talking to our customers on the phone and sometimes take a little too long to do a service order because I just enjoy getting to know people in Eagle Mountain.
Today lot of our customers now like to chat online with us instead of over the phone, but I love that too, and it’s nice to have a few side chats going on with customers that I already know. It’s easy to help several people at once with the chat system, because we can talk to somebody on the phone while waiting for a response on a chat conversation, so it allows us to help more people quickly and avoid putting people on hold. Customers like chats, and our volume of chats has grown every year.
Diane Bradshaw, Office Administrator, who has been with Direct Communications for all 10 years, and managed the office for the former Eagle Mountain Telecom remembers: “Ten years ago we were in a small, cramped room next to the switch room assisting new customers and doing the billing. We didn’t have room for customers to sit, they would just walk in the door and have to stand in the same spot to be helped. Back then, home phone lines were very important–customers wanted to pick their custom phone numbers, and they used that phone number to communicate with others. We spent a lot of hours updating our phone books and then printed those books out and distributed them to all the Eagle Mountain residents each year. We were asked on a daily basis what our long distance charges were and how much it cost to call internationally. Phone features were important–caller id, call waiting, and customers were just starting to call forward their landline to their cell phone. We also received a lot of questions on teen lines and hooking up fax machines. Customers were content with dial up speeds.
Now we have a great Fiber infrastructure, and can even offer 1 Gig speeds. Directcom also invested in redundant fiber loops–if something happens to our main fiber line, we have several routes out of Eagle Mountain, allowing the customer to avoid ever being down. A few years ago Directcom purchased a new billing system, MACC, which has given us wonderful customer relationship tools to work with our customers and give them the best service possible.”