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Direct Communications competes by going rural
Article Date: February 8, 2005 by David Burt, Staff Writer for Power County Press in American Falls, Idaho.

Direct Communications competes by going rural

Keeps focus on small town development

   It was back in 1978 when Leonard May bought Direct Communications in Rockland from his father for $25,000. Joseph May himself had bought the small telephone company in 1954 and for nearly 25 years Leonard worked with his dad to bring telephone services to about 320 homes and families in the Rockland Valley.

   “That was my job in the summer,” Leonard said. “Whenever I couldn’t sneak off to go fishing, my dad had me out there with him tossing up equipment while he worked on the poles. Later I was the one on the pole while he tossed up the equipment.”

   Leonard said the company back then had a 50-line switch, party lines, and some telephone lines that would definitely be considered rustic by today’s standards.

   But oh how times have changed.

   Last month, Direct Communications put the finishing touches on a $6.3 million purchase of Eagle Mountain Telecom in Utah. The purchase increased Direct Communications’ phone subscriber rate by 40%.

   To date, Direct Communications has approximately 6,100 customers using its phone lines, plus 1,000 cable TV subscribers and another 3000 customers signed on for its Internet services.

   Not too shabby for a small communication company that, according to Leonard, survives by focusing on the rural customers.

   “This is still a small, family run cooperation,” Leonard said. “And what people want and need are still important to us.”

   Leonard said Direct Communications niche is supplying services to rural communities that are overlooked by companies such as Qwest.

   “It makes sense really,” Leonard said. “When 95 percent of Qwest’s customers are living in a city, it only makes sense for them to concentrate on that area. Of course, the bigger they get the less they want to concentrate on rural areas. I hope we never get that way.”

   Leonard said one of the company’s goals is to expand its fiber optic lines to run straight to the customers’ home. A move that will be expensive, but one he felt was necessary for his customers and toward his own company’s continuing success.

   “My philosophy has always been that if I’m going to go bankrupt, then at least I know my customers will have the best service available,” Leonard said with a laugh.

   Another of his ideas is to give his cable TV subscribers the chance to watch local broadcasts of sporting events, local plays, etc.

   “We want to be able to show everyone what’s going on in the schools, and not just in the schools but in the community as well,” he said. “This would be a way for a grandmother to come home and see her grandson or granddaughter play a basketball game.”

   Leonard said that in order for that idea to become a reality, local talent in the community would have to be further developed, such as by creating broadcasting classes in the area schools.

   “Leonard is really big on bringing the local back into local cable programming,” said Brigham Griffin, marketing director at Direct Communications. “Leonard and the managers here really are pioneers in the industry.”

   Griffin said one way Direct Communications differentiated from the larger communication companies was by its commitment to reinvesting money back into the community.

   “That is why we urge people to use our services to promote the local community,” Brigham said. “We want people to know that we can offer them the same services offered by companies like AOL, Qwest or Cable One... and it allows us to continue putting money back into the community. Anything a larger company can do for you, we can do it too, but we feel we can do it with care.”

   With 45 full-time employees currently working for Direct Communications in Rockland, Direct Communications is already the largest private employer in Rockland Valley and paid $55,601 in property taxes to Power County alone last year.

What did the acquisition of Eagle Mountain Telecom mean to Direct Communications?

“The acquisition of Eagle Mountain Telecom is a huge addition to our operations,” says Kip Wilson, General Manager for the newly created Direct Communications Cedar Valley division.  “Principally, it adds roughly 2500 more customers, but Eagle Mountain is one of the fastest growing communities in the state of Utah.  As time goes by it is safe to assume that the Eagle Mountain operation will become a bigger and bigger piece of the Direct Communications pie.  An acquisition like this, to a company of our size, is huge and its proportional importance will increase due to the growth in that area.  We are excited with the opportunities this will afford our company and we are confident that we can use our knowledge and experience in this industry to improve the telecommunications services in that community while also benefiting our entire organization.  Growth is always a great thing.  As Leonard often says: “there are no 20 cow dairies anymore!”

“The Eagle Mountain acquisition really contributes to the community here because growth there facilitates more growth here in Rockland. We have already hired several new employees to help service that market from our headquarters here in Idaho; those people build homes and pay taxes here in Rockland, raise their families here, and the ripple effect provides a huge boost to the local economy,” said Griffin.

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