MCOC MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: INTERBEL TELEPHONE COOPERATIVE, INC.
By Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist
InterBel Telephone Cooperative was first incorporated and operated jointly with Lincoln Electric Cooperative in 1962 to provide telephone service to members living throughout Lincoln County (Northwest Montana). InterBel has grown from serving 238 members in 1963 to over 3,900 members today. In 1993, InterBel and Lincoln Electric Cooperative agreed to terminate their joint operations leading to InterBel’s move to its new headquarters in downtown Eureka in 1994. In 1998 InterBel expanded its services to provide internet access to its members. The cooperative was one of the first in the state to provide DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). This type of technology brought high- bandwidth internet to homes and small businesses over ordinary copper telephone lines in InterBel’s service territory. In 2011, InterBel also became one of Montana’s first internet providers to discontinue all dial-up services, switching all of their members over to broadband service.
INTERBEL MOVES AHEAD WITH FIBER PROJECT
InterBel General Manager Jason Moothart said the cooperative’s fiber expansion project will be completed in three years, bringing fiber to all members in its traditional service territory. Last year, InterBel was awarded a federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to help fund fiber to all business customers in the Eureka area. “When the project is completed it will allow us to provide 1 gigabyte speed service to all of our members,” Moothart explained. He added, “If you compare that to a lot of urban areas in the state of Montana, they may have 10-15% of their subscribers who can get that fast of speed. So, that is a pretty significant speed and bandwidth advantage over the most urban places in the state.”
InterBel’s transition to fiber comes at a time when consumer demand has grown for higher internet bandwidth and speeds. “The average home now has 10-12 devices connected to the internet whether they are being used for entertainment, school, or work,” Moothart said. He added that the state now has “A huge work-from-home population,” and the new fiber technology will allow communications at faster speeds. Moothart described how transferring files and other media “that took an hour now takes only minutes.”
Moothart said the cooperative has greatly invested in improving communications services as well as being a leader in providing the most advanced technology to all of its member-owners. Moothart added that “When InterBel Telephone Cooperative generates revenue from its members, 100% of that money goes back into operating the co-op and expanding its services as well as helping the communities InterBel serves.”