Fox, regional vice president of CenturyTel, a “phone guy” from the beginning, got his start with Ameritech, where he worked for many years. “I graduated from the University of Michigan and was fortunate to get a chance to work for Ameritech in Chicago about 15 years ago. Then about 10 years ago I was transferred to Detroit, and it wasn’t until our oldest daughter was of school age that we decided to move back to this part of the state,” said Fox. Fox has held his current position at CenturyTel for four and a half years.
CenturyTel has been a telecommunications provider since 1946 and today is more than just a local telephone company for rural areas and smaller cities. In fact, the closest community where CenturyTel is a local phone company is Borculo.
Around here, CenturyTel is probably best known as a wireless communications provider and the first company to offer cellular telephone service in West Michigan.
The company chooses to focus business in mostly non-metropolitan areas. Refusing to limit itself to one niche in the phone market, CentruyTel is also a national long-distance provider for both business and residential customers, as well as a long haul, high-speed transport system.
“Probably the most exciting news to develop lately is that we are licensed to provide competitive local exchange services in Michigan, meaning we can offer services to compete with the local telephone companies. And we will begin offering those services in Grand Rapids next month,” said Fox.
An 800-mile fiber ring was just completed in Michigan for a route following I-94, U.S. 131, I-96 and I-75, and connects to Chicago from Kalamazoo. The company is mostly its own customer for the project but will also sell transport services to other companies that need fiber optic services between those markets.
The fiber optic ring will not increase the calling area or the range of wireless phone service, but it will enhance the clarity of the call and the reliability of the service.
The enhanced clarity is due to the fiber optics, and as for reliability, Fox said, “the ring has a self-healing capability because if the ring is cut in one place, the traffic is automatically re-routed in the other direction. And if you only have a connection to one of your facilities, be it a cell site or be it a telephone switch of some type, if that one cable is cut, then everyone connected cannot make a call or cannot send their data. The self-healing ring is a big advantage when you are talking to customers about reliability, especially in the summer when there is a lot of construction.”
With Grand Rapids being the largest community the company serves, CenturyTel has found a service niche, which, as Fox said, continues to be a key to the company’s success over the last 55 years.
“We believe that there is as much or more demand for telecommunications services in America’s small cities and rural areas (2,000 to 10,000 population), and we face much less competition in those areas,” explained Fox.
However, all of the small cities and rural communities do add up: CenturyTel is now in 21 states and is the eighth largest telephone, wireless and cellular company in the country.
And so the quest continues to find the best way to serve the community members in those 21 states. Fox believes another upcoming piece of technology will do just that.
“It is a new radio spectrum that is called LMDS, local multi-point distribution system. In effect it is a radio spectrum that you can transmit voice or data over short distances, but you can transmit it at virtually the same speed as a fiber optic connection,” said Fox. “So you can connect buildings in a metropolitan area, or a building along our fiber ring could be connected back to our fiber ring without actually having to bury a cable or put a fiber optic connection in.”
The system operates off of very small antennas at each side — about a cubic foot in size. This is a cost saving measure, Fox insisted. “It would be a less expensive way to connect to the outside world or to a current vendor that is providing that service today,” added Fox.
As for Fox and CenturyTel, both look beyond business measures to help the communities they work in, assisting in various community programs. “We look at new opportunities every week,” said Fox. To date, the company has participated in Habitat for Humanity and a project with Mel Trotter Ministries. Fox said the company is always searching for ways to use its services to help in any way it can.
“We are a service provider and we do that everyday in business, but if we can get out there in a different form, we try to help out.”