At a Glance
Fiber-optic infrastructure installation
Tell us about the history of Blackfoot and how it got where it is today.
Frank Creasia: Blackfoot started in 1954 as a member-owned telephone cooperative when a few community leaders got together and decided they needed telephone service, so they made it happen. Today we provide service to over 20,000 customers and maintain nearly 1,000 miles of fiber-optic cable and infrastructure. Blackfoot covers more than 6,500 square miles, mostly in western Montana.
What types of services does Blackfoot offer?
FC: We offer residential phone and high-speed broadband, business-class high-speed Internet, and we’re most proud of our VoIP [Voice Over Internet Protocol] services. We also operate a subsidiary called Telesphere that produces operating systems for other telephone companies [to use] to manage customer databases and billing information. Telesphere came about due to a need by Blackfoot to have an operating software system—that at the time was not commercially available—to fulfill our specific needs for customer care and billing. Telesphere has since developed other software products and services that are being purchased by other service providers, thereby generating additional revenue for Blackfoot.
What is your role in the company?
FC: I oversee our day-to-day operations, including our engineering divisions, construction crews and line assignment, information services, warehousing, fleet management, repair technicians, and so on. I make sure our network is functioning at a high level.
Technology can be a sensitive market because it changes so rapidly. How does Blackfoot manage to stay competitive?
FC: Blackfoot has always considered itself to be on the leading edge when it comes to adapting [to] new technology. We try to stay off the “bleeding edge” because with new technology, early adapters usually suffer quite a bit of pain in many ways. Before we roll services out to our customers, we ensure that any changes provide significant value. For example, in 2001 we started planning the transition to a packet-switch network and began implementation in 2003. In more recent years, we were prepared to upgrade our systems and provide the highest level of VoIP to our customers.
So why would a business owner need VoIP services?
FC: Our VoIP business services can eliminate or reduce the capital investment that may be necessary for a business phone system. Also, we offer a higher level of voice clarity that cannot be achieved by public systems. Our VoIP services are delivered over a privately managed data network, unlike some services that are delivered over a public network. Public networks are inherently insecure, and most businesses can’t take risks with their communications.
What has been the secret to Blackfoot’s success?
FC: Blackfoot really listens to its customers. We provide them with services they want at a price point that adds value. We have grown steadily by making investments we think our customers will demand. Blackfoot was one of the first telephone cooperatives in Montana to offer dial-up Internet service and DSL broadband service to our customers. Blackfoot was also one of the first service providers to provide VoIP business services to its customers.
What type of infrastructure is most valuable?
FC: Our belief is that a packet-switched, IP-over-ethernet network transported over a predominately fiber-optic-cable [infrastructure] is the most cost-efficient and future-proof network available today. Based on that belief, Blackfoot started its evolution to that platform back in 2003 and completed this transformation about two years ago.
Seems that there are still strong, pioneering values afoot at Blackfoot. What does the future of your industry look like?
FC: Everyone will be using a lot more data. Companies will be pushing their television and movies through the Internet more and more, and people will demand more broadband. If you look at the history of the Internet, individual consumption of data has consistently grown. We believe the whole communications, productivity, and entertainment arenas will change dramatically in years to come, and that will drive demand. We also believe by offering the infrastructure people need to stay connected, we can stay ahead of the competition. ABQ