Building Broadband in Rural Indiana: Marshall County REMC & RTC Communications

Open lines of communication are vital for any business to succeed. It’s true today, and it was true when RTC Communications was founded in 1896 to bring voice communications to the business communities of rural Rochester, Indiana. What started as phone lines across Marshall and Fulton Counties has since evolved to include cable and fiber internet for businesses and residences.

This story would repeat in the 1930s to bring electricity to rural communities. After the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, a group of farmers met in Plymouth, Indiana, to form the Marshall County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC). Today, Marshall County REMC serves roughly 6,000 members with over 7,200 electric meters.

With the growing prominence and necessity of the internet, 20 independent telephone companies – including RTC Communications – sought an organization that could streamline their internet capabilities and services to better serve local customers. Intelligent Fiber Network (IFN) was formed in 2002 to serve these companies. Today, IFN provides best-in-class fiber transport, internet connectivity, and carrier-grade colocation services to qualified business entities, regardless of their geographic location.

“Our member/owners have reinvented themselves throughout their decades’-long history. Over the past 17 years, they have transformed themselves from local telephone companies into sophisticated broadband providers,” said IFN President ant CEO Jim Turner. “It’s imperative that the network they belong to reflects an innovative and pioneering spirit. IFN is committed to running with the revolution and providing opportunities for our member/owners and other organizations to further expand their reach to serve more customers.”

The next wave of innovation for rural communities is connecting businesses and homes with high-speed fiber broadband. Just as phone lines connected businesses and electricity revolutionized rural life, internet is steadily becoming more vital for everyday life, whether you live in a city or a small town. The question is, though, how do you get internet to underserved rural communities?

The answer: Rural communications and electric membership corporations working together.

Marshall County REMC knew they needed to do something to bring fiber to their customers. “We have board members with kids and grandkids who need internet access to be relevant,” said Mark Batman, President & CEO of Marshall County REMC. “We brought electricity to rural Indiana when no one else would. That’s our makeup. It’s what we do. Why not use this expertise to do the same with internet?”

But Marshall County REMC’s expertise is in connecting remote locations, not the logistics of laying fiberlines. Rather than attempt to hire new people and bridge the learning gap from electric to internet, Marshall County REMC partnered with RTC Communications who already provide fiber internet services. “It was an easy conversation to partner with RTC because they saw the need to give access we wouldn’t have on our own,” said Batman. “They’ve been a godsend being able to step right in and bridge the gap.”

“We take the local aspect of our work very seriously,” said Joe McCarter, President at RTC Communications. “We may be a fiber-based internet company provider, but one of our main pillars for 120 years has been our local work. As we look at underserved areas, our partnership with Marshall County REMC provides an even deeper local focus with customers in Marshall County.”

RTC and Marshall County REMC’s partnership, now known as Marshall County Fiber, began in 2018 with a pilot project to provide 220 homes north of the REMC’s office on US 31 with residential fiber. As fiberlines were being connected to these homes, the companies began working on a construction plan, as well as began communications with local utilities to build a smart grid for the area.

Marshall County receives its power from the Wabash Valley Power, who has been working closely with IFN to bring fiber into the Marshall County REMC office. They’re beginning to explore the engineering and development processes to build additional fiber from the area’s existing broadband backbone into new subdivisions and industrial parks. This will continue to extend from the original pilot project of 220 homes.

With IFN, Marshall County Fiber does not have to worry about bandwidth or the ability to increase it at a moment’s notice as need and demand accelerates. “RTC leads the way on broadband buildout, and we’re delighted that the Wabash Valley Power was able to partner with IFN on the electric side,” said Batman. “It’s a win-win for us – and the residents and businesses in Marshall County.”

This project won’t be built overnight, or even in a year, but RTC and Marshall County REMC are committed to bringing broadband to their rural corner of Indiana.