In 1955, the Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (ATMC) was founded by farmers, fishermen, and small business owners going door to door in Brunswick County to collect enough signatures to start a cooperative to bring telephone service to rural areas of the county that had been left without. They served their first customer in 1957 and through the years, as Brunswick County has grown, so has ATMC. In the 1980s the company brought cable television to much of the county, and in the late 1990s they added cellular telephone and internet services. In 2011 ATMC used a grant awarded by the US Department of Agriculture to expand its high-speed internet service into unserved portions of southeastern Columbus County.
Today, internet connectivity is more a necessity than a luxury, and because of this, ATMC is thriving. The company is growing by staying true to their roots and bringing service to those who are unserved. But instead of focusing on telephone service, they have becom a leader in the deployment of fiber optic delivered high-speed internet service. High-speed internet service is so critical to what they do, that they recently announced that they are changing their name to FOCUS Broadband. The new name reflects their shift to making high-speed internet their number one priority.
“We see FOCUS Broadband as an accurate reflection of what our company is becoming as we expand using fiber-optic broadband as our core service offering,” said Keith Holden, FOCUS Broadband CEO.
Over the past 30 months, the cooperative has secured over $45 million in grant funds from state and federal broadband grant programs to expand high-speed internet service in southeastern North Carolina. FOCUS Broadband is investing an additional $23 million in matching funds and currently has network construction projects underway in Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, Pender, and Robeson counties. These projects are seeking to bridge the connectivity divide that has separated many rural communities and provide them with access to educational, social, and economic opportunities that will be transformative.
In addition to its expansion projects, the cooperative recently announced plans to convert all their Brunswick customers to fiber optics
by the end of the decade. This $100 million dollar project will build a world-class fiber-optic broadband network capable of supporting the very fastest internet speeds for decades into the future. Holden explained, “Because fiber optic technology has almost limitless capacity, it can deliver the very fastest internet speeds. Converting our entire network to fiber optics will provide our members with unmatched capabilities well into the future.”
While FOCUS Broadband will continue to work to expand its high-tech services to additional areas in eastern North Carolina, they haven’t forgotten that it is their personal connection to their members that have sustained them. Holden added, “Our technology is what brings customers to us, but our commitment to providing an unparalleled level of customer service is what keeps them with us.”
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The 2023 WilmingtonBiz: Book on Business is an annual publication showcasing the Wilmington region as a center of business.